Skilled and fit workers were desperately needed. Orphaned children from Britain had been sent to the old British colonies for several decades, but how many orphans did Britain have? Desperate times called for vigorous measures.
Advertising poster, showing a well integrated British family settled into Australian life, Victoria Museum.
But while working class families were actively recruited, the screening was nonetheless intense. The father in each family needed to be in sound health, under the age of 45 years and ready to work. Every member of the family was given a physical health examination and some sort of intelligence test. People who might drain the health services in Australia were discouraged from applying.
400,000+ British citizens registered at Australia House in London for the project, in 1947 alone! Most were from ordinary, solid working families.
The programme worked very well for Australia, of course, but also for Britain. Seductive recruitment films were shown all over Britain, advertising a life of full employment and freestanding housing, a sunny climate and a sporty or beach-based lifestyle. Britain was still in the grip of bombed out cities, food and petrol rationing, and ex-servicemen looking for employment. And, I suspect, Britain was happy enough to have its working families sent out to the old colonies, to provide “breeding stock” for a vigorous British Commonwealth.
It also worked out very well for the shipping companies. Bunk accommodation on refitted troop ships was at first all that could be provided. Then shipping companies started to compete for the lucrative migrant trade and standards became quite classy.
Passengers welcomed off the SS Strathnaver. Daily Telegraph Sydney, March 1959.
How white was the programme? Australian politicians may have stopped talking about the White Australia Policy, but they still believed Britain had the best quality of citizen. So they looked to Britain (and then to northern European countries like Netherlands) for immigrants, believing that such people would more easily assimilated into the Australian community. Only when applications from British and Dutch migrant families dwindled (in the 1960s) did Australia gradually extend its assisted passage schemes to immigrants from other countries. By focusing on Italy, Greece and Yugoslavia, it was thus possible to maintain the very high levels of immigration enjoyed since the war.
Much of the early accommodation in Australia consisted of disused army camps-cum-hostels where migrant families could remain for up to a year. The goal was to give them training, to help them settle into the Australian community and to find well paid jobs. Fortunately the Nissan huts were gradually replaced with proper buildings and improved facilities.
If migrants returned home to Britain within two years of landing on Australian shores, they had to pay back the true costs of bringing their entire family out on the Ten Pound Pom Scheme. If they fulfilled their two years requirement in Australia, they were free to stay or go as they liked. An estimated quarter of the Ten Pound Poms left Australia within a few years of their arrival, either because they missed Britain and their families desperately, or because the migrant experience in Australia was tough eg the migrant hostels were fairly bleak or the work was too physical. Returnees were referred to as Boomerang Poms.
residential huts, Bathurst Migrant Camp, 1951. National Archives of Australia
1969 was the peak year for the scheme with 80,000+ people sailing or, by that time, flying to Australia for ₤10. I didn’t realise this but one of the most famous Ten Pound Poms is Prime Minister Julia Gillard who migrated with her Welsh family in 1966. The Bee Gees migrated in the late 1950s from Manchester. Hugh Jackman’s parents and siblings were Ten Pound Poms in 1967.
I asked my in laws how they chose Australia as their forever home. It was easy, they said. They applied for visas to South Africa, Australia, Canada, USA and Argentina. Whichever nation responded first, they would accept. Just as well it was Australia. These impoverished Ten Pound Czechs worked hard from the day they arrived in 1952, providing their children with a lovely home, university education and professions. And me with a fine husband.
Ten Pound Poms: Australia's Invisible Migrants, written by Hammerton and Thomson, told the story of the million plus Britons who emigrated to Australia between 1946 and 1970s. To document migrant life histories, the authors drew on letters, diaries, personal photographs and hundreds of oral history interviews with former migrants, including those who settled permanently in Australia and those who eventually returned home to Britain. It was published by Manchester University Press in 2005.
Southern Cross immigration poster, Victoria Museum (date?)
I also like Adventure Before Dementia where the author published her mother's experiences, both en route to Australia and after the family arrived. The photos, diary entries and menus provide wonderful material for the family to relive and for other readers to examine.