Migration and Entertainment: There’s a Whole Lot of History

The release of TV’s Ten Pound Poms coincides with a particularly contentious period in Britain’s political stance regarding immigration. Britons’ post-war exodus Down Under, although not directly comparable to current immigration policies, does give us pause for thought. Freedom of movement throws up cultural issues but also enables opportunity.

Forced to close her ports during World War II, Australia found herself with something of a population crisis when the conflict ended. The result was the introduction the 1945 Populate or Perish policy, aimed at encouraging a fresh supply of workers for the nation’s booming industries. The Assisted Passage Migration Scheme – colloquially known as Ten Pound Poms – formed part of this policy and was, two years  later, mimicked by the Government of New Zealand.

Consequently, between 1945 and 1972 over a million Brits took advantage of the opportunity. Numbers increased further in 1957, following the Bring out a Briton campaign. For a mere £10 (the current equivalent is about £350) migrants received a six-week passage to their new home, where they could expect employment openings, affordable housing, and – of course –  permanent sunshine. In return, all migrants had to do was pledge to stay in the country for a minimum of two years. The reality, as the TV show illustrates, was rather different: new arrivals would often be placed in basic hostels and faced limited options in terms of employment – and newcomers were not always made to feel welcome.

Nevertheless, many settlers went on to make a success of their new lives. Australia’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, left the Welsh seaside town of Barry in 1968 with her parents, John and Moira. She followed in the footsteps of London-born Tony Abbott, who’d landed on Aussie shores with his native Australian mother six years earlier.

And today, from the advantageous perspective that history affords, we can see how talented individuals were able to make their mark in the entertainment world. Whether they would have found similar success in their homeland is impossible to say. The point is: they didn’t.

Through grasping the opportunities available, future success stories exploited what Australia offered. They got a return on the promise they made to their new country. And, over, the years, migrants have enriched the cultural landscape of this vast nation in terms of diversification, fresh voices, and talent.

If this enrichment is in any doubt, some key figures serve as compelling examples. In 1958, Australia claimed the Gibb brothers – better known as the Bee Gees – from the Isle of Man. Three years earlier, the future mother of Kylie and Dannii Minogue made Australia her new home, hailing from Wales. Subsequently – or perhaps consequently – her daughters grew up in a world that made exponential stardom possible. In 1963, two Scottish brothers, 8-year-old Angus and 10-year-old Malcom, swapped rainy Glasgow for sun-drenched Oz.  Within two decades they’d ‘made it’ – as AC/DC. And Hugh Jackman, internationally-renowned actor, was born in Australia, having arrived in the country while still in his mother’s womb. Another Ten Pound Pom, Hazel Phillips, was awarded the Order of Australia Medal in the 2005 Queen’s Honours List for her services to entertainment, particularly in the realm of performing arts and television.

But the entertainment history of these two inextricably linked countries is not all one-way. Take the late, great Barry Humphries (perhaps much better known as Dame Edna Everage), who became famous the world over for his inimitable stage shows. Although he was not a Ten Pound Pom – the Melbourne-born entertainer was Australian through and through –  he was part of the generation who took his talent in the other direction, and was often found in London (‘Kangaroo Court’, as Earls Court became known, so packed it was with Australians). His unique Australian identity was always warmly received in the UK, and must surely have gone some way to promoting the reciprocal relationship between the two cultures.  Likewise, the Australian John Bell, co-founder of Bell Shakespeare Company, trained at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and joined the Royal Shakespeare Company. These influences must have been of some influence on his return to Australia. In other words, the cultural relationship between Australia and the UK is a mutually beneficial one, and one with a great deal of history.

So, it comes down to this: when debating freedom of movement, perhaps policy-makers would do well to consider not only what it costs but what its rewards are.

Amanda Ellison

Amanda Ellison is a writer, teacher and labradoodle owner, hailing from a Northumbrian coastal town in the UK. She writes regularly for various publications, exclusively on subjects she is passionate about – including the arts and current affairs!

Amanda Ellison

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