Itys Hut Image Flat
(from the Collection of Martin Schulz)
The farm of my father AJ Schulz at Image Flat (Poona) in the Nambour district was home to three Italian Prisoners of War. The three Italians were employed to work on my uncle’s farm because at the time a disease called ‘bunchy top’ had got into his crops. The Banana Board Inspector suggested that my uncle get some help to save his crop by employing the Italians.
Our family background is German, originally settling on the Downs but then they came to Image Flat and grew bananas, pineapples, stock feed, citrus and small crops. The land was virgin scrub and farming was hard work. It was hard manual labour. We didn’t have tractors and eventually had a horse and at times we borrowed horses from the neighbour who was very obliging. Maybe our German background wasn’t a problem with us getting the Italians, because the Banana Inspector probably helped with the paperwork. For many farmers having Italian and German heritage meant that you couldn’t employ a POW.
We had a saw mill and used to use the timber from our property to make cases for the crops to be sent to market. Because of the saw mill, Dad was able to saw timber to build a house for the Italians. We referred to it as the “Itys Hut” and it stood for decades but eventually fell down.
We had three Italians but one used to go visiting a local Italian family. He would walk down to the Brisbane turn off where the family lived which is a long way on foot. The officers from the Prisoner of War control centre would come out at night to check on the whereabouts of the POWs and this fellow was caught out and taken away.
I have a lot of memories about the other two. Vince (Vincenzo Tigani) was well regarded by my family. He was the older of the two and was in his late 30s. To me, he was what you would think of as an Italian farmer dark complexion and sturdy build. He told us how he hadn’t been home to his family for over 10 years and he had two sons. He was a farmer from Vazzano (Catanzaro) and had been fighting in the Italian army in Abyssinia before World War 2. The soldiers were put on a ship and sent home and had docked and were to disembark the next day. Italy declared war and so they never got to go home and then were sent back to war. His record states that he was in the 1st Batg, Speciale Genio dell Eritrea so he must have been fighting in the Eritrea war which started in 1935. He was captured on 8th April 1941 at Massaua. The Allied force took 9,590 prisoners and 127 guns at the capture of Massaua (Massawa). After the War Vince came back to Australia with one of his sons. He built a cart and started a business as an ice cream vendor in Brisbane. When you think about it a good part of his working life was fighting in the Italian army and then being a Prisoner of War in India and Australia.
The other fellow, Eugene (Eugenio Mascaro) was much younger and would have been in his early twenties. He was a farmer from Casabona Catanzaro and was much fairer and could speak better English than Vince and seemed to have been more educated. His record states that he was in the Bersoglieri Ottavo Regg (Marksmen) when he was captured 1 December 1941 at Gambut in Libya. If you think about it, he was 20 years old when he was captured.
Italian Prisoner of War Identity Card – Mascaro, Eugenio PWI 57359
(National Archives of Australia J3118/115)
I don’t remember too many things about the time, as we were busy working the farm and the POWs just became part of daily life. They used to cook for themselves and sometimes ate meals with us. An army truck used to come around about once a month with provisions for the Italians and I remember them buying chocolate which they gave to us. Chocolate was not available in shops so this was a treat. I think they would have bought their spaghetti and such from the truck canteen.
I remember their red uniforms that they used to wear but after a while you didn’t notice this. We would go to the beach and everyone would go swimming and they were just part of the group. And then they would get dressed in the red uniforms and you just didn’t see them as different really. I would also drive them to church.
You would see some of them in town as well. Some of the Italians were used as drivers. They would go to farms and collect the wives and take them into town to do their shopping. These were women whose husbands had enlisted and were away at war. I suppose the C/O saw that this was a good use of manpower.
I remember the POWs as being happy. They were happy to be away from war. They were good fellows and you would hear them singing as they walked the ½ mile up over the hill to work at my uncle’s farm. They had cut a bit of a track through the scrub and made a track. We never had any trouble really and like everything in those days, you just got on with things and made do.