Busloads of Bewilderment and Soft Toys
By Fiona Athersmith
The bewildered faces peering from the steamy windows of the buses were met by the cameras and lights of the media contingent that had come to see the Children of God.
The younger children, some still in nappies, held soft toys or took comfort in sucking their thumbs. One girl clutched a blue-and-white toy rabbit by its ear, and a small boy wrapped his arms around the neck of the policeman who lifted him from the bus.
Above the clamor a girl asked: "Where are we supposed to go?" After last night's court sitting, the children are spending the weekend in the care of Community Services Victoria. The older children, who seemed interested in their surroundings, were already taking care of younger brothers and sisters.
As lawyers carried legal books and papers, welfare workers carried toys and small children. It became an exercise in logistics to find offices and court rooms into which to fit lawyers, children and welfare workers. At one stage, police and welfare workers systematically searched the building in case they had mislaid children.
The 60 dispossessed children, all wearing name tags, started arriving at court at 5.55pm and the last bus delivered its passengers at 6.20pm. Police stood on the wet roadway, halting traffic to give the buses easier access to the undercover driveway of the court.
As one bus arrived, a parent rushed up to it, looked through the window, waved and smiled. Later in the evening, there were cries of "Mommy" and "Momma" as the children glimpsed the waiting group of parents.
After finding out that they would not be going home with their children, several women started to cry and were comforted by other parents.
It was the greatest number of children that the children's court had seen at one time. There was almost one welfare worker for each child. The court rooms seat 24 people. A court official commented that the only other time such a group of children had been seen in the court was when 28 children were taken from Anne Hamilton-Byrne's sect, the Family, in 1987.
Not all the children's parents were present. Those who were there talked to each other in hushed tones, but replied "no comment" to media inquiries.
There were queues to use the public telephones throughout the evening. And when `A Current Affair' began on the television set in the court's waiting room, people stopped what they were doing and jostled for position to watch it.
The program's first item was a report about the seizure of the children and the day's events in Victoria and New South Wales. There was laughter at what was perceived as a melodramatic opening to the report. It was the only laughter of the night.