04 February 2012

Ten Pound Poms: from Britain with love

Japan had bombed Darwin almost with impunity during World War 2. After the war ended, the Prime Minister Ben Chifley recognised that Australia needed a long-term strategy for defending the nation against any future invasion. He also recognised that the Australian labour force had suffered under the strains of total war and from massive death/injury rates to its young men. With only 7 million citizens, Australia needed to Populate Or Perish.

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.

The Ten Pound Pom scheme was established i.e an assisted migration scheme that operated in Australia from 1946 onwards. Adult migrants were charged only ₤10 for their fare (a fraction of the true ticket cost) and children travelled for free. Priority was indeed given to British citizens, but workers and their families from all Commonwealth countries were welcome. Of the 400,000 people in Malta, for example, 140,000+ people left on an assisted passage scheme, 60% of them to Australia.

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.


Mandy Southgate said...

Wow! What a fascinating post!! I had never really heard of this scheme before and now I understand the big controversy in my family. My aunt was accepted to move to Australia and my Nan wouldn't let her go. I'm definitely adding that book to my to-read list.

Hels said...


thank you... you have reminded me of the unintentional consequence of this heavily subsidised recruitment programme - the breakup of loving British families. Many of the returnees (to Britain) did so because they desperately missed their parents and siblings, and feared they would never see their families again.

Ordinary migrants, who paid their own way to Australia, could afford to wait until the entire family was ready to emigrate.

Mandy Southgate said...

Heh. I have to admit, when I heard about my aunt's dreams, I was always slightly resentful that my Dad chose South Africa and not Australia (I would have loved to live there) but then I wouldn't be here!!

Hels said...


I also think of the serendipidous nature of decision-making. If my husband had gone to Argentina in the 1950s instead of to Australia, he would have probably married some Spanish-speaking rhumba dancer with an extremely tight dress :(

Andrew said...

Lol at rhumba dancer. My partner was a ten pounder, but by then they were flying out. At least once every winter he complains about propaganda of perpetual blue skies. Diane at Adventure before Dementia has a good account of her trip out on a ship as a young girl, with the help of her mother's diaries. It is in the side bar.

Leon Sims said...

Your post brought back memories as I lived in Preston during that period and not far from our home was a migrant hostel. I had the good fortune to have gone to primary school with many kids of different nationalities. Brits/Scots/Italians/Greeks. And as friends we invited each other into respective homes and gain insights to different customs.

Hels said...

Leon and Sue

that is so true. At my primary school in the mid 1950s, a newly arrived pupil was always allocated a desk next to a child who spoke the same language. This worked very well, at least for children who spoke Italian, Greek, Maltese or Dutch.

I suspect the young children adapted faster to their new country than did their parents.

Hels said...


most people had very fond memories of the ship, living in relative luxury for a month and a day. Reality didn't set in until people were allocated hostel accommodation in Australia!

I shall have a look at Diane at Adventure before Dementia. Many thanks.

Mandy Southgate said...

Ha ha. Rumba dancer!

Hermes said...

Great post Helen.

A couple of nice comments on the BBC site


I certainly hadn't realised it was still going so strong in the late 60's.

diane b said...

A great informative post about 10 pound poms. I am glad that you found my story of our migration to Australia. My husband was also an assisted migrant from Switzerland in 1967. He flew out. He has some funny stories about coming to a different culture with a different language.http://from-thun-to-brisbane.blogspot.com.au/2010/12/in-beginning.html

Michael said...

My mother's family came out from the Netherlands under a similar scheme in the 1950s.

It was a successful program and should be lauded as such!

John Tyrrell said...

A fascinating post which reminded me how in my youth the well to do in England rather looked down on Australia as a place to settle, whereas now, despite the worst efforts of Sir Les Patterson, it is seen as a very desirable destination - good wine and an opera house. How stereotypes change!

Incidentally you could add Rhodesia to your list of places to which UK citizens were encouraged to emigrate after the war. Officers went to Kenya, NCO's to Rhodesia and I guess the rest went to Australia. I am not sure where New Zealand fitted in to that scheme!

I also read your link about the orphans sent to Australia. There were so many cases in northern Europe of institutionalised ill treatment of children at that time.

Great blog


Hels said...


good reference! I did watch The Ten Pound Poms made by BBC Two a year or two ago. It seemed like a very professional and balanced review of an assisted migrant programme that lasted for decades.

I forgot to mention that to encourage even more British migration, the ‘Bring out a Briton’ campaign was launched in 1957. Australian families and organisations were encouraged to
take responsibility for sponsoring particular British families and assisting them to settle.

Hels said...


I can find assisted migration agreements signed with Britain, Czechoslovakia, Turkey, Italy, Hungary etc, but very little specifically mentioned about Switzerland until 1954 and then 1966. You must be delighted that of all places on earth, your husband chose Australia :)

Hels said...


New assisted passage schemes were agreed with the Netherlands and Italy as early as 1951. There was a belief that Dutch immigrants would be hard working, family-centred migrants who would assimilate well into the Australian community.

How true that was.

Hels said...


I agree. Nobody would want to leave home and travel half way around the globe for a new life, unless life at home was tough. I can imagine how miserable it must have been, looking at the war damage in British cities and wondering if proper food would ever be available again.

Even if Australia was thought of as a bit rough in 1946-70, British working families correctly believed they could buy their own home on their own plot of land in Australia.

the foto fanatic said...

When I lived in a Brisbane housing commission area in my teens we had ten pound Poms, Dutch, then Italian next-door neighbours. At school there were Spanish, German and Yugoslavian kids. I can also remember families from Latvia and Russia.
The school was in a low socio- economic area and so had no facilities, but it was a rich education by virtue of the depth of culture.
Kids from my class are now millionaire businessmen, chartered accountants, politicians, teachers and doctors.
Why wouldn't we want migrants coming here?

Hels said...

foto fanatic,

*nod*. Whenever I hear right wing politicians and commentators talking about criminal boat people, greedy people-smugglers and the invasion of proud and free Australia, I feel sick to the stomach. Right back to the 19th century, migrants were the people who made this country diverse, hard working and creative.

If our own parents weren't migrants, our grand parents certainly were.

ChrisJ said...

I feel the same nausea when people refer to those"terrible" immigrants. Basically, if our families didn't live here, in Canada anyway, by about 12000 years ago, we are all immigrants or descended from them.

Hels said...


I suppose we have ceased being surprised at how some commentators want to lock potential migrants into poverty or oppression in their own countries, rather than allowing them to migrate to a better world.

But what about the practical consequences? Australia wouldn't have had a vibrant community of brilliant musicians after 1938, if it wasn't for migration from Germany. The Snowy Mountains Scheme, a world leader, would not have been built (1949-1974) except for 100,000 migrants from across Europe. Medical care outside the capital cities improves every year as migrant doctors serve their new nation.

I bet you could give very similar examples in Canada, New Zealand etc etc