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MercyCare Oration 2017 sees the remarkable real life story of Saroo Brierley

To promote community understanding of issues synonymous with MercyCare’s values, this year’s MercyCare Oration 2017 takes you on the personal journey of a lost five-year old boy from the backstreets of India to the beautiful city of Tasmania.

Shining the light on MercyCare’s fostering services, there was no one better to tell the story than Saroo Brierley himself. Held at the Hyatt Perth on 21 September and presented by the man himself, Mr Brierley talks about his remarkable life story that inspired the Hollywood film, Lion.

The event saw some 650 dignitaries and distinguished guests including:

  • Her Excellency the Honourable Kerry Sanderson AC, Governor of Western Australia
  • Most Reverend Donald Sproxton, Auxiliary Bishop of Perth, representing the Most Reverend Timothy Costelloe SDB, Archbishop of Perth
  • The Hon Simone McGurk MLA, Minister for Child Protection; Women’s Interests; Prevention of Family and Domestic Violence and Community Services, representing the Honourable Mark McGowan MLA, Premier of Western Australia
  • Mr Joshua Wilson MP, Member for Fremantle,
  • Chair of the MercyCare Board, Mary Woodford
  • Chair of the MercyCare Trustees, Jennifer Stratton
  • Board and Trustee representatives from MercyCare
  • Former Trustees and Board Directors of MercyCare, including the inaugural Chair of the Trustees Greg Clune and the inaugural Chair of the Board Dr Maria Harries AM
  • Sisters of Mercy

CEO of MercyCare, Chris Hall welcomed all guests to the evening and said that the oration is a much loved tradition that is held on or around Mercy Day each year that celebrates the organisation’s origin over 170 years ago.

“I pay tribute to the many Sisters of Mercy here tonight who began the work we carry on today. We hope this evening does two things – deepens your knowledge of MercyCare’s work and vision as well as leaves you uplifted and energised by an extraordinary personal story that very much ties in to our MercyCare values and mission of breaking cycles of significant disadvantage. 

“Many of you will already be aware of the range of services MercyCare delivers within the community but tonight the focus is on our fostering services and the life-changing work being done every day by our out-of-home care team and foster carers” Mr Hall said.

Explaining further that on any given night, MercyCare has up to 60 children in care, who are unable to live with their families due to a variety of circumstances, he said MercyCare’s aim is to provide everyone with a safe, secure and loving environment.

“Our Orator for this evening, Saroo Brierley, was given this chance, when at the young age of five, he was adopted by Tasmanian couple Sue and John Brierley after being accidently separated from his biological family and lost on the chaotic streets of Kolkata, thousands of kilometres from home.

“What followed is an incredible story which has won hearts across the globe after inspiring the Oscar nominated film Lion,” Mr Hall said.

Taking the audience through his detailed life story, Mr Brierley spoke about his journey that started 29 years ago in a slum suburb in India. With only a t-shirt and shorts on, he went from being with his family in Khandwa to being lost on the streets of Kolkata.

“My curiosity got the better of me one day. When my whole family was together and seeing that I was always looking after my sister, I decided to follow my big brother one night. After much persistence, he finally allowed me to go with him. We got on a train from our local train station and went to a bigger station called Burhanpur, but I soon got tired. So my brother left me on a bench at the train station and said that he would be back. Little did I know that that it would be the last words I would hear from my brother,” he said.

What followed was a whirlwind journey for little Saroo who got on a train in search of his brother and travelled some 1,600 kilometres to a place foreign to him. He survived for weeks on the streets before being placed in an orphanage and later adopted by Tasmanian couple Sue and John Brierley.

The best decision that he could have made at the age of five left him in limbo all through his adulthood wondering where his biological family was.

“Although I had a good life, I started to remember and have dreams, kind of like an out of body experience about my biological mother and my sister. I’d materialise on the streets going back to my house. This journey of wanting to find out about my past and what happened to my family became prominent in my life as I went more and more into adulthood. I didn’t know what to do. I was 25 years old. I realised the best way to do it is to get online. So I got onto Google Earth and tracked my way back but there were roadblocks all along the way,” he explained.

In this state for a few years, in 2011 he finally catches his break and there was no turning back. Through his drawings and vivid imagination, he finds the water tower, the train line next to it and the ravine from his dreams.

“So with my parents’ blessings, I got on a plane and at the age of 29, I had found what I was looking for,” Mr Brierley said.

Since his reunion with his mother and family, he was inundated with interviews worldwide with 60 minutes doing a short documentary on his life and the meeting of his biological mother and his adoptive mother.

“It was a pivotal moment in my life. It’s been a colourful journey of trials and tribulations. I got the chance of writing a book called ‘A long way home’ in 2013 which went on to become a Hollywood blockbuster in 2016.

“I wrote my book to give back in any way I can to other children or people who have been in similar situations, to empower and educate, to never give up in their quest like me to find my way back home, he concluded.

This years Oration was to raise funds for our First Time Ever Fund that provides children in care with positive experiences that help shape their sense of identity and self-worth. You can help by making a donation.