John M. Taylor is helping Australian child migrants find their voices

Reading about the harrowing effects of child migration moved author John M Taylor so much he resolved to help those affected have their voices heard

Novelists are always looking for a plot until one day there is a spark that points you in a certain direction. Then before you know it, the story takes over and you realise that it found you. It’s an exhilarating experience, especially when it is based on real-life events and you meet some of the people involved. Such was the case with I Will Find You.

For me it started when I read Empty Cradles by the wonderful Margaret Humphreys. It was an eye-opening account of how she had uncovered the shameful injustices of child migration, the damage it caused to the lives of tens of thousands, her fight to have it recognised by governments, who eventually formally apologised and helped victims.

Humphreys’ story made a deep impression and sensitised me to the plight of child migrants and orphans. Then later while living in Australia I had the privilege of meeting some former child orphans, many of whom were senior citizens by then. I’m not embarrassed to say that my own tears fell with theirs as they told their tragic stories. That’s when my ‘spark’ shone brightest, as I had unwittingly become emotionally involved. I soon realised these people needed their stories told and wanted recognition of what had happened to them.

I had to learn how to handle my own emotions whilst writing

Although I had already begun to write, I stopped for almost two years, not sure how to tell this story without causing distress yet not diminishing their experiences. Also I had to learn how to handle my own emotions whilst writing. So the decision was made that the book would be classified as fiction, even though the story is based on true events woven together using an author’s licence.

I Will Find You is that story. I hope readers find it enjoyable, stimulating and revealing. It’s the story of a boy with the character and determination to survive mentally against all odds. He discovers life beyond institutions and an aboriginal village deep in the Australian outback, while at the same time remaining committed to eventually finding his mother.

Parts of the research were harrowing while others were simply amazing. Both added to my determination to tell this story which begged to be told. Not wanting it to read like a biography or report I imposed rules on myself.

1. Don’t forget it’s a novel, make it flow.

2. Don’t use fancy English, make it easy to read.

3. No padding, every page must be pertinent and contribute to the story.

4. It must be honest and believable. The latter was often difficult to achieve given some facts were so outrageous that even the authorities considered them unbelievable for years.

The most joyful pleasures came in the aboriginal research. I quickly developed a high regard for these people, who have the oldest civilisation in the world. For as far back as 30,000 years they have lived in structured communities with rules and disciplines, an understanding of bush medicines and sustainable resources and considered the creation of their land and where their own spirits go when they die.

It was an incredible experience, and I am pleased to have been able to weave my enlightened understanding of these fascinating people into the story in a meaningful way. Without doubt, producing this work has broadened my horizons in many significant ways.

I enjoyed the contradiction I found regarding aboriginal stereotypes and common derogatory beliefs. For example, I asked an Elder how he dealt with such negative descriptions of his people and his culture. He smiled as though unconcerned while tapping the side of his nose.

“Them white fellas think we stupid but I ask you, if 20,000 years ago white fellas were given a piece of a tree and told to make it so when you throw it away she soars like a bird, flies in a big circle and comes back to you, they would not know what to do.

“But we did. Now you cut through an aeroplane wing and you see it’s the same shape as a cut-through boomerang. That shape makes all your fancy aeroplanes fly. We smart see our ancestors learned that shape from birds wings more than 20,000 years ago. See, them white fellas are not so smart. It took them 20,000 years more to work that out.”

He laughed before continuing. “Tell you what is funny. When white fella first come to my land he saw a strange animal hopping around and asked a black fella what is that called? The black fella said Kan-ga-roo. In my language that means ‘I don’t understand you’.”

He threw his head back and laughed, and so did I.

I Will Find You by John M Taylor is out now (Austin Macauley, £8.99)

Image: Post-war child migrants arrived in Australia in September 1947.