There are advantages of being a senior in Victoria, especially in October each year during the Seniors Festival when so many free and fun events are scheduled.
This year was no exception, the delight magnified when I shared a day out with my sister, Rita.
We attended Melbourne’s Immigration Museum to enjoy a sneak preview of their latest exhibition: British Migrants: Instant Australians?
An exhibition close to our hearts because we were part of the assisted migration program when our family migrated from Scotland in 1962.
– yes, the Scots, Northern Irish and Welsh were labelled ‘Poms’ too!
Migrant Myths and Memories
I love the Immigration Museum and have attended many special exhibitions, as well as frequent visits to the permanent reminders that more than nine million people have migrated to Australia since 1788.
Immigration is about us all – those who were here and those who came. Everyone has a story to tell – about ourselves, our families, friends and ancestors. It is in the telling of these stories that we can begin to understand Victoria’s rich histories.
The exhibition includes objects, historical film, images, and innovative multimedia experiences to explore the personal stories of British migrants and the contemporary perspectives of migrants and commentators.
(It)… incorporates a rich and diverse range of voices to explore narratives at both a national and personal level, focusing on questions of identity and impact on contemporary Australia.
There are plenty of well-known Aussies who were ‘Ten Pound Poms” or whose family were:
The Bee Gees (English), Hugh Jackman (English), Kylie Minogue (Welsh), Olivia Newton-John (English), Jimmy Barnes (Scotland), Bon Scott (Scotland), George Young (Scotland), Noni Hazelhurst (English), and cricketers Harold Larwood and Frank ‘Typhoon’ Tyson…
And of course two ex-Prime Ministers: Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott.
Not to mention a few other politicians caught in the recent Constitutional conundrum over dual citizenship and the right to sit in parliament.
Picture gloomy, weary post-World War II Britain — England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
Imagine the prospect of distant, sunny, booming Australia. Where would you rather be?
… Australia that was predominantly white and British — it had worked hard to be so.
Newcomers from Britain had all the advantages of a shared language, culture and history. So fitting in should be easy.
But reality is never that simple.
What did the British actually experience?
What did this mass migration mean for Australia at the time?
What does all this mean for us today?
Dr M McFadzean, the Exhibition’s curator talked about the methodology, research and work that went into putting the exhibition together. Several people shared their stories and visitors can listen to or read firsthand accounts from British migrants who travelled to Australia as part of the scheme.
- 300,000 paid their own way
- 80% of the 1.5 million from the UK were English
- British migrants were the preferred migrants and didn’t have to be citizens to vote. (This changed in the 1970s)
- British migrants could vote after 6 months, become citizens after a year and obtain an Australian passport – non-British had to wait 5 years.
- British migrants could receive social security – they were considered lucky
- Yet 25% returned within the two year period required for the assistance scheme and had to repay their fares.
- Of those who returned to the UK, 25% came back to Australia!
The Tribute Garden
… the Tribute Garden is a public artwork that pays tribute to 7000 people who have made the journey to Victoria.
The Tribute Garden features the names of immigrants who came from over 90 countries, from the 1800s to the present day.
The region now known as Victoria is represented by the people of the Kulin Nation as traditional owners of the land and records the names of languages and dialects spoken by Aboriginal communities.
Melbourne-based artist Evangelos Sakaris designed the original artwork, which was launched in 1998. Gina Batsakis led the design for the following stages of the project. The project concluded in 2002
I donated to the original art project so that my parents’ journey could be acknowledged.
Our family came under the auspices of the Personal Nomination Scheme because Dad’s sister Chrissie nominated us and guaranteed accommodation for the family, and to support us until Dad found a job.
Chrissie and her husband Bill arrived here 14th July 1952. He was an electrician and she was a tailoress. They came out to cousins whose family roots went back to the exodus from the Isle of Skye in the 1850s. We were lucky to have their support but childless Chrissie was so desperate to have immediate family join her she ‘gilded the lily’ and never foresaw the many adjustments our family of 8 would have to make.
Many British migrants were accommodated in government hostels. These were usually a collection of corrugated iron Nissan huts left over from WW2, uncomfortable and unpleasant whatever the season, proving assumptions about the privileges of British migrants deceptive.
Breaking the Myths The Brits Got It Easy
Some migrants came out to jobs in the shipyards, railways or electricity commission, but most had to find their own employment. Even if eligible for Social Security many would not take it because of pride, others found the money inadequate and constantly struggled and worried about their poor prospects.
