31st March 2013 was an important date for me. It was the 50th anniversary of my family’s arrival in Australia. I came as a Ten Pound Pom (or at least my parents did). That means it cost them £10 each for the fare.
My brother and I were under 15 years old so (just like Prime Minister Gillard and the Bee Gees) we came for free. We sailed on the SS Arcadia, a 27,000-tonne passenger liner, and the voyage took nearly four weeks. We stopped at Naples and then sailed down the Suez Canal and stopped at Aden, Port Said and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Before that I had never left England. It was quite an adventure for a 12-year-old.
Not all passengers were immigrants, and although our cabins were on F deck (the lowest and the cheapest), in every other way we were treated like full-fare passengers. A steward brought us tea and biscuits in the morning, and we ate four meals a day. We played deck quoits, dressed up for the Fancy Dress Parade and got covered in tomato sauce and lime cordial for the Crossing the Equator ceremony.
And then we arrived in Australia, which was very strange to me. The street where my auntie lived had a dirt track instead of a footpath. There were no drains, so it flooded when it rained. And there were things here that I only knew about from American TV shows — like drive-in movie theatres, screen doors and radio stations that played pop music all day (the BBC only played a couple of hours a week).
My entire family settled in Australia well, and my parents and my brother have never been back to England. I am grateful for the opportunity that was given to me to come to Australia, and that is one reason why I could never support the “stop the boats” campaigns to prevent asylum seekers from getting to Australia.
We emigrated because my parents thought there was going to be another war. We were also ‘economic’ migrants wanting to be better off. On our immigration application form, the man who interviewed us said we were “quite a nice family”. We had nothing special to offer Australia, but we all did okay. We worked, we paid tax, we improved our financial situation. We didn’t have to risk our lives to do it. How could I deny anyone else the right to do that too?