In association with Wanted Down Under BBC One

A new life Down Under

Australia is one of the world’s most culturally diverse countries. Despite a growing trend of new residents from across the globe, the people of Australia are still predominantly of British origin. In 2013, 1,221,300 Australians were born in the UK.

Since the First Fleet set sail in 1787, millions of Brits have started a new life Down Under. Today’s enticing job opportunities, family-friendly society and relaxed outdoor lifestyle are in sharp contrast to the reality faced by the first migrants.

13 May 1787

The First Fleet

From the collections of the State Library of NSW.

The First Fleet.jpg

The Founding of Australia. By Capt. Arthur Phillip R.N. Sydney Cove, Jan. 26th 1788. Artist - Algernon Talmage RA.

On 13 May 1787 a fleet of 11 ships set sail from Great Britain to found a penal colony that became the first European settlement in Australia.

The First Fleet arrived in Botany Bay on 18 January 1788 carrying around 1,400 passengers. This included military personnel, their families and 759 convicts. On 26 January they entered Port Jackson, now known as Sydney Harbour, anchoring in Sydney Cove. The soil was poor and there was a shortage of fresh water. In the hot, dry, debilitating conditions the settlers experienced severe food shortages and struggled for survival.

The 11 ships of the First FleetArthur Phillip's journey as Captain of the First Fleet


Golden opportunities

From the collections of the State Library of NSW.

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Small gold minehead without shelter and seven miners, Gulgong. American & Australasian Photographic Company 1870-1875.

The catalyst for an influx of arrivals in New South Wales was the discovery of gold and the prospect of making a fortune.

In the height of the gold rush more than 600,000 people arrived in Australia (81% from the United Kingdom, 10% from Europe, 7% from China and 2% from elsewhere). This influx of fortune hunters, known as diggers, helped change the convict colonies into more progressive cities as the growing emigrant population brought with them new skills and professions. The gold rushes resulted in a burgeoning economy and by the end of the 19th Century Australia was the world’s largest producer of gold.

BBC Bitesize: The Australian Gold Rush

A complete mental madness appears to have seized almost every member of the community. There has been a universal rush to the diggings.

Bathurst Free Press


White Australia

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The law granted immigration officers a wide degree of discretion to prevent individuals from entering Australia.

The arrival of non-European immigrants during the gold rush caused resentment among British and European settlers.

In 1901, the Immigration Restriction Act formed the basis of the White Australia policy. It stated that migrants must take a dictation test - a passage of 50 words. The test could be in any European language making it very difficult for would-be migrants from Asia and the Pacific Islands. It was amended in 1905 so immigration officers could apply the test in any prescribed language, making it easier to exclude ‘undesirables’. Between 1902 and 1903 only 46 out of 805 people passed the test.

Immigration Restriction Act 1901Examples of the Dictation Test


World War One

Australian War Memorial.

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Australian and British soldiers enjoying coffee and biscuits in the Australian Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) 22 August 1918.

British emigration to Australia virtually ceased during World War One.

In 1914 when Britain declared war, it was as an empire. Australians went to war with a sense of England as the ‘Motherland’, sending hundreds of thousands of troops to the British war effort. After the war, German, Austrian, Hungarian and Bulgarian nationals who had fought against British Empire forces were prevented from migrating to Australia until 1926.

Willingly at war for the EmpireWhy do Australians celebrate a military disaster?

Australians will stand beside the mother country to help and defend her to our last man and our last shilling.

Andrew Fisher, the Opposition Leader, election speech at Colac in Victoria, 31 July 1914


Child migration schemes

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Sandra Anker was sent out to Australia when she was six years old. BBC News at Six (2009)

Between the 1920s and the 1960s thousands of young children were sent from Britain to live in foster homes and institutes in Australia.

The Catholic Church, Barnardos and local authorities enabled the emigration of children aged 3-14. The promise of a better life was far from the reality. Many of these children faced years of hard labour on farms and state orphanages. Children as young as seven worked in the construction industry in Western Australia, without adequate food or basic safety measures. In the post-war era, approximately 3,300 children were shipped to Australia.

The Big Brother Movement


Ten Pound Poms

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At one point in 1947, more than 400,000 Brits were registered at Australia House in London for the scheme.

The conflict in the Pacific during World War Two had raised concerns relating to labour shortages and Australia’s vulnerability to invasion.

