Professor Catherine Cole
Back in the 1950s and ‘60s, around one million Brits applied to go and live in Australia, known as the Ten Pound Poms due to the charge of £10 in processing fees to migrate to Australia. Among them was the family of Catherine Cole, Professor of Creative Writing and Associate Dean Research at LJMU. In 2023, she released Slipstream a personal and poignant memoir of her family’s journey to Australia and a reflection on what it is to be a migrant.
As part of our Bicentenary stories, she told us more about the research and inspiration behind her book, and her family’s life once they migrated to Australia, where Catherine would eventually be born. LJMU is proud of its international reach, reflected not only through its student body, but in its support staff and academics, and its impactful world-leading research.
“I researched the Ten Pound Poms side of the book through archives and books and also through family stories. Before he died in 2022, my brother was a great source of information, and the book is dedicated to him. There are lots of family photos of course, and my own observations as a child. The children of migrants often become quite forensic, I think, in the ways they scrutinise and make sense of their parent’s experiences. Lots of writers have written of these observations and also about their own ways of re-shaping their lives in a new place.
“I also travelled through Yorkshire on an LJMU grant which allowed me to research in Barnsley, Royston, Wakefield and various other sites such as New Miller Dam which my mother spoke about. And I went up to Glasgow to see where their ship, the much discussed and mythologised - Empire Brent – departed from the Clydeside docks.”
Sharing more about her family's decision to move to Australia, Catherine said: “Like so many of those British migrants, my family wanted a better life for themselves and their kids. They were sick of the snow and the gloom of post war Britain, the rationing particularly. My father worked at Monkton Pit in Royston as a foreman platelayer and many of his relatives worked underground. It was a kind of Yorkshire family heroics to have miners in your genealogy. My father knew he was safer above ground but there was always a soft spot for his underground workmates.
“Those Australian recruitment posters would have impressed him – all those sunny beaches and bungalows with a Holden car in every driveway. He was sponsored by my uncle and aunt – my father’s cousin – so work and a place to stay in Sydney were guaranteed. I often reflect on how brave they were though – they had barely travelled outside South Yorkshire but they, with my two older siblings, applied to take a 12,000-mile voyage to a new place. In Slipstream I wanted to celebrate their courage and that of the millions of migrants around the world who have taken such a leap.
“I’m grateful on a lot of different levels. An Australian childhood was great fun and I went to university and got jobs that allowed me to travel and buy a house. I had the benefit of a UK passport. Most importantly, I feel I have lived a kind of double-life and both – English and Australian - were enriching and fed the writer I became.”
– Catherine Cole
“When they got to Sydney they stayed with my aunt and bought a large block of land on which they built a house. They’d met other Northern migrants on the voyage out, from Lancashire and some from Northumbria and my family stayed friends with them all their lives. They helped one another build their houses and remained a key cultural touchstone with the past. Our family outings and celebrations were full of Northern dialect and sayings. We got parcels from England with Pomfret cakes and rock and parkin and Beano and The Dalesman and the Barnsley Chronicle. My father supported Leeds United. I still get sentimental about all these things.
“My parents were homesick though and that feeling remained for decades. My father loved to sing, especially old fashioned and sad songs like ‘I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen’ and ‘Danny Boy’ so these acted as a vehicle for his nostalgia and sense of loss. They both loved to garden so they spent a lot of time growing vegetables and flowers and that kept them happy. I have numerous childhood photographs of myself and my siblings standing beside big tubs of peaches and plums and tomatoes. My mother sent these photos to family in England as a marker of how well we were doing.
“They had it tough, but they didn’t ever think about going back. Ten Pound Poms were required to stay two years or pay back their residual fare which would have been around £120 – a big sum in those days. A lot of people did go home but mine soldiered on. They didn’t regret it.
“By the time I was born my parents had settled into life in Sydney but I was certainly aware of their love of England – and Yorkshire in particular. We Aussie kids found this a bit trying at times. It was odd having a dad who had his cloth caps sent out from Sheffield or made us all sit quietly while he listened to the football scores on the radio. We were beachy and sporty. When we went to Manly Beach we wanted to swim while they preferred to sit under the Norfolk pines with a thermos of hot tea. I was addicted to travel stories though and as soon as I was old enough I started to travel too – my next book is about my teenage travels around England on a 49cc Mobylette motorscooter.
“I’m grateful on a lot of different levels. An Australian childhood was great fun and I went to university and got jobs that allowed me to travel and buy a house. I had the benefit of a UK passport. Most importantly, I feel I have lived a kind of double-life and both – English and Australian - were enriching and fed the writer I became. Migrants give up a lot for the betterment of their children’s lives – that’s a lot to sacrifice. My mother was one of 10 children, and my father four, and they lost that family closeness. They took on the responsibility of creating a new family in a new place. Now, their children and grandchildren have created a multicultural Australian family that includes, Austrian, Indian, Italian, Irish, Lebanese and Maltese family members. I’m sure that’s not something they envisaged when they left Barnsley.”