The Ten Pound Poms from East Anglia who followed their dreams to Australia in the 1950s and 1960s
PUBLISHED: 21:41 26 July 2018 | UPDATED: 22:18 26 July 2018
The urge to seek new lands. It comes to us all. Robert Martin tells Nick Richards about his quest for a new life in Australia as one of the £10 Poms. And why he came back...
Back in the spring of 1968, Robert Martin was 42, had five children and was ready to take his wife and family on an adventure to the other side of the world.
Taking advantage of the Ten Pound Pom scheme he sold the family home in order to start a new life in Australia, inspired by a film he had seen as a young boy back in the mid-1930s.
As a youngster, Mr Martin of Upton Road, Norwich, saw Mutiny on the Bounty at the cinema in 1935, shortly before his tenth birthday.
He said: “It was the film with Charles Laughton in it playing Captain Bligh. I’ve always been fascinated with the story of the Mutiny on the Bounty and with Norfolk Island to the east of Australia where some of the mutineers settled. I’ve always been fascinated by islands in general so it was always on my mind that I wanted to one day go and live in that part of the world.”
Born in Poplar, London, in February 1926, Mr Martin joined the Royal Navy in 1943 and served on a minesweeper in the English Channel during the Second World War. He met his future wife, Cato, in Amsterdam towards the end of the war and they married in 1948 when he was 22, raising their family in Newbury, Berkshire.
Despite having a wife and five children – Moira, 19, Robert 17, Bill 15, Vicky, 13, and Melanie 8, Mr Martin and his wife emigrated to Australia in March 1968, paying the fee of just £10 each.
“It was my idea,” he said. “My wife went along with it. Had my mum still been around I wouldn’t have gone, but she’d died in an accident in 1959 and my dad was no longer with us so there was nothing really stopping us. I had actually thought of going in the 1950s.
“It was such an adventure. I said ‘let’s go and do something different’ as some people had never been anywhere and I saw going to Australia as a break from the monotony. We’d seen the adverts for assisted passage to Australia and applied. We had to have a medical and that was it, so we put our house on the market and left it all behind. We had a dog called Chippy which we had to leave behind – the people who bought the house also took the dog.
“We had some furniture shipped over ahead of our arrival and we could have gone by boat too but chose to fly as we didn’t think it would be much fun for the children to be stuck on a boat for a month.”
On the day they travelled they had to get across London to Heathrow Airport. All seven of them crammed into a single taxi with more than ten pieces of luggage while Mr Martin’s wife carried an entire cutlery set in her handbag.
“The journey to Australia was pretty terrible,” Mr Martin said. “We were all excited as we flew BOAC on a Boeing 707, which was fairly new and rather wonderful. We stopped in Rome, then Tehran where the crew had to stop overnight so we stayed in a hotel. Then it was on to New Delhi and then Bangkok for another overnight stay. We stopped again in Manila in the Philippines and we were all given cholera injections by a doctor in a white coat who had a cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth.”
The Martin family had left the UK on a Monday morning and didn’t actually arrive in Australia until the following Saturday. Their new life could begin, but it wasn’t simply a case of having a house and job provided for you.
Mr Martin said: “We were sponsored by a builder to go Brisbane.
“The idea was you would buy one of his houses. We were shown around a building site at Zillmere four or five miles outside Brisbane. We chose one and paid a deposit and moved in but we soon sold it to another migrant couple. The idea was that we would buy a small shop and start our own business. I wanted to be my own boss.
“We chose a small shop in the Toowong suburb of Brisbane – it was a general stores and we had to buy the shop and all the stock but most of the stock there was actually out of date. The shop had accommodation above it so it was ideal.
“The shop wasn’t making money but we did our best. We used to travel by train to open the shop at 6am. We had a snack bar which I ran, selling steak burgers and pies. We did flavoured milkshakes, sandwiches, newspapers and sold a lot of cigarettes.
“We did have one famous customer – Sean Connery came in once and I served him. He was with his wife, Diane Cilento, whose mother lived in Toowong. I remember that she had a sarsaparilla (a type of root beer) and he had a Coke.
