TEN POUND POMS - PART TWO
The book 'Ten Pound Poms' fails to mention an important part about the migration of British people to Australia. It doesn't mention the 'Big Brother' scheme. The term 'Big Brother' has more connotations than the seemingly innocent and friendly title the Australian authorities gave to this form of migration it offered to young boys from Britain around the 1950's. The name also became synonymous with a very frightening book entitled '1984' where the term 'Big Brother' meant that society was being watched by a vengeful government that would deal with you firmly if you got out of line. The Australian version was not quite that bad, but it did have its horror stories. I know. My friend joined and I nearly went with him.
Young British boys finishing their schooling in the 1950's met with work advisers who helped find suitable employment for them. These advisors all had the new doctrine about the the 'Big Brother' scheme and each boy was told about this opportunity to go to Australia and work with other immigrant boys on farms, without having to pay for fare or keep. It sounded like a great opportunity for fun and high adventure and appealed to young lads wanting to get away from home and go to the 'new world' downunder. The school in Dover where I completed my basic secondary education really pushed the idea. I knew many boys who wanted to go but were thwarted by their more realistic parents. Why would Australia want thousands of boys to go there and work on the farms asked parents. Isn't that exploitation of sorts asked others. And those with real imagination could foresee how such a plan could go seriously wrong. And for many of the eleven young boys who went from my school it was indeed a nightmare.
A good friend of mine at school, Harry Parker, joined the scheme and was on his way before that summer was over. His parents bought him some jeans, some good boots, some suitable shirts, and even an Aussie type hat, and Harry laid these out on his bed to show me how proud he was. He also got £20 from his dad to help get him get started downunder. Harry went by ship with hundreds of other young boys and, assisted passage families, and on arrival in Fremantle he was 'hostelized' for a short while before being loaded into an open lorry with four other boys and driven off into the outback. He was billited with these other British boys and for the early days on the 'Kerry Station' things went well. It was fun he wrote, hard work, damn hot, loads of flies, but fun. But then the work paled and became hard over many long hours, homesickness crept in, and the isolation of sitting at night under gas lamps surrounded by huge dive-bombing moths really got to Harry. Worse was a young boy with the group who was completely homesick and almost grief-stricken, whose feelings played on those of the other boys. After just three months most of the boys had had enough. Obviously, experts say today.
The 'Big Brother' scheme now lived up to its frightening name, and hundreds of over-worked and terribly homesick boys were isolated on farms or 'stations' all over Australia, some with ruthless anti-Brit owners who thought 'pommy kids' were weak, pale, and pampered. Many boys ran away, ending up in Sydney and Melbourne where some of the established migrant families took them in. The piper still had to be paid though, and the boy was either sent to a different more 'friendly' farm or shipped back home once the parents had paid up the 'passage and keep' money to get them home. That sum often ran into the hundreds of pounds. Thankfully not as many boys returned home as did immigrant families. The 'Ten Pound Poms' saw as many as one third return to Britain, but of the boys on the ' Brother' scheme only one in seven returned. It was easier for young boys to adjust. Soon the 'hard-arsed' farmers were rooted out and boys were relocated to better keepers of the scheme. The Australian authorities listened, but it took thousands of letters from home and several years for them to admit the 'Big Brother' scheme was full of exploitation and in some cases sheer terrifying cruelty. Only a handful of boys died because of the treatment and the isolation with several of those dying in the outback after running away. One boy died after not eating for weeks, contracting pneumonia, which is what 'technically' took his life. Another two were 'lost' in accidents, one from a boat and the other from a 'fall.'
The 'Big Brother' scheme came to an end after about 15 years. It was created to help farmers increase their yields by having 'cheap' and reliable help in the form of young healthy lads from Britain. It worked. Most of the boys took to the life and overcame the homesickness, the often ill treatment by farmers who didn't have the time to see past their profit & loss column, and the unfeeling and uncaring Australia government who had adopted the 'whineing Pom' attitude themselves. What happened to my friend Harry? Well we lost touch, but in 1992 I went to Australia for a few months after hearing of my father's death (many years ealier) and by tracking down Harry through a lot of 'Parkers' in the telephone books and registrars in various big cities. I found my father's resting place (he had absconded from home with a woman back in the late 1950's) and after a few train journeys I linked up with a much changed, very unhappy, Harry Parker. Harry had continued his farm work well into the 1970's and eventually married, raising two children. He bought his own spread and lost it to a big combine who 'mortgaged' him off the land during the 'changes,' eventually finishing up in Melbourne working on the railways. His marriage broke up and he went 'outback' to work on a few mines and on a few farms. When I met him he was a dark brown, sinewy, leathery faced man with a big drinking problem. Smoking had corrupted his lungs and life, God bless it, had corrupted him. Two years after I returned to Canada the hostel he lived in advised me he had passed away. He was 53.
