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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 January 2008, 11:54 GMT
The £10 ticket to another life
Britons sailing to Australia
Britons were seduced by government propaganda films

By Lisa Matthews
BBC Timewatch

After World War II many Britons were sold the dream of a new life in Australia, seduced by a fare of just £10. Over one-and-half million went, but what became of the Ten Pound Poms?

For young newlyweds John and Sylvia Cannon "it seemed like an amazing adventure for the price".

John, now 68, worked as a sales clerk for a car company in London's East End and like most working class Britons, they could never have afforded the real cost of the voyage. At £120 it was nearly half of John's yearly wage.

Like many others they were seduced by government propaganda films in glorious technicolour, which sold the dream of a modern British way of life in the sun.

Sylvia and John Cannon
The Cannons bought land in Australia for £700

It was a chance to escape post-war rationing and a housing shortage. Australia was sold as a land of boundless opportunity. In the first year alone 400,000 Britons applied to migrate.

Australia desperately wanted white British stock to populate its shores and build its burgeoning post-war economy.

The racist law, known as The White Australia Policy, meant blacks or Asians need not apply. Britain was more than happy to oblige, helping to populate the Commonwealth with Britons.

Beginning in 1947, it was one of the largest planned mass migrations of the 20th Century. Some were transported in refitted troop ships.

But John and Sylvia, who left for Australia in 1961, were among the lucky ones and found themselves on one of the P&O liners equipped with swimming pools, luxury cabins and more food than they could possibly eat.

Boomerang Poms

Kathleen Upton from Hastings, who left for her new life in 1954, also sailed on one. She had never seen anything like it.

"The food, I couldn't believe it," she says. "We were on rations in London and there was so much and such tropical fruits."

The "catch" of the Ten Pound contract meant that migrants had to stay for at least two years or pay back the full fare. In truth, many had little idea of what they were in for.

Kathleen Upton
The Uptons tried sheep farming
When the ship made its first port of call in western Australia, the honeymoon was soon over for Sylvia Cannon, now 68.

"I remember going into Perth and walking through the main street. I stopped and asked someone where the centre was and I couldn't believe I'd come right through it. It was just such a backwater."

Many migrants without savings were housed in Nissen huts - former Army barracks - and were appalled by the conditions, feeling they had been misled.

Some refused to get jobs, instead deciding to sit out the two years till they could return home. They were quickly labelled whinging Poms by the Australian media.

"I remember John and I saying look, we can't get involved in this because it's going to pull us down, it's going to depress us," says Sylvia.

"We made a conscious decision that we wouldn't become overly friendly with the other migrants in the hostel and we'd get out as soon as we could."


They moved to Melbourne to find work. There was plenty of opportunity, for women as well as men, and they both got jobs, with Sylvia bringing home the bigger wage. They saved hard and bought their first block of land for £700 just nine months after arriving.

"That was a tremendous thing to East End of London kids, because you never had that possibility at home," says Sylvia.

But others were not so happy and the home sickness had serious consequences. Maisie McDonald's mother had a nervous breakdown because she missed Britain so much and spent time in a hospital, but the family could not afford to return.

John and Sylvia Cannon
Australia was a land of opportunity for the Cannons
"That was sort of the beginning of when I grew up and I think then I started to dislike Australia because of what had happened to my mum. She was not happy and if mum was not happy, I was not happy."

Her family all remained in Australia and Maisie and her sibling ended up marrying and having families. But to this day she says she never really "feels Australian".

Kathleen, now in her late 80s, and her husband had moved to Australia partly because of their young daughter's asthma, but they too were soon having second thoughts.

"Our first impression was they weren't very welcoming," she says. "I think they resented us very, very much. This shipload of people coming out from Europe would be taking their jobs."

Like many British immigrants - 20% according to one survey - they tried their hand at life in the bush. They took up sheep farming but a drought ended up killing many of their flock. They lasted just over two years but still had to find the £300 fare home.


"It was an experience that we wouldn't have missed," says Kathleen. "I think it teaches you so much about life and what your own resources are. I think it made me grow up with a bang. But I don't miss the insects."

Even John and Sylvia were having second thoughts, and after five years in Australia they too decided to return to Britain. In all 250,000 migrants ended up heading home.

Yet almost half of those who returned, soon decided they had made a mistake and ended up going back to Australia. They became known as the Boomerang Poms.

Family in Nissan huts
Families lived in former Army barracks
After just a year back in London the couple decided they too had made the wrong decision and headed back to Australia and this time it was for good.

Britain alone could never supply enough migrants for Australia's needs.

During the 60s, Australia was forced to open its door to other races, gradually abandoning the White Australia Policy. The Ten Pound Scheme finally came to an end in 1982.

But it had already left its mark on Australia in the form of more than a million Britons who had stayed, and the country had left its mark on them.

For the Cannons the move was life changing in many ways. Australia offered Sylvia the chance of reinvention. She decided to go back into education and is now a qualified psychotherapist with her own practice. John followed his wife to university and became a psychologist.


"In the early days in England if you weren't educated it kept you in the plateau that you were born in," says Sylvia.

"But I came here and there was no class consciousness, so I could be whoever I wanted to be and develop how I wanted to develop and that was a tremendous freedom.

"I would never have become a psychotherapist if I'd stayed in England. I didn't even know what the word meant."

The couple have raised three children in their adopted home, who are "thoroughly Australian", and now have eight grandchildren. They say they feel more Australian now than British.

