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  • 26 May 2005
  • Book reveals fate of Australia’s ‘Ten Pound Poms’


    The cover photo for Ten Pound Poms, featuring Susan Miller in 1963

    The cover photo for Ten Pound Poms, featuring Susan Miller in 1963

    Muriel Miller found out what Australia thought of her family when her children returned home from their first day at school there in 1963 and said: "Mum, what's a Pommie b*****d?"

    "That's what they called my children," remembers Muriel, one of more than one million "Ten Pound Poms" who set sail for the promise of a new life in Australia in the decades after World War II.

    Muriel returned with her family to England in 1966. Now settled in Hove, East Sussex, Muriel regards those three years as among the most exciting times of her life.

    This opinion, common among returning migrants, is one of the key themes of a fascinating new book out now - Ten Pound Poms: Australia's Invisible Migrants, by Dr Alistair Thomson of the University of Sussex and Dr Jim Hammerton of La Trobe University, Melbourne.

    The book draws on the life histories of more than 200 respondents in the UK who answered an appeal for stories from those who, like Muriel, had taken up the offer of assisted passage to Australia. These so-called "Ten Pound Poms" helped to plug the skills gap in the Australian labour market between the 1940s and 1970s. It was one of the biggest migrations of the postwar era, yet it has remained little explored until now. In today's fractious climate surrounding immigration issues, the book offers a glimpse of the white British experience of being an immigrant.

    Dr Hammerton follows the Britons who settled permanently in Australia, but it is the experiences of the returning Britons that has fascinated Australian Dr Thomson. The story is told through accounts detailing the excitement of the month-long outward voyage via exotic ports of call, the problems of assimilation and finding homes and work, to the decision by some to return to England.

    Dr Thomson says: "Migrant history usually looks at the success stories of those who stayed. The interesting thing here is that even for the migrants who went back to Britain, this was the most exciting time of their lives. It pulled them out of the rut. They looked back on the experience and converted something that might be seen as failure into a success story of travel and adventure."

    Dr Thomson adds: "The real reason why 250,000 Britons returned to the UK wasn't the anti-British feeling or the awful immigrant hostels - it was family responsibility. The guilt, isolation and homesickness people felt when confronted with ageing parents, marriage break-ups and pregnancy was too much to bear. People also felt culturally alienated in a land that was very familiar in some ways but also shockingly strange."

    Muriel, who returned home to care for her ailing mother, says: "I was young and craved adventure. We saw the world and tried new things. I never felt accepted there though, and we made mistakes: we had a beautiful bungalow, but it was miles from the city, in an immigrant settlement. I don't think the Australians were prepared for why we were there. But I never regretted my big adventure."

     

    Notes for editors 

    • Ten Pound Poms: Australia's Invisible Migrants, by A. James Hammerton and Alistair Thomson, is published by Manchester University Press. For details of the launch at the Australia High Commission on June 16, for interviews or a copy of the cover photograph featuring Muriel Miller's daughter Susan on board the Achille Lauro in Sydney Harbour, please contact University of Sussex Press office.
    Press office contacts: Maggie Clune or Jacqui Bealing, tel: 01273 678 888 or email M.T.Clune@sussex.ac.uk or J.A.Bealing@sussex.ac.uk

     

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