The Assisted Passage Migration Scheme was introduced in 1945 by the newly formed Department of Immigration, to encourage Britons to migrate to Australia. One and a half million Britons were seduced by the fare, which cost just £10 a ticket (equivalent to £385 in 2015). Housing and employment opportunities were included but required the ‘10 Pound Poms’ to remain in Australia for a minimum of two years. Over 4 million immigrants arrived between 1945 and 1985, about 40% of whom came from Britain.

The £10 ticket to another lifePost World War II British Migration to Australia

1 January 1957

Bring out a Briton

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Bring out a Briton was an Australian propaganda short film made in 1957. Admission Impossible (Film Australia, 1992).

The ‘Bring out a Briton’ government campaign was directed at Australian residents.

The high proportion of non-British European migrants entering Australia after World War Two had caused public anxiety. Concerns were growing about the future of Australia as a British colony. The government believed an influx of ‘British stock’ would help maintain the well-established character of Australia. Local committees were formed around the country. Communities were encouraged to take responsibility for sponsoring particular families from the UK and help them to settle in.

East Malvern Methodist Church campaign 1959


Transition to multiculturalism

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Immigration Minister Al Grassby discusses the reformation of the White Australian Policy. Admission Impossible (Film Australia, 1992).

In 1966, the Department of Immigration started to dismantle the framework that supported the White Australian Policy.

The dictation test was abolished and a formal review of non-European immigration policy resulted in a new set of criteria. Professional qualifications, regardless of race or nationality, and the ability to settle and integrate became the priority. For the first time non-British migrants were actively encouraged to move to Australia. By the 1970s, Australia had become a country of diverse cultures and many different languages. However, British traditions still dominated society.

How Malcolm Fraser changed AustraliaBBC World Service: Witness. White Australia Policy

The White Australia Policy is dead, give me a shovel and I will bury it.

Al Grassby, minister for Immigration, 1973


A better life abroad

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BBC News report: Emigration to Australia (1972).

High unemployment and redundancies in north-east England and Northern Ireland resulted in a surge of migration to Australia during the 1970s.

The Australian economy had boomed in the 1960s and home ownership rose dramatically by 1970. British migrants were influenced by high employment levels and many considered Australia a better place to raise a family. The Australian Immigration Authority opened migration centres in Newcastle and Belfast to cope with the demand. In the first week of January 1972, 245 applications were submitted in Newcastle. Throughout the 1970s around 960,000 UK citizens moved Down Under.

1980s and 1990s

Targeted migration


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Teachers, architects, bricklayers, chefs, nurses and tailors are among the many occupations that are in high demand in Australia.

During the 1980s there was a shift from large-scale assisted migration programmes. Now immigrants were targeted to fill labour shortages.

Quotas for permanent migration and heightened requirements for visas were introduced in 1989. The Migration Programme was divided into three streams – family, skilled and humanitarian. In 1997, greater priority was given to the skilled migration stream. The government welcomed migrants with blue and white collar skills, regardless of nationality. These restrictions resulted in a decline in the number of Brits moving to Australia. The skills list remains in place today.

Australian Skilled Occupation List

November 2014

How to solve a problem like a visa?


Boris Johnson

Mayor of London, Boris Johnson 2014.

Fast forward two centuries and a more seamless return path to the UK has been proposed for Australians.

A report by the Commonwealth Exchange aiming to make it easier for Australians to work and travel within the UK, without visa restrictions, was backed by London's mayor, Boris Johnson. The aim is to reduce the red tape, delays and the cost of obtaining a visa. It proposes free movement between Australia and the UK to help rebuild and strengthen links between both countries

Honorary Australian of the Year in the UKAustralian visa listing

We British are more deeply connected with the Australians, culturally and emotionally, than with any other country on earth.

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London 2014


Legacy of an empire


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The Australian $5 note was first issued on 29 May 1967 featuring a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.

The decline of British migration to Australia since the 1980s has meant that the British-born component of the population is falling.

Despite this decline, Australia remains the number one destination for British migrants. The Australian government continues to campaign for skilled migrants from the UK to fill labour shortages. With over 200 years of British settlement, Australian society is still strongly influenced by its British heritage through art, literature, drama, music, fashion, sport and cuisine.

Whatever happened to the British Empire?