Disembarking Britons found themselves greeted not by government ministers but by officials. Now that they had arrived, they were labelled as ‘alien passengers’ and assigned to basic hostels - typically ‘nissen’ huts (and often ex-army barracks). Some hostels had better facilities than others but most consisted of corrugated iron huts with hardboard floors, open to the elements and the extremes of hot and cold. Rooms were often cramped with communal wash rooms and toilet facilities.
Beginning a life in this new land was a challenge to be endured or enjoyed. As many would later comment, it was the people that made or marred the experience. And despite cultural and often political differences between migrants, great camaraderie existed among many.
Under the conditions of the assisted passage scheme, migrants were forced to stay for a minimum of two years or repay the Government the cost of the full fare. Whilst others thrived some struggled to adapt to life in Australia, despite looking and sounding the part. Many missed home, found it difficult to find work or were disheartened by the hostel experience. Australians nicknamed them the ‘whinging poms’ and even fellow ‘poms’ gave them a wide berth for fear of being brought down by them or ‘tarred with the same brush’. Sylvia and John Cannon (emigrants from London in 1961) explained their strategy to cope:
’We made this decision that we wouldn’t get friendly with any British people, and we’d get out and we’d try and make friends with Australians’.
Some struggled so much that they made the, often difficult, decision to return home earning them the nickname ‘boomerang Poms’. Whatever sort of pom they became, few could deny that their ten pounds had bought them experiences long to be remembered…