The migration of the Working Class Boy

Discover what inspired migrants to move to Australia in the 1960s and the challenges they faced here, as singer Jimmy Barnes shares the compelling story of his family's emigration. Working Class Boy reveals the devastating effect of poverty on family life — both in the old country and the new world — in an intimate program of storytelling and song.

Amid fears Australia must "populate or perish" after World War II, then-prime minister Ben Chifley's government embarked on an immigration program with a view to quickly grow the population and modernise the economy. Seven million people have since settled in Australia with nearly a third originating in the UK or Ireland. Jimmy Barnes is one of those millions and Working Class Boy is his story.

Poverty and migration

Poverty and migration

Learn the "official" reason Barnes' parents relocated their family from Scotland to Australia as well as the underlying context in which that decision was made.

Lions and migration centres

Lions and migration centres

Barnes describes how he enjoyed his time with other migrant children, recounting the time a lion escaped from a circus and what the kids had in common with the animal.

Growing up in 'horror house'

Growing up in 'horror house'

Detailing domestic abuse, linking the alcoholism and violence to the shame of poverty in a new country, Barnes describes life in Elizabeth and the "horror house" he grew up in. (Coarse language.)

Tough times in Elizabeth

Tough times in Elizabeth

Barnes describes the culture of violence in Elizabeth, explaining it as something children were taught, and linking the fighting to the toughness of life in northern UK towns and continued poverty as migrants in Australia. (Coarse language.)

'Flame Trees' bad memories

'Flame Trees' bad memories

Barnes reveals the significance of 'Flame Trees', a song about a homecoming, and how Adelaide holds bad memories for him. Includes old and new footage of Cold Chisel performing the song.

The full documentary

The full documentary

Inspired by his award-winning autobiography, Working Class Boy is a revealing personal account of Barnes' experience of growing up as an immigrant. The themes are confronting but the candid revelations are interspersed with touching performances.

Curriculum links

Working Class Boy personalises the history of the movement of people in the modern world since 1945, with the engaging story of Jimmy Barnes' migration experience. It contributes to senior history and geography students' understanding of some of the push factors involved in a family's decision to migrate to Australia in the 1960s, and the difficulties they faced when they arrived. (ACHMH210, ACDSEH144)

About Jimmy Barnes

Born in Scotland in 1956, James Dixon Swan grew up to become one of Australia's most successful singers and songwriters. Between his career with Cold Chisel and his solo work, Jimmy Barnes' tally of 15 Australian No.1 albums is higher than any other recording artist. But as well known as Barnes is, his 2017 memoir Working Class Boy proved to surprise some of his biggest fans and closest friends.

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