When I was in Australia I went out of my way to meet as many exPats and exBrits as I could. I also sought out the company of the older Australian, because even then I had the idea of a newsletter telling the story about Brits who emigrated abroad, (the newsletter began in the spring of 1994) and who better to hear it from but from migrant exBrits and established Aussies. When you're looking for answers - you ask the right questions, like why 'whining Poms' and did you really secure a better life by leaving Britain. Ask, and though shalt receive. And I did. There's no one quite like an exBrit who thinks that by going to Australia he has found the promised land - and he'll tell you so, right in your face. Like he really had to justify it all. Many jumped all over my questions with answers so outdated and irrelevant that I had to repeat myself. My point was, what had Britain of the 1940's and 1950's to do with Britain today, yet all the exBrits I met related what they have now in Australia to what they had then in Britain, as if Britain still had cobblestones, gaslight, horse drawn buses, and ration cards! It was quite extraordinary to hear so many exBrits go on about a Britain that existed 50 years ago. 'Best thing we ever did' a lot said. I replied, 'but how do you know for sure,' and the standard reply was to relate to Britain 50 years ago. These kind of exBrits exist everywhere, not just in Australia. I meet them all the time here in Canada, and now I have this established website I get email from all over the world and hear a similar story from 'wobbly' Brits in New Zealand, South Africa, and the US. The 'Brit Abroad' is the subject of my next venture, a book of that title about all our exPats and exBrits wherever they are. It is underway and I hope to publish it late in 2006.
The Australian is a character I like. I worked with them in London before I emigrated the first time in 1967. Once past the outer edge of their 'brassy' character I found them informed, interesting, and game to chance most things in life. I've been in theatre all my life and I've met the Aussie of the stage, not unlike that well known one Errol Flynn who walked the boards at Nottingham Rep for 18 months. They're usually fun to be around, so when I was in Australia I sought out their company and tried very hard to get their opinion on the 'average' exPat and exBrit downunder. Up came the 'whineing Pom' term and regretably it's going to stick for a very long time. I don't agree with their entire reasoning, because migrants did have really bad times living hostilized in hot Nissen huts for months on end after their arrival. I'd bloody whine I told them! But Aussies love the hard type of euphamism, so every one gets one, be they wops, wogs, kiwis, or Poms, so we're in good company! And underneath, the Australian has more respect for Britain and the British than would appear on the surface. Although they've taken to Yanky spelling, as in valor, neighbor, and theater; but not 'harbour' though, surprisingly, perhaps because of their great Sydney Harbour, and some Yanky sports like baseball. But they're still the worlds best at cricket, and second only to New Zealand at rugby, and watch more British TV than any other country outside of Britain. That's British influence that will survive a long time.
The book 'Ten Pound Poms' is an excellent gathering of first hand reports and interviews from thousands of migrants who took the route downunder. There will never be such an exodus of Brits again to foreign lands. Most Brits these days that leave Britain do so to retire in such places as South Africa, Cyprus, Malta, and other warm and welcoming countries where their pensions and savings can go a lot further than at home. British workers are flocking abroad - to work, not to emigrate, because it's a big world where British skills are desperately needed. Right now Australia has an offer out for 22,000 skilled British workers to come downunder and do their stuff. There are upto 20,000 Brits wanting to emigrate from Britain every year but these applications are being filed mostly by non-white Brits, and Australia and Canada has enough non-whites as it is they say. The world is fast becoming the melting pot of cultures it was always slated to become. Things have changed dramatically over the last 50 years. The old emigration routes are not there just for the white Brit anymore. The age of British emigration is fading fast. And sadly, the legacy of an unfair name to a million and half Brits that had the courage to emigrate will stick for generations to come. But as the old exBrit and old exPat end their days this era of a 'A Brit Abroad' will quickly fade - but not before I get my book published about the entire story of Brits who emigrated around the world. Watch for it. Coming to a book store near you late next year!
Your story. My book, 'A Brit Abroad' tells the story of my travels around this world with my army parents, then my own service in the British army, then my ventures into Australia, the USA, and now Canada. My life has been a remarkably full one where I've met thousands of Brits living and working abroad. I'd like to add anything you might want to say as part of your story about being a Brit Abroad. Contact me as soon as you can. The book should be launched in the autumn of 2006.
Send me an email: Britmail@aol.com and we'll take it from there.