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  • 19 August 2005
  • Australia’s migrant plea recalls ‘Ten Pound Pom’ story


    As Australia unveils plans to admit 20,000 foreign skilled workers to boost the economy, migrants from an earlier era are recalling their experiences in a new book by University of Sussex historian Dr Al Thomson.

    The book, Ten Pound Poms: Australia's Invisible Migrants, tells the story, based on their own accounts, of the one million so-called Ten Pound Poms - Britons who left for the promise of a better life Down Under via a £10 one-way passage in the decades after World War II.

    Co-author Dr Thomson concentrated on the 250,000 migrants who returned to the UK rather than settling in Australia. Are there any lessons to be learned from the experiences of the Ten Pound Poms for today's migrants, who can spend as much as £11,000 to relocate to Australia?

    Dr Thomson says: "In many ways, British people who emigrate to Australia in the 2000s will have it easier than their predecessors. They won't face the acute housing shortage of post-war Australia and they should be able to afford to buy a new home, so they won't end up in the notorious migrant hostels. In the 1950s, Australia seemed as far away as Mars; today's migrants can travel relatively easily between the two countries, while email and mobile phones have made communication much simpler than it was in the days when a phone call 'home' was an expensive, annual affair. "

    He adds: "But the new generation of migrants will still be lured by images of a sunny paradise, and like their predecessors they will need to realise that Australia is not just like 'Britain in the sun'. In subtle but powerful ways Australia will be profoundly strange: all the smells and tastes will seem 'wrong'; the Australians speak a different 'English'; they live and work in different ways, and they can still be brutal to 'Pommy' newcomers. Perhaps most importantly, the new British immigrants will face the universal problems of all migrants: family dislocation and homesickness. Twenty-five per cent of Ten Pound Poms returned to live in Britain, mostly because of a desperate longing for family and friends or a nostalgic sense of 'home'. I would expect a similar return rate in the 2000s, though perhaps the ease of global travel will make it easier for 'boomerang migrants' to move back and forth between the two countries."

    Stringent requirements for entry to Australia and an ageing Australian population are seen as a reasons for the need to plug the skills shortage. It was a similar gap in the labour market that led to the Ten Pound Poms initiative - a solution as controversial in Australia then as it is today.

    This hostility was reflected in some Ten Pound Pom experiences. 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, who returned to England in 1966. Now in Hove, East Sussex, Muriel regards those three years, however, as among the most exciting of her life. This opinion, common among returning migrants, is one of the key themes of the book, which draws on the experiences of more than 200 returning Ten Pound Poms.

     

    Notes for editors 

    • Ten Pound Poms: Australia's Invisible Migrants, by A. James Hammerton and Alistair Thomson, is published by Manchester University Press.  Tel: 0161-275 7748.
    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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