They often discovered their qualifications not accepted, their particular skill set not acknowledged, or required, or in my father’s case, he was considered “too old” at 40 to be an engine driver.
Vic Rail offered him a job as a cleaner, which he refused.
He had to abandon the idea of working on the railways and became a truck driver. In those days, more so than now, men were the breadwinners, their identity and self-esteem tied up with their employment.
For the first few months in Australia, my Father said he drove to work with tears in his eyes and sometimes streaming down his face as he adjusted to the sadness of no longer belonging to a railway community and doing a job he loved. He hated the ‘old house’ we rented with its ‘dry’ toilet down the back and a tacked on bathroom with no bath. He worried about the decision to migrate and our future.
He had worked for British Railways for 25 years, his father had been a railwayman. Both were proud to be train drivers – Dad competent with steam, diesel and electric. Like many migrants, the thought his skills would not be recognised or not needed never crossed his mind.
However, Dad said the Australian Government knew what it was doing when it insisted that assisted migrants remain at least two years or pay back their fares. Homesickness and culture shock genuine problems as many of the stories in the exhibition illustrate.
- Some people took longer to adjust than others.
- Some never adjusted.
- Family were left behind – loving grandparents, aunts and uncles
- Established friendships abandoned or broken whether it be at work, school, or neighbourhoods
- The British thriving arts and culture scene – the Beatles, Mary Quant, Carnaby Street… was missed by many children and teenagers who had no choice but to follow their parents
A family arrived in Adelaide to be told by one of the ship’s crew, ‘Put your watch back 20 years…’
- the city was ‘dead’ on a Sunday
- no shops opened on a Saturday
- pubs closed at 6.00pm
Two teenage migrant girls went to a dance dressed in latest gear from trendy Liverpool. The local hall full of girls with ’50s style frocks. You couldn’t dance unless a boy asked you. The music outdated. The girls shunned for dressing weirdly.
They spent the night as ‘wallflowers’.
But Dad did adjust and although he had a series of blue collar jobs and ‘chased money’ to educate, house and clothe us all, he never had any desire to return to Scotland for a holiday and loved the weather and our home in Croydon.
The journey out to Australia by ship at least gave families a month to acclimatise. Many considered the trip a great holiday. For some, it was the first holiday they’d been able to afford and they established new friends although many were parted at Australian docks depending on their destination.
- Friendships made and lost
- Exotic places visited
- Teenagers sulked but most got ‘over it’ because of many onboard activities
- Food and cabins either thrilled or disappointed
- Marriages made, others destroyed.
Once here, migrants realised telephone calls were expensive, as was postage, especially packages.
The 12,000 miles distance from Europe made Australia seem isolated and ‘the end of the world’.
Even for British migrants the change and adjustments were huge. Christmas a shock – too hot – yet cards pictured snow and reindeer – absolutely no relationship to reality.
In Melbourne, they discovered winter is cold and some days the promised sunny Australia seemed a myth. The weatherboard houses referred to as bungalows by the migrants, not as substantial as the brick houses of the UK. There was no double glazing, insulation, or central heating – common attributes in post-war Britain.
Some migrants expected everything to be modern and new, or ‘bushy’. Established cities like Melbourne an initial surprise or disappointment.
I remember my Dad commenting when our ship pulled into Station Pier that Melbourne, “looked just like Glasgow!”
We’d left cold foggy London, travelled through the Suez Canal and stopped at Colombo, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and arrived to an extremely hot summer. Heat haze shimmered above melting bitumen, joined by a smoke haze above the ‘blue’ Dandenong Ranges ravaged by fire January and December 1962.
Life operated at a slow pace in our new home, semi-rural Croydon on Melbourne’s perimeter. Dress codes relaxed. Dad loved not having to wear a tie most days.
Aunt Chrissie walked to the mailbox in dressing-gown (housecoat) and slippers and no one seemed to mind. She even ran Uncle Bill to the railway station in their old Consol, still in her nightie – and when she broke down one morning she was helped to start the car (crank handle in those days) by a passerby who didn’t seem surprised!
Mum couldn’t get over the meat trays in butcher shops, or the fruit shops with their plentiful melons, passionfruit, oranges and other fruit, but she sweltered in an old house cooking meals with a wood-devouring Raeburn stove.
Any money left over from Dad’s early pay packets used to buy an electric kettle, electric frypan and electric pot as a matter of urgency!
