The Big Brother Movement began in 1925. It sponsored the migration of British boys and young men to Australia to work in rural areas. The inaugural Tasmanian meeting was held in 1948 with the first 10 boys arriving in 1949. The last arrived in 1964. The Movement introduced a total of 161 migrants to the state.
Richard Linton, a Melbourne businessman, established the Big Brother Movement. The Tasmanian Branch began on 19 May 1948 with the first migrant arriving in November 1949.
The Big Brother Movement hoped to contribute to the maintenance of an Australian population with mostly British origins.
Farmers applied to the Big Brother Movement for boys. The Department of Agriculture and a member of the Movement's Executive Committee investigated the application. A member of the Committee was also supposed to visit the boys in their placements. Under the Commonwealth's 1946 Guardianship of Children Act, the Director of the Social Services Department stood in for the Federal Minister for Immigration as the boys' guardian until they were 21 years old.
On arrival, a number of boys stayed at Beaufront in Ross for a few days before going to their placements. Beaufront belonged to Sir Donald von Bibra, the Acting-President of the Movement in 1951.
Each boy that the Movement sponsored was known as a 'Little Brother'. He was supposed to be guided by a 'Big Brother', who would be his mentor and guide in rural employment. 'Big Brothers' did not take financial responsibility for 'Little Brothers'. According to the New South Wales constitution they were:
To act as a friend and advisor, as circumstances permit, to a young stranger in a strange land.
To try generally to make him feel there is, as well as the Big Brother Movement, at least one person in this part of the world to take an interest in him.
The objects of the Movement were:
The Tasmanian constitution was based on that of New South Wales.
In Tasmania, some placements went well with the employer accepting the boy as a part of his family. Some boys became interested in the work and when they applied for a transfer it was not out of dissatisfaction but so that they could specialise.
John Moss, a British child welfare expert, also made a positive report. In 1951, he visited Tasmania to find out how child migrants were getting on. He was pleased with the progress of the Big Brother Movement. In a letter written in 1952 to FH Southey, the Director of the Tasmanian Government Tourist and Immigration Department, he said:
How is the Big Brother Movement getting on? I do hope they are getting some suitable lads as this is such a good scheme under Mr. Von Bibra's excellent guidance. I should be interested to know, in particular, if he is now satisfied with the lads he is getting and if they are coming in bigger parties.
Even so, there were many problems. The leaders of the movement did not let the Director of Social Services, who was the legal guardian of the boys, know when they moved to different employers. They did not try to trace boys who absconded from their placements. Although some 'Big Brothers' provided the support that 'Little Brothers' needed, others did not, often because they lived great distances apart. Some boys did not know that they had 'Big Brothers'. A number of boys were not well matched to their employers. This led to transfers that could have been avoided. In addition, employers expected a lot from their apprentices, many of whom had been raised in big cities and so had no experience of rural work. The shortage of labour in rural areas meant that the boys could be exploited. In some cases, those with a different religion to their employer suffered from religious bigotry.
In March 1951, HR Read, the Director of the Social Services Department, told the Director of the Tasmanian Government Tourist and Immigration Department, that he would not recommend the migration of more boys until some of these problems were fixed. He wrote:
The co-operation offered to me as the Minister's Delegate in this State is not good. Lads have been transferred from employees without permission, consultation or even notification. Far too many boys are placed in areas that are hard to supervise, and where the labour problem is acute. This lends itself to possible exploitation. Despite requests that the movement should discuss new placements with me, it is not done, and it is sometimes weeks before I am informed of the lads' whereabouts.
Many suitable applications for 'Little Brothers' are held by the Movement, and lads could easily be absorbed into the community, but I am of the opinion that, before the Big Brother Movement of Tasmania is permitted to introduce any more lads, they must prove that the present administration is prepared to devote more time and interest in the lads who are already here.
In April 1951, the Director of the Tasmanian Government Tourist and Immigration Department asked the state Minister for an inquiry into the Movement's activities. The Minister set the date for a meeting with senior members of the Movement on 3 May but cancelled it because they had already met the Director. Even so, the Movement was slow to sort itself out. In October 1951, the Commonwealth Immigration Department refused nominations and issued a report giving the reasons. The situation appears to have improved with the appointment of a new president.
The Movement had difficulties finding new migrants because of the shortage of farm labourers in England. The raising of the English school leaving age to 15 and conscription meant that the only boys available were aged between 15 and 17 and a half years.
In 1953, the Movement held a meeting with representatives of the state Social Services and Tasmanian Government Tourist and Immigration Departments to discuss the loss of boys from farms to work in other pursuits, return to England, join the armed forces, or go to the mainland. Members disagreed as to whether it was all right to place boys away from rural industries.
In 1955, in order to ensure that 'Little Brothers' coming to Tasmania were suited to rural life, the Tasmanian Big Brother Movement resolved that they go to New South Wales first. There they would spend four to six weeks on the Movement's Karmsley Hills property at Bossley Park where they could learn how to farm in Australia. It would give them an opportunity to find urban employment in New South Wales if they disliked the work. This was less of an option in Tasmania. The scheme was meant to ensure that once boys arrived in Tasmania, they stayed. The records held at the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office do not mention whether this plan was ever put in place.
Boys occasionally transferred to the mainland if they wanted employment that was not available in Tasmania. For instance, one went to New South Wales so that he could work on a big cattle station.
A number of boys arriving under the Big Brother Movement later arranged for their parents to come.
Australia-wide, the Big Brother Movement's migration scheme ended in 1983. Proceeds from the sale of the Movement's property in New South Wales enabled it to initiate youth support programmes, provide agricultural college scholarships, help homeless children and contribute to youth and child charities. It also runs an awards scheme to help young Australians fund visits to the United Kingdom to further their careers. In 2012, the Big Brother Movement, based in Sydney, is known as Big Brother Movement Ltd Youth Support. It welcomes contact from former 'Little Brothers.' The website has a forum for 'Little Brothers' which includes details of reunions.
Sources used to compile this entry: 'Little brothers arrive from the U.K.', The Mercury (Hobart), no. 13 March 1950, 1950, p. 18, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article26687861; 'Waning interest in Big Brother Movement', Advocate (Burnie), 3 August 1950, p. 5, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article69300153; '33 English boys placed on Tasmanian farms', The Mercury (Hobart), 9 May 1951, p. 16, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article27027176; On their own: Britain's child migrants, 2010, http://otoweb.cloudapp.net/index.html; Sherington, Geoffrey, 'A better class of boy: the Big Brother Movement, youth migration and citizenship of Empire', Australian Historical Studies, vol. 33, no. 120, 2002, pp. 267-285; Williams, Laura, 'Good British stock: British child migration to Tasmania after 1945', Tasmanian Historical Studies, vol. 5, no. 1, 1995/6, pp. 155-177.
Prepared by: Caroline Evans
Created: 5 June 2012, Last modified: 14 May 2015