Shortly after World War II, one of the largest planned mass migrations of the 20th century began. Britain was a fairly depressing place at the time, plagued by housing shortages and post-war rationing. Australia, on the other hand, had more land than they could handle, and a burgeoning economy to boot.
Australia was desperate for new immigrants to populate its shores; however its racist “White Australia Policy” kept blacks and Asians from applying. The British government was only too happy to help populate the Commonwealth, and thus, the assisted migration scheme came into being.
By the end of 1944, the British and Australian governments had begun negotiations for the planned assisted migration scheme. The government began to promote Australia as a land of glorious opportunity – a place where Britons could escape the difficulties of England and live a new, modern British lifestyle in sunny Australia.
The proposed scheme seemed nearly too good to be true to many in England. Hundreds of thousands of Britons were seduced by a fare of only £10 per adult and free passage for children. The government offered housing and great employment opportunities for all participants. In the first year alone, 400,000 Britons applied for the migration plan.
Starting in 1947, the migration began in earnest. Most migrants traveled aboard refitted troop ships, though a lucky few were able to make the voyage on luxury P&O liners that provided comfortable cabins, good food and even swimming pools.
The £10 plan didn’t come without a catch, however. As great as the deal seemed, the contract stated that migrants were required to stay in Australia for a minimum of two years or else they would be required to pay back the full fare. The risks were disregarded by most. Migrants were blinded by government propaganda films, and seduced by the idea of a stunning new life.
In reality, most had no idea what they were in for. Most Australian cities seemed little more than backwater towns to the incoming Brits. Many arrived without savings, thus, they were housed in former army barracks. The conditions seemed appalling to the immigrants, and many complained of being misled. Some didn’t even bother to get jobs, deciding instead to simply sit tight for the required two years until they could go home. The Australian media retaliated by labeling the British migrants “whinging Poms”.
Others truly did see Australia as a chance for a fresh start. Opportunity was everywhere – both for men and women – and those who tried were quickly able to find gainful employment. Some saved carefully and were able to buy their own land within the first year.
Over 1.5 million Britons took up the offer and relocated to Australia on the £10 fare. However, it’s estimated that about 250,000 of the “Ten Pound Poms” returned to England after the first few years. Oddly enough, half of the returnees eventually decided that returning had been a mistake and ended up going back to Australia after all. These became known as the “Boomerang Poms”.
A number of well-known personalities actually participated in this scheme. The Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, is in fact one of the most famous Ten Pound Poms. She migrated with her family from Wales in 1966 in the hopes that the warmer climate would aid in the healing of her lung infection.
The Gibbs brothers – better known as the Bee Gees – moved from Manchester, England to Queensland, Australia in the late 1950s. They kicked off their music career in Australia in 1958.
Other famous Ten Pound Poms include actor Hugh Jackman, singer and actress Kylie Minogue, and English cricketers Frank Tyson and Harold Larwood.