A Life in a Year – 26th January, Australia Day and Ten Pound Poms

Australia Day is the official national day of Australia. Celebrated annually on 26th January and the day commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove in 1788, the hoisting of the British flag there, and the proclamation of British sovereignty over the eastern seaboard of New Holland.  I mention this because I have family living in Australia who will probably be joining in the celebrations today.

Created as part of the “Populate or Perish“, the assisted passage policy was designed to substantially increase the population of Australia and to supply workers for the country’s booming industries.  In return for subsidising the cost of travelling to Australia adult migrants were charged only £10 for the fare and children were allowed to travel for free.  The Government promised employment, housing and prospects for an improved lifestyle.

Assisted migrants were obliged to remain in Australia for two years after arrival, or alternatively refund the cost of their assisted passage. If they chose to travel back to Britain, the cost of the journey was at least £120, a large sum in those days and one that most could not afford.

The primary source of immigration to Australia in the 1960’s was from Europe, and in particular Great Britain. The reason was World War II. The people were looking to get away from the depressing economic situation back home and Australia was everything that Europe was not.  In the 1950s and 60s, there was the rise to undreamed-of affluence.  During the 1950s, Australia enjoyed the most even income distribution of any western industrialized nation and the 1960s were the really affluent years.

More than 2 million migrants arrived between 1945 and 1965, and Australia’s population increased from 7 to 11 million.  These “New Australians” were much of the workforce behind many of the intense development of Australia in the 1950s and 60s, providing manual labour in steelworks, mines, factories and on the roads.

D4 Brian Steel and Pat Travena

Brian and Pat Steel

It was the promise of a new life that took my Uncle Brian and his family to the new world of Australia in the mid 1960s.  After a string of jobs following National service in the Royal Navy he was by then a bus driver with London Transport and for him the transformation of British society and the arrival of many immigrants from the Commonwealth convinced him that England was a spent force with few prospects for him and his family and he was seduced by the offer of the assisted passage.  Before he left he came to stay with us one last time at our house in Hillmorton near Rugby and then he and his wife Pat and his son Glen were gone for good.  During this visit I recall conversations with my parents explaining how Australia was the land of milk and honey and how the pavements were made of gold and for a short while mum and dad actually considered it themselves but luckily dad didn’t have an  adventurous bone in his body so we were certain never to follow them.

After six weeks at sea they arrived in Adelaide and started a new life in the sunshine of South Australia and shortly after that they had a second son called Gavin and this is a cousin that I have never met because I have a family on the other side of the World who, let’s face it, I may never ever see.

My grandparents visited Australia a few times, once for six months and my parents went to visit but dad didn’t especially like it so didn’t ever want to go back.  Brian and Pat have been home only once, in 2003, but they don’t regard it as home anymore so have no plans to ever come back again.


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