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Early this morning, a place haunted by cruelty went up in flames

The fire at Fairbridge Farm. Copyright: Greg Clancy.

By Peter Holmes

At about 3:30am on Saturday a motorist driving between Orange and Molong spotted a property engulfed by flames and called 000.

Within about 30 minutes RFS units from Gamboola, Molong, Cheesemans Creek, Borenore, Towac, Cumnock, North West, with assistance from the NSWFR Molong unit, were in attendance.

Some 40 firefighters were able to bring the blaze - at the abandoned Fairbridge Farm off Amaroo Road near Molong - under control, but it was way too late to save the building.

"It was a single-storey timber structure," Brett Bowden, acting manager for RFS Canobolas, told The Orange News Examiner.

"By the time the first units arrived it was pretty well on the ground; by the time it was reported it had obviously been going for some time."

The smoking ruins of the cottage. Copyright: Greg Clancy.

The cause of the fire is being investigated by police.

"There was no habitation at the premises, no gas or electricity connected, nothing to ignite," said Bowden.

That leaves lightning, squatters or arson as the most likely causes.

"Because the building was destroyed there is not a great deal of evidence," he said.

The owner of the property, who is thought to live in Sydney, has been notified by police of the fire.

The last of the 10 RFS tankers in attendance left the property at about 8am today.

The property has an infamous history.

According to the federal government-funded Find and Connect program: "Fairbridge Farm School was established at Molong in 1938 by Fairbridge Farm Schools of New South Wales, as a home for child migrants, aged four to 18, who travelled from the United Kingdom under the Fairbridge Society.

"Around 1,000 children lived at Molong over a 35-year period, including Australian-born children who were also sent to the farm school. It closed in 1973."

Children at the Fairbridge Primary School. Image courtesy Bigrigg Collection, Molong and District Historical Society.

The idea was that underprivileged children from the UK could come to Australia, live in the country, and become a farmer (or a farmer's wife).

"Although the memories of people who went to Fairbridge Farm School are varied, the reality was Fairbridge Farm School 'trained' the boys to be farmers' labourers and the girls to be domestic servants. Children received little in the way of education.

"Children's experiences at the home depended on the character and temperament of the cottage mothers and the other workers who staffed the farm.

"Former Fairbridge resident David Hill, author of The Forgotten Children: Fairbridge Farm School and its betrayal of Australia's child migrants, has written of many instances of cruelty and abuse that occurred at the farm school.

An aerial view of the former Fairbridge Farm. Google Maps.

"He states that children who were suffering cruelty and abuse felt they had no one to turn to, even when inspectors from the Child Welfare Department visited."


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