“We sold the shop and I got a job working in the library at Queensland University.
“We loved the Australian life. We used to go the local swimming pool but we didn’t have a car – the Australians couldn’t believe that I didn’t drive. But we used the buses and trains a lot. We travelled a little around the country, visiting Palm Beach, Caloundra and to Sydney but Norfolk Island was the place I’d always wanted to go and after we sold the first house we had a bit of spare money so flew to Norfolk Island from Sydney.”
Norfolk Island is around 900 miles to the east of the Australian coast and was settled by the descendants of Fletcher Christian and other Bounty mutineers in 1856.
Mr Martin said: “We went for two weeks and ended up staying for four. We stayed in an apartment which was run by a direct descendant of Fletcher Christian. The chap’s brother was the chef Glynn Christian who was on BBC’s Breakfast Time in the mid-1980s.
“We ended up buying a bungalow on Norfolk Island which was being built. I had planned to live there but we ended up just doing it up and letting it. Living on Norfolk Island was the ultimate dream, but I don’t really think it would have worked for the children as it would have meant big upheaval. In the end we sold it and I never actually lived there. It was probably too remote.”
After four years in Australia the family started to return to England as the children were by now mostly in their late teens and early 20s. Mr Martin’s oldest son, also named Robert, was now in his early 20s and in danger of being called up for National Service and possible deployment in Vietnam through Australia’s infamous ‘birthday lottery’ conscription system, so headed back to the UK.
Most of them settled in Norwich where Mr Martin has lived for more than 40 years.
His oldest daughter Moira, now 69, said going to Australia was a hard move for her. She said: “I’d been with my boyfriend for a couple of years so making the move was tough. I planned to go for the required two years and then come back but just before we went my parents said they would sponsor my boyfriend to come over too, which was great.
“We didn’t talk for nine months, we just kept in contact through writing letters. In one of the first letters he wrote he said he had applied and was coming over later that year.”
Moira’s boyfriend Colin flew over on Christmas Day 1968 and within 18 months the couple married.
Moira, of Broadhurst Road, Norwich, said: “It was really hard being away from my boyfriend and the heat really got to us all. The Queensland winter between May and September was a lovely temperature. I do remember the smell of the air being wonderfully different and full of exotic aromas and also the animals – fruit bats in the trees, the cicadas that used to keep us awake at night and the cockroaches!”
Daughter Vicky, now 63, of Eagle Walk, Norwich, said: “I totally embraced the Australia experience but I was fortunate to be the ideal age. I was 13 when we arrived and I left at 19.
“I felt a huge sense of freedom in Australia and was hardly ever at home, just down the beach or at the local swimming pool. I loved being at school, having lessons outside, the warm climate, swimming in the wild and all the different wildlife.
“I got married in Australia when I was 17. It was how it was if you wanted to be in a steady relationship. Australia was about 10 years behind the UK in attitude. You couldn’t just live together like you could now. The marriage didn’t last long but looking back, it was a wonderful time and I am always pleased to say I spent my entire teenage years Down Under.”
Now 92, and 50 years after he emigrated to Australia, Mr Martin reflected on the five years his family spent on the other side of the world.
He said: “We were all a bit homesick when we first got there and my wife struggled with the heat and the insects and she missed the different seasons in England, but I loved it there, it was a whole different world. It was hard to say goodbye to the family in England when we originally left. They thought we were a bit crazy to go all the way to Australia.
“But you can lead such a dull life can’t you? I’m very pleased I did it. It was a boyhood dream to go to Norfolk Island so I had to go. Some people go through life and don’t do anything so I have no regrets at all.”
We did it too..
Maureen Walker from Lowestoft said: “We emigrated to Australia in December 1962. At the time we were struggling financially as we had been married for three years and had two children plus I was five-months pregnant with our third.
“We saw a film and talk advertised in the local paper encouraging skilled workers to emigrate to Western Australia. My husband was a welder at that time so we applied and were accepted.
