Photos from Giovanni Izzo and his family
(from the collection of Pam Phillips)
I, Pam Phillips (nee Niebling) the last remaining member of our family, will tell this story as I know it. I had 2 brothers Graham born in 1938 and Brian in 1942, who could both remember time spent on the farm with the prisoners of war. I wasn’t born until after the Italians left the farm.
Ron Niebling of Boonah, enlisted in the Australian Military Forces on 9th September 1942. He served 252 days in Australia and 463 days in New Guinea. His wife Con had Rheumatic Fever and was very ill and as a result, he was discharged on 26 October 1944. They then sold their house in Boonah and went dairy farming at Moogerah, a site which later formed part of the Moogerah Dam and was under water for many years.
They were assigned Italian Prisoners of war to work for them there. One became more like a member of the family, with mum and dad even taking him to dances. His name was Giovanni Izzo. After the war, he went back to Italy, married Maria, had one son Robert, born in 1952. Due to Maria’s health, they moved to Horsham in England when Robert was 6.
Giovanni kept in touch over the years and after my mother Con died in 1996, I took up the roll of letter writer and wrote to them at Xmas. On a trip to the UK in 2004, I went to Horsham and met Maria and Robert. Unfortunately, Giovanni had passed away before then and I was sorry I hadn’t made the connection earlier. A walk to the cemetery was very moving for me.
My daughter and I were met at the Horsham railway station, by Robert. They lived in the same house all those years. The back garden backed on to bush, with a walkway to the cemetery and Maria visited Giovanni (John as he preferred to be called) every day. He passed away on 9th November 2002, aged 86.
She was overjoyed to see us and kept saying “how lovely you come”. She also said “if I die today, I die happy”…She said Giovanni always talked about his time in Australia and the 2 little boys. (1944-1946)
We were treated to a beautiful Italian lunch, before heading to the cemetery. I took a red rose to put on the grave. It was covered with bowls of plastic flowers and a candle holder with 3 dishes….She put candles in 2 and lit them.
We spent the afternoon in their back yard, reliving the past, before getting the train back to London.
I have many letters, Xmas cards and photos of Giovanni. They were precious to my mum and dad and are now for me precious memories of a friendship which has spanned over 70 years. I now write to Robert (Giovanni’s son) and he to me. So it is now a second generation story.
The other special memory of our POWs on our farm is stamped in concrete. During a very bad drought period, the Moogerah Dam practically dried up and some interesting finds were made on what was the old farm. A story appeared in the Boonah paper, which alerted us to this and in Oct 1995, we took my mother there…almost 50 years to the day.
A windmill had been put up and the concrete pads bore the signature of my father… Ron Niebling with the date 24.10.1945…and another had Guiseppe Miraglia (Sicilia) Enna and was dated 25.10.1945.
Other old relics of the farming days there were still there as well. The other Italian POW on our farm was Ignazio Graffeo.
“Footprints” of farmer Ron Niebling and Italian POW Guiseppe Miraglia October 1945 Moogerah Boonah
(from the collection of Pam Phillips)
I wrote recently to Robert Izzo, Giuseppe’s son, as we had been out of touch for some time and I wanted him to know about this project and that his father’s story would be featured. His reply arrived with a thank you note and a wonderful photo of his father and my two brothers. Robert Izzo wrote, “Thank you for your fantastic and enlightening letter concerning Dad. I’m sending it (photo) as I feel it belongs to it’s spiritual home. Dad would have wanted you to have it.”