Ten Pound Poms: scammed or saved?

By Gen Terblanche4 April 2024

Ten Pound Poms: scammed or saved?

Imagine if for a mere £350 (R8 250) you could move away from your dreary life into the promise of a new future, a new home and a job, all in Australia. Goodbye grey skies and grime, hello sunshine and swimming! Well, that really happened. Between 1945 (when £10 was worth £350 in today’s money) and 1972, over a million people from Great Britain and the Commonwealth took up an official government offer to move Down Under on the cheap.  

Set in 1956, drama series Ten Pound Poms, now streaming on Showmax, focuses on one group of people, including nurse Kate (Michelle Keegan), and wife and husband Annie (Faye Marsay) and Terry Roberts (Warren Brown), who took that chance. It reveals the harsh realities they faced and how they survived. Honestly? The deal was a bit of a scam! 

Binge Ten Pound Poms now.

Watch the trailer for Ten Pound Poms

Sunshine dreams 

In the 1950s, migrants were encouraged to travel to Australia and New Zealand during a campaign called “Bring Out a Briton”. The advertisement boasted that for just £10, “Your family will flourish in Australia.” Some interesting people jumped on the boats and planes and said “yes please” to being neighbours with Australia’s terrifying spiders, including Kylie and Dannii Minogue’s parents, Hugh Jackman’s parents, and the Gibbs – the family whose sons would grow up to dominate disco as The Bee Gees. 

“Britain in the 50s was a fairly grim place and many people were tempted by the adverts for Australia as ‘a great place for families.’ The technicolour promo films of the time showed golden beaches, beautiful houses with picket fences and big gardens, attractive, suntanned people water-skiing and playing volleyball,” explains series writer Danny Brocklehurst, who drew inspiration from a 50-page document from the series’ researchers, along with documentaries and books. 

Sandpaper realities 

“In reality, many immigrants arrived to gross disappointment. They were housed in post-war steel Nissen huts with outdoor showers, no flush toilets and terrible food. Accommodation was cramped, insects rife, the heat stifling and walls paper-thin … There was a real sense of ‘Who are these poms, coming here, taking our jobs?’” Danny reveals.  

Warren Brown stars as Terry in Ten Pound Poms
Warren Brown as Terry

Actor Warren Brown (Sergeant Thomas ‘Mac’ McAllister in Strike Back) adds, “It must have been a massive culture shock for the real Ten Pound Poms. I think we take for granted how easy it is to travel from one side of the world to the other nowadays, but these people were on a ship for more than six weeks with no outside contact, no social media, no instant means of communication.” 

When we meet Warren’s character Terry at the start of the series, he’s already on shaky ground thanks to PTSD from WWII. “We learn that Terry is still suffering, badly affected by those experiences and using alcohol to numb the pain. This has led to a tumultuous home life. When Annie sees an advert for the Assisted Migration scheme they decide to move to Australia in the hope of a better life,” says Warren. “You get to see Terry’s struggles, his efforts to fit in with the workforce around him.” And the searing heat and flies make every one of his struggles harder. 

The stolen generation 

Rob Collins starts as Ron in Ten Pound Poms S1 on Showmax
Rob Collins as Ron

Ten Pound Poms like Terry were being brought in to “repopulate” Australia’s white labour force after the war. The indigenous Australians could have done their jobs, but as Danny points out, “Australia, like many places in the ’50s, had issues with racism, sexism and masculine culture.” Nonetheless, the first real friend that Terry makes in Australia is fellow veteran Ron (Rob Collins), an indigenous man who’s struggling with post-war life in his home country.  

 “Ron works at the same building site as Terry,” says Rob, who’s from the Tiwi Islands in Australia’s Northern Territory. “He is the link between the indigenous and non-indigenous communities, a lead figure in the community. That’s essentially part of his struggle throughout the series – how to protect his mob whilst trying to carve out a life in a largely European world that, in the 1950s, was very much set against them … It was a harrowing part of that history to retell, and I love that the show didn’t shy away from it. Australians, and indigenous Australians in particular, the members of the stolen generation, will stoke some feelings.“ 

The veteran experience that binds Terry and Ron is one that Rob has always been fascinated by. “I’m from the Tiwi Islands and in 1942 Matthias Ulungura, one of our elders, was the first Australian to capture Japanese prisoners of war on Australian soil. So it’s always been part of our history and what stoked my early interest in it,” he reveals. 

Curious and looking for more adventure down under? Binge Ten Pound Poms now

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