“We sailed on the P&O Strathmore from Tilbury, stopping at Aden and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and disembarked at Freemantle on January 2, 1963. It was 100 degrees and we were taken to Point Walter hostel were we were shown to a cabin containing four beds.
“This was very basic and quite a let down after our lovely trip on the Strathmore. We were bitten by mosquitos as there was no fly wire on the windows!
“Also the food we were served in the dining room was very basic and tasteless. Three weeks later we were allocated a State house which is the equivalent to a council house in the UK.
“My husband easily found his own job as a welder and left me at home to cope with the children and the heat. Our third child was born on March 31, 1963.
After a couple of years we decided to move over to Adelaide where my husband’s cousin had settled. We rented a flat on the ground floor of an old colonial house. It was OK there but I became increasingly homesick and missed the English countryside, food and general way of life.
“It was difficult having three young children and no relatives to lend a hand so we eventually decided to save up for a passage back to the UK. We sailed back on the Angelina Lauro in September 1966.
“We never regretted going to Australia it was a wonderful experience but it wasn’t for us. If we’d gone before we had children I would have been able to work and we would have bought our own property and settle like our friends did. We’ve been living in East Anglia for 40 years and are very happy in the UK.”
Jane Dobson (nee Owen) left Great Yarmouth with her parents in 1967. She said: “My dad worked at Grouts silk factory but lost his job and struggled to find work. We decided to join my sister and her husband who had gone to Australia about four years earlier. “I went to school at St Mary’s and then St. Louis Convent. At the time we left I was an apprentice hairdresser and did not want to leave but I was 17 and in those days you went where your parents went – I left behind a brother and a sister-in-law.
“We arrived in June 1967, coming by boat. We were supposed to come through the Suez Canal but due to the trouble there we had to travel around South Africa so our journey took much longer.
“We went to live with my sister for a few weeks until my dad found a job, he soon found one about two hours from Melbourne in a place called Ararat where my parents lived until they died.
“I got married twice and had a total of five daughters, although one died aged two-and-a-half. I moved to Ballarat in Victoria where I have been since. I have had a good life here and I have been back to the UK four times with different family members and I’m hoping to come again next year.
“I still have a couple of people I went to school with in the UK who I am in touch with. I love visiting Yarmouth but it has changed a lot and I was so disappointed to see how the boating lake had not been looked after as it was one of my favourite places when I was little.
“Looking back I think mum and dad made the right decision to come to Australia because we have a great lifestyle - but I still struggle with really hot days - thank goodness for air conditioning!”
Bob Cowell, emigrated from Norwich when he was 15 on October 20, 1965 with his parents and younger brother John.
They left from Southampton on the MV Fairsea and arrived in Adelaide on November, 20 1965.
Mr Cowell said: “Originally Dad was sponsored by the South Australian Housing Trust, but after viewing several homes decided to buy through a local builder. It was a lovely home, a far cry from our small terraced house back in Thorpe Hamlet, Norwich.
“Dad also got a transfer from the Royal Mail to the PMG (Postmaster General’s Department, now Australia Post) in Adelaide. After spending a year at school, I joined the workforce for about 18 months before joining the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in February 1968 and served 22 years. I retired last June from Australia Post and am now living in Rockingham, Western Australia.
“Even though it cost my parents £10 each, my brother, who lives in Adelaide and I are still on holiday in this great country - see you down the beach!”
Ron Lister grew up in Henham just outside Wangford and his father, Michael, was a teacher at Henham Primary School.
In 1958 he was eight when his parents and sister Janet, 4, sailed from Tilbury on the SS Orsova in early January 1958.
He said: “We arrived in Sydney in early February 1958 via the Suez Canal. Dad was employed by the New South Wales government and taught in Sydney from February to April 1958 before being moved to a small town called Baradine about 530km northwest of Sydney.
“In May 1960 we moved east to another small town Manilla and subsequently to Tamworth and later to Kiama south of Sydney on the coast where Dad retired.
“My father is now 95 and living in Orange about 250km west of Sydney with my sister Janet. My mum passed away two years ago.”
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