No matter when they arrived, all immigrants are linked by the common experience of a journey.
Over the past two centuries, the immigration journey to Australia has changed from a perilous sea voyage of up to 3 months to a routine flight lasting up to 24 hours. Changing transport has not only shortened the journey but made it more comfortable and affordable.
The journey remains one of the most memorable aspects of any immigration experience.
Finding Ten Pound Poms in the National Archives & Public Record Office Victoria
The Immigration Museum invited two experts to explain how much easier it is to research your ancestry in the digital age and answer family history questions.
Terrie Page, National Archives of Australia demonstrated how to access the records of British immigrants. Personal and medical records available from the interviews conducted in the UK of those on the assisted passage scheme.
Go to the website naa.gov.au
The first access point Terrie detailed was adverse publicity re Immigration scheme. There was plenty of criticism the publicity enticing migrants painted too rosy a picture and ‘facts’ were untrue. (For example, the offered wages were too high – stated in Australian pounds, not British pounds.)
This series is A445, Barcode: 247865 and you can read letters between the Australian and British Governments addressing complaints and articles in the press.
Series No. MP195/1, ( 1948-1958 basic information) MP210/2 (1952-1955) and MP250/2 (1958-1962) holds personal records of the interviews. Type in the name and year of your family and you may discover a copy of their acceptance letter (not every family has one).
Often there was only 2-3 weeks notice given to people. Not much time to pack up and sell goods and chattels and prepare yourself for the journey ahead.
In 1958, the Australian Government chartered the Fairsky for many voyages and although most people came by sea, the first aeroplane carrying assisted migrants arrived in 1959.
The Nominal Roll lets you type in the name of the ship and the date of departure and arrival and you can access Welfare Reports of the voyage, (A446 1962/67618) for example:
- quality of food
- entertainment provided
- education provided
- if there had been outbreaks of disease
- if anyone had died
Searching for Melbourne Passenger Arrivals check if the ship came through Fremantle and put in the year of arrival. Items Series No. B4397
- tick digital list box
- enlarge to full screen
- check multiple pages – look for the month (click pages, go up by 100)
- hover over and find page number (Downloads are slow)
- type into the box ‘jump to page’
- remember the last page of every list has births and deaths
- check passenger lists for a different class, boarding at different ports
- the lists may not be alphabetical!
Public servants were not as politically correct as today and many made handwritten notes on the official forms: “applicant obese but seems intelligent enough“, “five-year-old precocious and very bright”
There was a dock strike in Fremantle and migrants sent onto Melbourne by being off-loaded in Adelaide and put on the train. A young boy remembers waking up as the train trundled past Sunshine Station. The sun was rising and bathing the countryside in its glow, ‘What a lovely appropriate name,’ he murmured.
First impressions count.
PROV – Public Records Office Victoria
Charlie Farrugia, the Senior Collection Advisor explained that key records regarding immigration are Commonwealth therefore with the National Archives, but these are easily accessed from PROV State archives. (www.prov.vic.gov.au)
The State archives hold Department of Crown Land and Surveys information and records of statutory authorities such as the office of Valuer-General, School Councils and Courts etc.
- What happened to peoples lives after migration and the great leap of faith to start afresh?
- any activity involving State Government can be researched.
- the key page is Family History
- records are of a personal and private nature so not everything is kept
- indexed by Family Name.
Exploration and Self – Discovery – Records May Have a Key…
Charlie invited everyone to explore PROV’s collections and archives by topic: Wills & Probate (if there was a will required to be lodged for probate), Family History, Births, Deaths & Marriages.
Also inquests and other coronial matters. Land records, Census records (unfortunately rarely kept prior to 1973), some Cemeteries, pupil records from schools now closed (if the school still exists then they hold previous student records), and electoral and municipal voter rolls (in the past you had to own property to vote and not all councils have or kept voter rolls.).
British Migrants: Instant Australians?
The exhibition opens on 25 November. There’ll be tea and traditional British fare and talks by historians and curators, as well as the personal stories of British migrants.
Rita and I are looking forward to the full exhibition and will be revisiting the museum. We looked through the current exhibitions and left with plenty of food for thought and itching to check out the available records for our family – the months ahead will be busy!
If you have a migration story – please share.
“And it’s a human need to be told stories. The more we’re governed by idiots and have no control over our destinies, the more we need to tell stories to each other about who we are, why we are here, where we come from, and what might be possible.”