It may not surprise you to discover that I was a third culture kid, although it wasn't known as that back when my story began in the 1960s as my migrant family departed our home.
It was the summer of 1965 when my parents sold up everything they owned in England and boarded the ship bound for Australia.
I, at the age of 5 going on 6, my mother, father and three younger siblings began a journey that would, unbeknown to us at the time, shape our destinies and set us apart from others.
This is the beginning of my own story and, I now know, what made me what I became as an adult and what I am today.
Ten Pound Poms
It was a time when a surprising number of British ex-pats made the long trip halfway around the world to start a new life in Australia.
We were known, not affectionately I might add, as ten pound "poms." That's a somewhat derogatory slang term used by Aussies for Brits that paid just ten pounds sterling per head for transport to a new land.
The system was fairly logical for the time. Australia was undergoing a massive labour shortage with a tiny population of under 8 million and the Australian government needed a way to entice young families to migrate and settle to fill the jobs and swell the population.
An advertising campaign was set up in the UK to show what Australia had to offer and put the carrot before the donkey by creating a way to make cheap for families to make the move. They called it "assisted passage" whereby a family would pay only £10 for the passage with the rest of the actual cost being footed by a sponsor.
Sponsors were Australian companies that had job vacancies they needed filling and bringing British families over to fill them was a viable solution to their problem. For the Australian government, it represented a win-win because the father would have a job waiting for him and his kids would become part of the next generation Australians.
A Dream Shattered
It wasn't all wine and roses however. Many families arrived believing they would be housed in their own nice house with stunning views out over the harbour (in Sydney, NSW) and life would be a dream come true, just like the ads appeared to offer.
That wasn't the case and most families were placed into "hostels" which consisted of communities of British immigrants housed in prefabricated corrugated tin huts (Nissen huts) which were very basic and very hot in summer. There was no stunning view and no dreamy life for them.
This caused a lot of tension in the communities, as you would expect. Many of the jobs that were given to the working men were not all they were expecting either, with low wages and long working hours in often not pleasant conditions.
Many families quit the dream and returned to the UK, with the penalty of having to pay full price for their return passage plus reimburse the Australian government the cost of the outward journey.
My Family's Story
Fortunately for me and my siblings, my family's story is not anywhere as bleak as it was for many migrants.
As I mentioned, my parents sold everything they had in the UK before making the trip. My father was a clever guy and saw past the glossy, tempting advertisements for that new life in Australia.
He realised that in this life, there is no free lunch. Therefore there was no way there would be a dream life waiting for them when they arrived in Australia. They would have to be able to buy their own house and carve out their new life through ingenuity and hard work.
In the few years that my parents were married and had their four kids, my hard-working father had managed to amass two shops and two houses (one of which he made extra cash by using it as a rental). Their sale netted enough capital to buy a house in Australia, meaning we never stayed in the hostels like most other migrants had to.
We rented an old house for a few months while our new home was being built on a 1/3 acre plot of land in the suburbs of Sydney. When we moved into that place, it was amazing. While there was no view of the beach (we were inland), there were great views to the Blue Mountains in the east and most of the surrounding area was "bush" (undeveloped rural land).
The town was fairly new and there were not many houses built down our street, although that would change over the years. Instead, there were fruit tree orchards, a smallholding farm owned by an Italian family and a handful of long term resident neighbours dotted about the place.
I went to a new school recently built in the town that was about 20 minutes walking distance away from our home. I made new friends and settled in to the Australian way of life.
The Return Home
This amazing lifestyle, the open space, the few good friends I'd made locally and my parents being able to take us all to the beach every weekend (it was about an hour's drive) was not destined to continue, unfortunately.
After barely seven years of this wonderful, we received the news that my grandmother (father's mother) had contracted TB and was dying. Dad decided that he was homesick and now his mum was dying, he wanted us all to return to England.
I had just started high school and this was going to be a major upheaval for me, more so than my younger brothers and sister who were all still in junior school. It was going to be a massive culture shock for us all.
We sold our lovely house, booked our passage on a pretty amazing ship that took just over four weeks to sail back to England. Despite the sad ending to what could have been a settled and incredible life in Australia, the trip home was a pretty good consolation prize.
On the way, we visited New Zealand, Fiji, Mexico (Acapulco), Panama and The US (Ft Lauderdale, Florida). In my scant 12 years on this planet, I had been more places and seen more sights than most people would ever see in their entire lives.
I had literally travelled around the world!
On the way out, we sailed across the Mediterranean sea, through the Suez canal, visited Port Said in Egypt, Aden in Yemen, then sailed west across the Indian ocean to stop in Freemantle, Western Australia before sailing south crossing into the Southern Ocean and the Great Australian Bight east, then north to Sydney.
On the way back, We sailed east across the Pacific ocean, through the Panama canal, through the Caribbean sea and across the Atlantic Ocean to dock and disembark in Southampton, England.
Teenager to Adult
We moved back to London (my birthplace) in 1972 where I went to school and had to readjust to a culture that was not mine.
Lots of things were different from the life I had known. The place was cold, wet and depressing for starters and the people seemed to take on that grey, dispirited personality to match the weather.
I made it through school and into a pretty good job in the fledgeling industry of computers, without going to university. I always knew I was somehow different from the people in my circle, but managed to fit in as best I could without ever really trying to identify the cause.
I won't bore you with the details in the ensuing years aside from pointing out that something had caused me to move house on a number of occasions and I never felt settled wherever I went.
There's No Place Like Home
For me, there really was no place that I could call home.
After 17 years working for corporate Britain in a fast moving industry that had lost its appeal many years before, I quit my job. My family and friends were horrified how anyone with my intelligence could walk away from such a great job with its security and great money, but I knew I just had to and that was that.
I figured out that the fledgeling Internet could be a source of virtually passive income largely untapped by other people at that point, aside from a not-so-family-friendly industry that I don't think I need to mention here. I learned how to build a website and made some cash selling items for profit, using the old mail order model except the customers found me online rather than in a classified ad in a newspaper or magazine.
Eventually, at the age of 42 I found that I could no longer cope with living in England. I'd moved around London and the Home Counties but nowhere was "home" to me.
I knew I needed to be somewhere else where the climate was similar to that of my younger days and where I would see much more of the sun, feel warm and have open space. Somehow I just knew that returning to Australia was not the answer, and because of political changes, not even possible for the long term.
I sold everything and moved to southern Spain, where I still am to this day, living life as a digital nomad and making a living online.
As a teenager, young adult and even middle aged adult, I couldn't put my finger on why I could not get settled anywhere and always felt like an outsider.
Now I know it was because of my upbringing and moving around the world as a kid that affected my mental state in that way. I was a third culture kid and still am one at heart.
I can't fully settle because during my formative years, there was no solid, rooted home for me.
That doesn't mean I'm an oddball or you should feel sorry for me. On the contrary, my upbringing made me very strong, resilient and able to fit into just about any situation I found myself in.
I gained an education that few experience. I learned first hand how life was in a very different land and how differences between cultures is a good thing and never something to be bigoted over or intolerant of.
Being a third culture kid made me a better person than I might have been had I never moved around and stayed in one place like most people do. I'm glad and even thankful for the experience.
- Terry Didcott
Posted: February 2, 2024