As for Australian culture, Sylvia sums it up. "I loved the fact that they always used your name when they spoke to you. English people didn't do that."

Timewatch: The Ten Pound Poms will be broadcast on Saturday, 2 February at 2010 GMT on BBC Two. The programme was made by Essential Viewing Group.

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

My parents emigrated on the £10 scheme back in 1963 to Adelaide in South Australia. I was six years old then and I could never thank my parents enough for giving me the best childhood imaginable. We stayed there until 1971, when my mother became homesick for her mother so we came back to England. My years in Australia remain the best of my life, it was an incredible experience, mostly because of the lifestyle. Also going round the world by ship. I would go back tomorrow if I could only afford to.
Nikki, Carmarthen, Wales

I am product of the Ten pound poms. Parents left the north of England in the late 60s from Lancashire when the mining industry was in decline. We had a great life and I am very grateful for being born in Australia. Don't ask me why I am living in the UK - I have become a boomerang Aussie
Mike Priest, Warrington Uk

My parents were £10 poms. We moved onto NZ from Australia where I was raised. My parents were uneducated people but happily had 7 kids all of whom went to university (free) in NZ and elsewhere. As I recall family life in NZ we were very happy and my parents never expressed any desire to return to England. I also recall my parents description of post war England, little opportunity, class based discrimination and hard life. Oddly enough I now live in London because of the wonderful education I received in NZ which qualified me to the point where I can enjoy the best of professional life here in the UK, which I might add I love and will never return to live in NZ.
Martin, London

My husband,new baby and I emigrated in 1970 at a cost of £10, (some of the last to do so), for a new beginning to escape the Irish bombings, etc at that time. As above the grass is never greener. A great experience, but homesickness and lonliness took hold. Australia is a man's country, especially then. We returned in 1976 older and wiser!
Pat Charman, Lymimngton UK

I was so very nearly one of the £10 poms. When I was a baby, my father had a job offer from Broken Hill and we were going to go but my mother decided that leaving everything and everyone she knew behind was not for her. I often wonder how life would have turned out if things had been different.
Stephen Jones, Pontypridd, UK

I was 10 years old and the eldest of four children when my family emigrated to Australia in 1960. My father was a teacher and had already secured a job in Tasmania. We travelled on the Italian cruise liner Fairsea which was a wonderful experience for us children though not so good for Mum - she was in one cabin with the four children whilst my father had to go to another deck sharing with other men. We spent only a couple of days in the migrant camp in Melbourne before starting our new life in Tasmania. Although the job failed to materialise (the new headmaster decided he did not want to employ any Pommie teachers) my father found another teaching job. We had a wonderful life there - if you are prepared to work hard there is still plenty of opportunity. Those who didn't last long (and we met several in the early days) tended to be those reluctant to make an effort, expecting things to be handed to them on a plate. My father died last year in Tasmania at the age of 91 and to the end of his days would be fond of saying that it was the best £10 he had ever spent.
Tessa Samuelson, Woking, UK

I was one of the last of the £10 migrants, going over there for what was supposed to be a two-year working holiday in 1969. I was 21. The only qualifications you need were to speak English, have white skin and pass a TB test. I returned to England in 2006, primarily for family reasons. If I could have afforded it, I would have returned before the initial two years were up. Initial impressions were not good. But after two years I returned to England for a vacation and then realised how much my values and attitudes had changed. And when I returned to Sydney I took out Aussie citizenship. Australia offered me education and work opportunities that were just not available to me in London at the time. And Aussies have a very healthy life style and attitude to life that at first I tolerated, then grew into and now I just love. And whilst England today is so different to the England that I left (thank goodness!) I'll still end up back in Australia.
Phil Cockell, Norwich England (p! reviously Sydney)

Me and my family emigrated to Melbourne in 1965. Within 3 days of our arrival, my mother said she wanted to return home! Being a child, I got used to it fairly quickly but the relocation did have negative effect on my two teenage siblings. After two and a half years of hard work, living in a Nissen hut, getting hepatitis infections because of the bad sanitation, my parents saved enough to come home and restart their life. Later on I found one of the reasons for returning was my parents fear that my oldest brother might be conscripted in to the Vietnam war that Australia was getting involved with at the time.
Gerry Murray, Glasgow, UK

My family and myself are just 12 days away from emigrating to Australia. Pity we didn't have the opportunity to go for just £10 as it has cost a lot more than that. We are looking forward to new opportunities but are realistic that it takes a lot more than that.
Gail Little, Galston, Ayrshire, Scotland

Most Britons still seem to have that clichéd image of Australia as the sunny English-speaking land of boundless opportunity. I am an Australian who has lived in Europe (mainly UK) since 1992. I am constantly asked in incredulous tones "why?" do I live over here? Britons need to stop being so depressed about living in the UK, which is a great place to live, and realise that the grass only looks greener on the other side. If you want to emigrate to Oz, think insects, hellish humidity and weeks of stifling heat, monoculture, isolation; you need to be prepared for these things. My advice is to do your homework before emigrating anywhere, there is good and bad in any place. This story is testament to the fact that however "nice" it appears to be out there, a lot of people come back unhappy and homesick and have burned their financial bridges in the UK in the process.
Graeme, Redditch, UK

Can you imagine the same deal today? England would be empty, with the occasional tumbleweed floating by!
Mel, Bristol, UK

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