Ten Pound Poms: Australia's Invisible Migrants by A. James Hammerton, Alistair Thomson
|Reviewed By:||Andrew Hassam|
|Reviewed in:||Australian Journal of Politics and History|
|Date accepted online:||25/09/2006|
|Published in print:||Volume 52, Issue 2, Pages 337-345|
Jim Hammerton and Al Thomson have captured the stories of Australia's largest overseas-born group, a group who were different from the host society but not culturally alien, who were in evidence and yet invisible. Hammerton and Thomson have established archives in Australia and Britain from the written and oral testimonies of post-war British migrants to Australia, and their book offers a wide-ranging and engaging interpretation of this new material.
There was a time when British migrants to Australia were far from invisible. The first ten pound Poms to arrive after the war were welcomed by military bands and a grinning Arthur Calwell, their happy faces adorning the front pages of the newspapers. Journalists swarmed over the ships seeking confirmation of how dreadful life was in Britain and how wonderful Australia was by comparison. Throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s, UK migrants were assured that Australians were of British stock and enjoyed a British way of life, and it was the prestige of their Britishness that protected them when they appeared in the media whingeing defiantly about conditions in the migrant hostels. And they could still appeal to common British values in the 1970s when, as activists in the trades union movement, they were denounced for importing the British Disease of industrial unrest.
The invisibility of the 1.5 million British migrants who arrived in Australia between 1945 and 1980 depended on the Poms being at first unremarkable and later ignored. Compared with non-English-speaking European migrants, British migrants were not sufficiently different from Australians to warrant special attention. And when in the 1970s Australian governments embraced a multiculturalism which broke the link between being British and being Australian, the Poms were not exotic enough to assume a multicultural ethnicity.
Their stories are now well in the past, the bulk of the ten pound Poms having arrived in the 1960s, but what emerges from this study is the way whole lives have been shaped by migration. Most were young and can still remember the pain of leaving behind parents and school friends. They tell of life in a world that was both familiar and yet strange, of Pommy-bashing at work, and how their success as migrants is measured by the success of their children. For those who returned to Britain, a step which as one migrant remarked, took as much courage, if not more, as migrating in the first place, the years in Australia are seen as the most eventful of their lives and, in retirement, they return to Australia to meet up with relatives and friends who stayed.
Hammerton and Thomson engage with the shifting identities of individuals, but they align the life stories with broader social and economic influences, noting, for example, that the migration of the 1940s and 1950s was as much conditioned by the pre-war depression years as by postwar shortages. By the late 1960s, single men and women were increasingly taking advantage of the ten pound fare to travel to Australia in search of adventure, remaining open-minded about the possibility of return and redefining the very concept of migration.
Only forty years ago being British and being Australian were seen as antipodean sides of the same coin, and Hammerton and Thomson have re-established the centrality of the Poms to the study of migration to Australia. No longer can we assume that the British assimilated effortlessly, a model to which other migrant groups were expected to aspire, and this book is a reminder of the rich and varied life histories of the bulk of Australia's post-war migrants.