What does Ten Pound Poms mean? Phrase explained, plus why Australians and New Zealanders call the English poms

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Brits have been referred to as poms for over 100 years

The BBC has just launched its latest Sunday night drama, Ten Pound Poms, which is about people who move from Britain to Australia after the Second World War in search of a better life. The show follows Brits such as Kate (Michelle Keegan) and Terry (Warren Brown) and his wife Annie (Faye Marsay) as they decide to begin a new life Down Under, at a cost of £10 each.

The first episode of the six part series has been received well, with NationalWorld’s own TV writer Alex Moreland calling it an engaging show with “talented actors and a capable script”. The show has led many people to question if the historical drama is based on real life - and the answer, broadly speaking, is yes.

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The characters and stories included in the BBC drama are fictional, but the migration scheme which they take part in really did happen. Here’s everything you need to know about it.

What does Ten Pound Poms mean?

Ten Pound Poms is a colloquial phrase used in Australia and New Zealand to describe British people who migrated to Australia and New Zealand after the Second World War. These people are also sometimes referred to as ten pound tourists. The name comes from the fact that adult Brits had to pay a £10 processing fee to make the move. This would be the equivalent of around £552 today. Children were able to travel for free.

The Government of Australia initiated the Assisted Passage Migration Scheme in 1945 and the Government of New Zealand initiated a similar scheme in July 1947. Over one million people made the move Down Under between 1945 and 1972 under these schemes. 

What was the purpose of the Ten Pound Poms scheme?

The scheme was initiated by the Australian government under its populate or perish policy. It was intended to increase the population of Australia and to bring more workers into the country's booming industries. The Government of New Zealand initiated a similar immigration scheme with the same purpose.

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To persuade people to make the move from the UK, the governments promised everyone employment prospects, affordable housing, and a generally better lifestyle. This wasn’t the life that some Britons found when they arrived, however, as they were placed in basic migration hostels and jobs were not always available for them. 

BBC drama Ten Pounds Poms is based on a real life immigration scheme which saw over a million Brits move to Australia and New Zealand between 1945 and 1972.BBC drama Ten Pounds Poms is based on a real life immigration scheme which saw over a million Brits move to Australia and New Zealand between 1945 and 1972.
BBC drama Ten Pounds Poms is based on a real life immigration scheme which saw over a million Brits move to Australia and New Zealand between 1945 and 1972. | BBC/Adobe Photos/NationalWorld/Kim Mogg

Given that the governments had subsidised people’s move to these countries, they were known as assisted migrants and they were asked to remain Down Under for two years after arrival. Alternatively, if people wanted to return to the UK they could refund the cost of their assisted passage. If they chose to travel back to Britain, the cost of the journey was at least £120, or around £6,626 in today’s money, and many people could not afford that.

Despite this high cost, it is thought that a quarter of British people returned to the UK within the first two years, but then half of these went back to Australia at a later date. They are referred to as boomerang poms.

Which well-known people are Ten Pound Poms?

The Bee Gees, made up of Gibb brothers Barry, Robin and Maurice, were born on the Isle of Man and grew up in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester. In the late 1950s they moved to Redcliffe, Queensland, Australia, where they began their musical careers. The trio were particularly popular in the 1960s and 1970s.

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Also on the same boat as the Gibbs in 1958 was Carol Jones and Ronald Charles Minogue. Ten years after they moved, daughter Kylie Minogue, who went on to become the highest-selling Australian artist of all time, was born. Kylie has both an Australian and British passport as a result. Actor Hugh Jackman is the son of English parents, Grace McNeil and Christopher John Jackman, who travelled to Australia in 1967 as part of the scheme and he holds both Australian and British citizenship.

Rugby league player and actor Ian Roberts moved to Sydney with his family in 1967 when he was around two-years-old. According to Roberts, in a 2015 interview with The Guardian, he "was brought up in an English household and Australia existed outside the front door.”

Why do Australians call British people poms?

Australia or New Zealand natives sometimes refer to British people as a pom, pommy or pommie. Local newspapers reportedly began using the term as early as 1912. Some people think the term is offensive to Brits, but others see it as harmless and playful. In 2006, there were complaints to the Australian Advertising Standards Board about five advertisements which used the term but the board ruled that the word was inoffensive stating it is "largely used in affectionate terms". The New Zealand Broadcasting Standards Authority made a similar ruling in 2010. It is widely believed that the word pom is short for pomegranate, which Australians and New Zealanders used as rhyming slang for the word immigrant during the 20th century. 

Why was the Ten Pound Poms drama created?

The writer of BBC drama Ten Pound Poms Danny Brocklehurst told RadioTimes.com why he was inspired to write about this part of British and Australian history. “It was interviews with people who had done the scheme and said ‘Do you think there might be a drama in this idea?’ and I watched a documentary and I did quite quickly think there was something in this. It seemed to tap into lots of different themes, themes about how you can escape but you always take yourself with you, themes of prejudice, themes of starting again, sink or swim. There are a lot of things that interested me in it.

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"Ten Pound Poms will definitely take the audience on a journey. I think for me and for the viewers, the script is like a history lesson. I didn’t know a lot about the Ten Pound Poms before being part of this project but I did a lot of research into it. Now I’ve talked to lots of people who say: 'Yeah, my grandmother was a Ten Pound Pom and I have family in Australia' and that all stemmed from what happened in the 1950s."

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