Freddy Butterworth with his mum and dad, Fergus and Helen  CONTRIBUTED
Freddy Butterworth with his mum and dad, Fergus and Helen CONTRIBUTED

The boy who changed Queensland's adoption laws

THIS is the story of how love for an abandoned little boy in an orphanage in the Philippines was able to overcome Australia's restrictive adoption laws and create a  Sunshine Coast family.  

It's more than that too.  

It is how that little boy, Freddy Butterworth, has become a Sunshine Coast youth worker determined to return to the Philippines and give back.  

Freddy, from Sippy Downs, plans to return to the Philippines in August to share his testimony with the hundreds of children who are like he once was: a poor boy with no family and no foreseeable chance at a bright and prosperous future.  

That changed in December 1997 when Sunshine Coast tradie Fergus Butterworth went to the Philippines on a mission trip to rebuild an orphanage that had burnt down, killing five people, including Freddy's two brothers.  

How Freddy was able to come to the Sunshine Coast is nothing short of miraculous.

This is their story.  

"My dad died of cancer when I was fairly young, then mum abandoned us (me and my two brothers). She left us in the house and locked it up," Freddy said.  

"My grandparents found us and decided to take us to an orphanage. I was around three, I remember going there and thinking 'wow, this is a palace'.  

"One night I woke up in the middle of the night sweating. I saw a fire, bright yellow flames coming towards me.  

"I made it out of the building. As soon as got out I remembered my brothers and tried to run back in, but they wouldn't let me go.  

"Five people died in that fire, including my two brothers."  

Russell Wright, from Brisbane charity Global Care, heard about the fire and asked his brother-in-law, Fergus Butterworth, from Noosa, if he could go and help rebuild the orphanage.  

"My dad didn't want to go. He had three young children, but  he went," Freddy said.  

Behind the scenes Fergus's wife, Helen, had had a vision they were going to adopt a child.   

She hadn't shared it with her husband.  

Freddy remembers his first encounter with Fergus.  

"We had that instant connection. I wouldn't let go of him. I couldn't speak much English," Freddy said.  

Fergus took video of Freddy at the orphanage, playing with his sunglasses and messing around.  

"I don't know what stood out about him, there was just some sort of connection," Fergus said.  

"I was sort of fighting it, I already had three daughters and I didn't want more."  

But he  asked the orphanage director if there was any chance of  adopting Freddy.  

"The director of the orphanage said 'no', you can't just choose which kid you adopt, you have to go through a process," Freddy said.  

But Fergus returned six months later with Helen and one of their daughters, Lucinda, and they all fell in love with Freddy.  

The family returned to Australia and began a long, seemingly impossible adoption process.      

"Queensland law did not allow people to adopt children over five from another country and, under the Hague Convention, you also couldn't choose the child," Fergus said.  

"Queensland had the toughest laws."  

But this didn't stop them.  

"Mum kept praying," Freddy said.  

Three years later, the family received devastating news. Freddy had been adopted by an American family. But only hours before he was due to fly to his new home, his American family dumped him at the social worker's office in Manilla.  

Freddy was eventually sent back to the orphanage by boat.  

Here is where the story gets really interesting.  

Unbeknownst to the social workers, a despondent Fergus and Helen were in the Philippines doing mission work and had decided to take a boat trip to the orphanage knowing the boy who had stolen their hearts wouldn't be there.  

They called the orphanage from the boat to let them know they were coming and they discovered Freddy was on the same boat.  

"I remember him running across the aisles until he found me," Freddy said.  

The moment after Fergus found Freddy was captured in a photo.  

The social worker who was with Freddy noticed the connection between the two and said "this kid is meant to be with that family".     

Still, Queensland said "no".

The Butterworths moved to the Philippines for two years in April 2003 to do mission work where they could foster Freddy and spend time with him.  

They had to return home in 2005 and say goodbye to Freddy again.  

"It was heartbreaking, but what could we do?" Fergus said.  

The Philippines' welfare department asked why the family wasn't adopting Freddy.  

"The social worker at the orphanage told them we had been trying for eight years," Fergus said.  

It became a diplomatic issue, with the department asking the Queensland Government why  it would not allow the adoption.  

"Two weeks after we returned home, after eight years of 'no', we had a 'yes',"  Fergus said.  

"Within six months, Freddy was in Australia.  

"You think bureaucracy is an immovable object, but it's not."  

The Butterworths created a precedent in Queensland law by adopting a child over five. Since then, the laws have been relaxed and  families  can adopt older children.  

"Through the power of prayer and persistence, my parents were allowed to have me," Freddy said.  

Freddy has completed a Diploma of Youth Work and works for Warana's History Maker church as head of its media department.  

His mission is to "help youth" and fulfill a dream he had in Year 9 to minister in the Philippines.  

He has organised soccer boot and laptop fundraisers and is  organising programs for his trip in August where he will do feeding programs and medical missions.  

He has started a Gofundme page - Philthelove2016 - to raise support and has also organised a canape night on April 23 to raise funds.  

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