The Assisted Passage Migration Scheme was created in 1945 by the Chifley Government and its first Minister for Immigration, Arthur Calwell, as part of the “Populate or Perish” policy. It was intended to substantially increase the population of Australia and to supply workers for the country’s booming industries. Australia required an influx of 70,000 migrants a year to meet the demands.
In return for subsidising the cost of travelling to Australia – adult migrants were charged only ten pounds sterling for the fare (hence the name) and migrant scheme children travelled free of charge – the Government promised employment prospects, affordable housing and a generally more optimistic lifestyle. Upon arrival, migrants were placed in basic migration hostels but the expected job opportunities were not always readily available.
Coming to an end in 1982, the scheme reached its peak in 1969; during this year over 80,000 migrants took advantage of the scheme. The cost to migrants of the assisted passage was increased to £75 in 1973.
While the term “Ten Pound Pom” is in common use, the scheme was not limited to migrants from the United Kingdom. Persons born in the Irish Free State or in the southern counties of Ireland prior to the establishment of the Republic of Ireland in 1949 were also classified as British subjects. In fact most British subjects were eligible and, at the time, that included not only those from the British Isles but also residents of British colonies such as Malta and Cyprus. Australia also operated schemes to assist selected migrants from other countries, notably the Netherlands (1951), Italy (1951), Greece (1952), West Germany (1952) and Turkey (1967).
The only catch was that if you took up the offer you had to stay at least two years before deciding to return or you would have to pay the full fare home yourself. You also had to pass a health check and be under 45 years of age. If they chose to travel back to Britain, the cost of the journey was at least £120, a large sum in those days and one that most could not afford.
Many thousands of “Ten Pound Poms” sailed from the United Kingdom on board P&O-Orient Line ships to their new life down under. Many of them thrived, quickly settling in to their new way of life in an exciting, easy-going, friendly new world. However, some were soon disillusioned and homesick for Britain. An estimated quarter of those British migrants decided that life in Australia was not for them and returned to the UK within the qualifying period. Half of these – the so-called “Boomerang Poms” – returned to Australia.
A quote from Western Australia Now & Then: “As a ‘ten pound pom’ myself I can still remember the excitement of travelling to a new, unknown land. Most of us who arrived are very grateful to Australia for the opportunity we were given. Speaking personally I would never dream of living anywhere but Australia. What about some ‘ten pound poms’ that people think are Australian, well try these names for a start: Hugh Jackman, The Bee Gees, Noni Hazlehurst, Jimmy Barnes, John Waters, John Farnham, Olivia Newton John, Kylie Minogue, Julia Gillard and Alan Bond.”
Nick Messinger ~ Fourth Officer SS Orcades 1964: “It was the bargain of the century – to sail aboard a P&O-Orient liner for a fare of just ten pounds. The Ten Pound Poms had hoped to escape post-war rationing and stiff, class-bound British society. In truth they were moving to a foreign country far from familiarity. It was a roll of the dice for all of them – and for P&O too! Life on board the ‘migrant ships’ could be fun, exciting and sometimes violent. Some folk came on board with a few quid in their pockets, drank themselves into a stupor, and then started fighting each other. On the Orient ships, we employed a ‘heavy-gang’: ten of the biggest and ablest able seamen and a burly master at arms, in order to break up the riots below decks in tourist class. With the third or fourth officer at their head, blowing on his whistle, and calling for ‘order’, the heaving mass of pugilists would be given an ultimatum – ‘Stop fighting, proceed immediately to your cabins, or else!’ Invariably, the latter involved the subduing of the miscreants, who were then marched off to the brig, which was hot and cramped, and normally situated close to the engine-room exhaust fans. Next day they were on the bridge at noon for logging and punishment. If they had no funds, it was back to the brig for a few days. In the worst cases, they were landed at the next port of call, handed over to the customs police, and (eventually) repatriated.”
Ten Pound Poms is a colloquial term used in Australia and New Zealand to describe British citizens who migrated to Australia and New Zealand after the Second World War. They were called that because they only had to pay £10 in processing fees to migrate to Australia and the Commonwealth arranged for assisted passage on chartered ships and aircraft.
There are several folk etymologies for “Pommy” or “Pom”. The best-documented of these is that “Pommy” originated as a contraction of “pomegranate”. According to this explanation, “pomegranate” was Australian rhyming slang for “immigrant” (“Jimmy Grant”).
Come to our museum on Saturday, 4th May to hear Peter Ploughman tell us more on this subject. See poster in left column. Please feel free to forward to anyone you think might be interested.