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Ten pound poms

Did you have a good Easter? Go anywhere nice and sunny? CCE's Dr Alistair Thomson certainly did. During the vacation he spent three weeks in his native Australia, interviewing some of the so-called 'ten pound poms' who crossed the seas in the 25 years after 1945. But Alistair is equally interested in the thousands of them who came back.

pamphlet coverMore than a million Britons responded to the post-war demand for labour in Australia, while others chose to go to New Zealand, Canada or southern Africa. "All those countries were competing with each other through the '50s and '60s for British migrants," says Alistair. "People would go to Australia House, go to New Zealand House, and so on, and then lay all the pamphlets on the table and say, 'Right, which one are we going to go to?'"

Most went as assisted migrants, paying ten pounds for the journey. Although these 'ten pound poms' were part of one of the largest migration schemes of the 20th century, historians know little about the experiences of those who left Britain for Australia and even less about the quarter of them who returned to the UK.

Now Alistair aims to put that right, with the help of researcher Dr Lani Russell - herself the daughter of an assisted migrant. Their year-long project, which is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB), complements research being undertaken at LaTrobe University in Melbourne, where Dr Jim Hammerton is collecting accounts by Britons who remained in Australia.

As part of the project, Alistair and Lani have put out an appeal throughout Sussex for 'ten pound poms' to get in touch. More than 125 have already responded, including several on campus.

One of them is Pat Bone, who now works in USIE but spent the early 1970s in Melbourne and Sydney. Like many other migrants, she returned to Britain for a short break and was then caught out by changes to citizenship laws which meant she was unable to get back into Australia. This is a source of continuing regret, she says. "I'm still in touch with many of my friends, and I go back every five years. The only thing I don't miss is the spiders."

Laura Green, from SPRU, was only four years old when she moved to Sydney 30 years ago, but she still remembers the smells. She told the Evening Argus, "I remember the way grass smelt - I don't think there was much, but at this time of year when grass is being cut everywhere, it always makes me think of Australia." When she returned to Crawley, aged six, she was teased at school for her Aussie accent, which she still retains even now.

Alistair and Lani will shortly be rolling out their appeal for respondents to other parts of the UK, so if you know any 'ten pound poms', encourage them to get in touch - and make history. Lani's number is 01273 877774.


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Friday 5th May 2000


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