Who were the Ten Pound Poms? Stephanie Bishop tells all
August 13, 2015
My grandparents migrated to Australia from England in 1965. They travelled as Ten Pound Poms, part of an assisted passage scheme that allowed British citizens to travel to Australia for £10, while children travelled at no cost. Any Briton was eligible to apply, provided they were healthy and qualified to work. The idea behind the scheme was to increase the population of Australia with British stock. This was one of the biggest organised migrations of the 20th century, with over one million Britons moving to Australia during the three decades following the Second World War.
The advertising campaign for this scheme was hugely seductive, with the brochures promoting a fairytale version of British life lived out in a sunny country. Australia was depicted as an idyllic
place, where fresh food was plentiful and where there was said to be abundant opportunities for work. Australia was promoted as an egalitarian country where one could start anew and prosper. However, many who migrated arrived to feel that they had been deceived – Australia was nothing like England, and the conditions of the migrant hostels were often dreadful: hot, cramped, with poor and insufficient food. Although not everyone had to reside in these hostels – those who arrived with jobs already in place, ‘sponsored migrants’ as they were called, were free to go their own way. My grandparents fell into this category, but this did not necessarily make the transition an easy one. My grandmother really didn’t want to leave England, and migrated largely at the insistence of her husband, my grandfather. They had, at the time, four young children and my grandmother discovered that she was pregnant with her fifth child on the journey out.
It is said that one of the most challenging things for this group of migrants was the fact that it was readily assumed they would make an easy and quick adjustment to their new life. If they were British, and they had come to a “British” country, why would they not feel at home? But so much about the country was not what these migrants had been led to expect – the harsh climate, the landscape, the vast distances between places. My grandmother found the process of adjustment a very difficult one, and still, to this day, thinks of England as her home. Growing up, I always thought of hers as an isolated story – she was the odd one out, the lone Whingeing Pom. Yet later, I discovered that the archives were full of stories just like hers – stories, in particular, of women, of housewives, who found themselves profoundly isolated, terribly homesick for England, and without the option of return.
Of course, it was not all doom and gloom – for my grandfather, this was the best decision he ever made. And similarly, there is just as much archival evidence, and living testimony, asserting the benefit of such a migration. But this is also the common story – that we migrate to a better life. When I set out to work on this novel, I really wanted to explore the alternative version of this story, the story that we often do not hear. This was the story of those migrants who didn’t identify with that happy version of the story. Often these were women, like my grandmother, for whom migration was a much more complicated and heartrending experience.
Stephanie Bishop’s stunning début for Tinder Press THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD is out now in hardback and ebook. Join the noisy chatter about this special book on Twitter at #TOSOTW.
The praise for THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD is flooding in…
‘An unflinching but tender portrayal of life after children… a moving story of marriage, home and self-discovery’ Stylist Magazine
‘A breathy, sensual conjuring up of two countries, two people steeped in their own sense of nostalgia, beating with a page-turning pulse’ Sainsbury’s Magazine
‘A spellbinding and beautifully written debut by Stephanie Bishop, about a woman struggling with life as a new mother after she’s uprooted by her husband to Australia.’ Good Housekeeping
‘Intelligent and poignant’ Glamour – Must Read
‘Atmospheric – the contrast between the two cultures and climates is very well done’ Cathy Rentzenbrink, The Bookseller, Editor’s Choice
‘A subtle and moving book’ Optima Magazine
‘A beautiful story about parenthood, marriage and a young mother’s bewilderment by change, responsibility and duty.’ Candis Magazine
‘a painfully intimate portrait of a marriage in crisis and of a woman on the verge of losing herself… a read-in-one-sitting kind of book, and perfect for book clubs. You’ll be debating this one for hours!’ New Books Magazine