Ten Pound Poms

A strong ensemble brings to life a chapter of Australian immigration that promised a new start but didn't always deliver.

The latest new local drama to hit our screens, Ten Pound Poms, is a co-production between Stan and the BBC.

Created by Danny Brocklehurst (Sex Education, Safe, Accused, Brassic) it centres around the post-WWII immigration chapter when Brits were promised a new life down under for just ten pounds.

Boarding an ocean liner are Annie (Faye Marsay) and Terry Roberts (Warren Brown) and children Pattie (Hattie Hook) and Peter (Finn Treacy), with high hopes that Terry’s boozy ways can be put behind him in sunny Oz.

But arriving in Sydney in 1956, the plan came with strings, including handing over your passport for two years, and living in a migrant hostel camp which resembles army barracks. For Annie & Terry it’s a shock to the system and in dire contrast to the advertising back home.

“We’ve come from the other side of the world to live in squalor,” Annie sighs.

Worse is to come when Terry is assigned a ditch-digging job -because few Australians wants to do it. There he meets larrikin bully Dean (David Field), hell-bent on making his life torture. Laborer Ron (Rob Collins), who previously fought for Australia overseas, is also helpless as he watches on – Indigenous Australians are at the bottom of the pile in this era, with Aunty May (Trisha Morton-Thomas) literally sent to the back of one store queue.

Also prominent is young nurse Kate (Michelle Keegan) who arrives without her fiancé and is harboring a secret, but furtively pursues personal business like a spy with a mission.

There are subplots surrounding expat Bill (Leon Ford) who resorts to desperate measures to attain the Australian dream, and hostel manager JJ (Stephen Curry) who is intimate with Brit Sheila (Emma Hamilton) when he isn’t complaining about “whinging poms”.

The series is handsomely-produced with colourful period sets and costumes and the acting is top-notch throughout. Warren Brown underplays the male lead as a fish-out-of-water trying to adjust to Aussie ways. Brocklehurst lays the colloqiual on thick with upside-down pineapple cakes, outdoor dunnies, “strewth,” “ooroo” and lines like, “You’ve got more luck spottin’ a one legged wallaby peein’ on a kiwi’s grave”.

David Field is positively menacing as a leering, violent bully who is openly racist in this 1956. It’s a stand-out performance amongst a strong ensemble. Stephen Curry is always dependable when TV asks him to turn on the ocker.

Pitched squarely at a British audience, Ten Pound Poms is like a well-made play on TV. It is neatly tied up, rarely putting a foot wrong, and working its way up to episode climaxes -one in particular will see Rob Collins step up with a strong First Nations storyline.

The costumes are a little too spotless and I spotted double-decker trains, not introduced until mid ’60s, oops…

Special mention for scenes depicting the first night of Australian television with actors as Bruce Gyngell, Toni Lamond and Frank Sheldon.

Yet for all its handsome attributes and easy pot-shots at our expense, it lacks an edge, save for Field’s terrifying bully. These Aussies mostly hate the British, subjecting them to poverty, abuse, torment, pranks, spiders, jellyfish, teachers dishing out corporal punishment and orphanages run by draconian priests. At least they love our beaches.

Ten Pound Poms may lean more BBC than Stan in its portrayal of this chapter of our history, but it is easily entertaining without demanding too much of its audience, and will bring light to those for whom this is a seemingly dark tale.

Ten Pound Poms screens Monday on Stan.

6 Responses

  1. I’m guessing this BBC was by far the major funding partner in this, as it certainly wasn’t made for an Australian audience. Was there a single Australian cliche that wasn’t checked off in the first episode alone? I’m sure there’s a really interesting story to tell here, but this wasn’t it. A script lacking in any nuance and performances that were more caricature than character – particularly David Field as Dean, I just cringed every time he came on screen.

  2. I really wanted to like this – my wife’s family came out with her as a 6 year old under this scheme. But we lasted about 15 minutes before turning off. A very ordinary script and tired cliches gave this the feel that it was actually made in the 1970s. And just to get this straight, did they got on a Sydney single-decker bus at the Quay, eventually are seen driving up a dirt track on a mountain and the father gets a job digging ditches in what looks like a desert locale?

  3. I know where all the filming locations were David, but can you tell me where it’s meant to be set ? I got the impression it was in the country but then they went to the beach …

  4. As a proud Ten Pound Pom myself, looking forward to this. We landed in Australia in February 1969, in the middle of a hot summer. We spent three months in a hostel, which was a great adventure, before moving into a rental. Three years later, my parents owned their first home – a dream unimaginable for them in the UK. We never looked back, although I know some who went home as soon as their passport was returned.

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