These life stories may contain descriptions of childhood trauma and abuse, as well as images, voices and names of people now deceased. If you need help, you can find contact details for some relevant support services on our support page.

Australian volunteer and community worker, Flo Hickson (1921-2014), was in institutions for most of her childhood.

Flo Hickson was born Florence Muriel Brown to Ruth Brown in Wales, United Kingdom. Ruth had a sad, short life with poverty, domestic violence and the death of two husbands and a baby. When she died in 1925 at the age of thirty-two, Flo and her sister Gwynneth and their brother were put into a Barnardos home in Barkingside, Essex.

From there, Flo was shipped out to Australia in 1928 arriving in Fremantle, Western Australia on 28 May 1928 and taken to the Kingsley Fairbridge Farm School at Pinjarra.

Life in the cottage Home headed by Katharine Kittell was regimented and strict. The children were wakened by a bugle call at 5.30am after which the children needed to be up, washed, making beds and doing chores. Punishment was conducted in public, in the Dining Hall.

Finally what I always dreaded, any punishment for so called crimes which included defying their Cottage Mother, forgetting to carry out their communal job, stealing fruit from the orchard. This was done publicly in the dining hall, a thrashing with a very flexible cane… We were always told why the person was being punished and we were also told that this was their reward. The punishment never did fit the crimes (Hickson p. 27).

All the while she was at Fairbridge and until she went out to work as a domestic at age fourteen, Flo (and the other children) didn’t wear shoes.

Apparently it was considered too costly to keep us all in shoes. I understood from conversations around me there were getting on for four hundred children at Fairbridge at that time… Someone had to pay for our keep and we were told that the English society paid so much per child till we were fourteen and the balance of monies had to be found in Australia (Hickson p. 18).

Although she was strict and often unkind, Katherine Kittall also took pains to introduce Flo to life in the upper classes; she had high expectations for Flo’s future.

Flo started her working life as a domestic servant, however, with work placements organised by Fairbridge. After a number of placements, during which she was sexually assaulted—and blamed for it—in one, Flo began work as a maid in the Domestic Science Centre at Fairbridge, living in the staff quarters.

When Flo was twenty-one she married John Hickson, an engineer from a middle class background, “the sort of social background Miss Kittell would have approved of.” She was married for eighteen years, moved to the East coast of Australia and had three children. When her married ended, Flo:

…took [herself] to college to study shorthand and typing part time, [because she] wanted a job that held some dignity (Hickson p. 201).

Flo Hickson did a variety of jobs including running an Opportunity Shop and working as the cook in a hotel. She became a union member and was “elected the first woman President on the South Coast.”

Flo retired when she was fifty-five and bought land which her daughter and son-in-law farmed.

Flo went on to become active in her community.

Much of my time is spent doing voluntary work, particularly for the retired age group. I have worked in organisations that have fought for better conditions for pensioners and still are fightingn (Hickson p. 204).

Flo also became an advocate for Former Child Migrants, calling for compensation for herself and others for neglect and abuse while in the Fairbridge Farm School and contributing to public inquiries on the Child Migration Scheme.

The State Library of Western Australia holds Flo Hickson’s papers, including the manuscript of her 1998 book, poems she has written, and personal papers.


“Fairbridge Farm School, Pinjarra (1913 – 1981).” Find & Connect, 2011.

Hickson, Flo. Flo. Child Migrant from Liverpool. Warwick, UK: Plowright Press, 1998.

Image available here.