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Meet the Ten Pound Poms

Updated Monday, 28th January 2008
It was an offer too good to be true: a new life in Australia for a tenner. Did the Ten Pound Poms get a bargain?

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Kathleen Upton: So I phoned him and he said that I’d already had a letter saying that the snake season had started in earnest and he had a couple of near misses with snakes. We knew they were under the house. And they were all poisonous, of course. There weren’t many - I think there was only one in Australia that’s not poisonous and the carpet snake and it lives up in the beams. And um - so I said to him “Well, if that’s the case I don’t think I’m coming back.” And he said “I didn’t think you would because, you know, because of the danger.” So I said “There looks to be more work down here now, if I can find a room will you give your notice in and come down?”

So he said he would. And that’s when I found that room I went looking for the rooms, cheap, and I saw notice in a shop window which advertised a room for 3 pound 10 shillings a week which was cheap. It was a long way and it was so hot and nobody spoke English, it was a most strange area. I didn’t realise it was the foreign quarter. Well I finally found the house and I knocked at the door and a lady opened it, very dark she was, very dark, she could have been Italian easily because a lot of Italians there.

But she wasn’t actually but I said “I understand there’s a room here to let for 3 pound 10 shillings a week” and she threw her arms around me and burst into tears and she said “Oh, you’re English, you’re English, come in” and then poured out to me all her troubles how she hated it and they were booked to go home and so on and so forth. So I took the room. I hadn’t realised the reason it was so cheap was because in the next road there were 24 brothels and I’d inadvertently plonked ourselves in the middle of the brothel area and I think - I think of all the places I’d lived out there that’s where I was the happiest because there was always such fun going on, it was such a funny place to live.

Maisie McDonald: I can’t honestly say what it was about Australia that I didn’t like. I think it was the vastness, the having to travel miles on end and not seeing anything between A and B. We often drove across to New South Wales and to Queensland and I mean travelling across the Hay plain is just not a pretty trip. When you travel in England no matter where you go you strike a pretty village and when my friend was with me, we would be out all day and we would get home and I would say “Guess how many miles we travelled today?” because we had seen so much and she had taken so many photographs, you know, we’d seen umpteen villages and we just love looking at old churches and cathedrals and abbeys and things like that and I’d say “Guess how many miles we did today?” “Oh” she said “got to be at least 400, 500.” I said “55 miles.” She said “You’re joking.” I said “Nope. We have travelled 55 miles” and we had seen so much.

And you don’t strike a stream or a brook or a river in England that does not have running water in it. Now we still go driving in Australia, as we’ve always done, but you drive over a bridge and it says the river something or other and you sort of look down you see a few reeds, you don’t see any water. There’s never running water in a stream in Australia. And I often wonder, because so many Australians, I know they travel but they say there is nothing, no country like Australia. It is the best country in the world.

And I’ve often asked them why? Why is it the best country in the world? Because to me England is the best country in the world. Mind you, there are places in Europe that come pretty close, Switzerland and Austria and a few of those places, and they say “Oh, it’s the freedom.” I say but you can be free in England. The government system’s the same. Oh yeah, but, you know, and again they can’t give me an answer why they like Australia, the same as I can’t really give you an answer why I love England but I do.

John Howell: I sometimes think back on what would life have been had I still lived in Corporation Road in Croydon in Surrey in England. I reflect on that sometimes and I’ve often wondered what it would be like if I would have stayed there or what would I have ever been able to have done with my life and my career.

I guess I would have been just any other old Joe Blow that had, um, been lucky to get a job or maybe learned to do a trade or, um, I don’t - I don’t think a bloke would ever have dreamed of owning his own home over there, not where I was living anyway. It would have been something that you would have, you would have still been renting a council house somewhere or a flat which is something I would find abhorrent these days to think I was cooped up something like that in a little suburban somewhere.

Um, I’ve grown away from all that but I feel that it’s been such a - it’s been a privilege to come to Australia and be accepted into this community. Um, some years ago, um, my sister Rosemary and I decided to take out Australian citizenship. I’d never dreamed about that before because when I came here as a 14-year-old, came to Australia as a 14-year-old, I just thought I was one of one of them, one of the Aussies, and it’s only later on that you realise you’re not one of the Aussies until you’ve actually taken out citizenship and I was very pleased to be able to do that.

David Bailey: And we loved it here. Out of the five of us one of them returned home within a year and paid back his fare. He hated everything about it. He didn’t like the food, didn’t like the people, didn’t like the sun, nothing, he went back. But the rest of us we all really liked it, you know. We liked the sun, you know, and we liked that the pubs were open at 6 o’clock in the morning. I mean we got off the plane they said “We’ll go and have a drink.” I said “Where.” Says “An early opener.” “What’s that?”, you know. “Just down the road.”

So we went to it was too early open pubs. It’s nice sunny days, about 6:30 in the morning and the place is packed, couldn’t believe it, could not believe it, having a drink at this time in the morning. And it was funny because the mates who was there before they’d never seen this but there was Aboriginal across the park, just across the other side throwing a boomerang. He was going “Wow, look at this” and they’d never seen anything like that before and they’d been here for about three months, you know.

And I always remember in the pub when we went up to get a round of drinks said “What do you want?” “I don’t know what.” He says “I’ll get you a Millers”, I think it was a Miller, you know. I says “I’ll have a pint.” He said “No, you’ll have a schooner.” “What’s a schooner? What’s a schooner?” “Don’t worry, don’t worry about it.” So he went up and got all the drinks like, you know, thought he was an Aussie, like been here for three months, you know, and comes back and he gets a drink.

He opens this little packet. We was all like going “What’s that? What’s that?”, you know. “Oh, that’s Vincent’s, Vincent’s powder.” “What’s that?” “They all have them here, like Vincent’s powder.” Gives you a bit of a high, like, you know. Couldn’t believe it. You can’t get them now. You can get it but they’ve taken the ingredient to give you a high out of it, but you know.

Sylvia Cannon: The biggest differences between Australia and the UK in the early days for me were the climate, it was the climate. I mean that was extremely different. Houses were so different, gardens, um, there was no twilight here, you just – it’s light and then suddenly it gets dark whereas in England there’s a beautiful period of twilight.

Um, the differences. People’s attitude was so different, it was – that was a big difference for me. I loved the relaxed way that the Australians had. I’d really loved that. I loved the fact that they always used, and I say always because it was just about without exception, they always used your name when they spoke to you, English people don’t do that. And that was a very personal feeling it gave me with people. People invited us into their homes, they were relaxed, it was – yes, there was such a difference.

John Cannon: In those days there was a difference between that style of English people and their conservativism and the freedom of the Australians. I loved the fact that we could just turn up for a barbecue, it was easy, the communications were so much better and more accepting.

I did have trouble remembering everybody’s name because I didn’t have to bother about that in England and they would always, you know, just somebody was vaguely introduced to me when I first arrived amongst 12 would come over and say “John, what about this and what about that” whereas I couldn’t remember his or her name. So it took me a while to get used to that. It was freeing. There was no class, it didn’t feel classy at all in shape or form. Cars, freedom, space, clean, brightness.


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