Ring Barking in the Outback


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Ring Barking on Tecoma

Adolfo D’Addario right of photo

(from the Collection of Assunta Austin)

My parents had a cattle property at Tecoma about 50 km due west of Monto when the Italian POWs came to stay with us in 1945.  That period has a special place in my memory because I was a four year old boy and only child on the farm. As well, one of the Italians returned to Australia, sponsored by my father and so re-entered our lives in 1951.

They were all in their late 30s.  Giuseppe Ferranti was a motor driver and a very good diesel mechanic.  Salvatore Bernardo was a musician and Adolfo D’Addario was a barber.

The Italians became my ‘playmates’ especially as they were such great family men and had had to leave their children when war started. I was called ‘Pietro’ and received birthday cards and Christmas cards once they left the district.  Letters from Adolfo D’Addario to my parents were always signed off with “a great kiss to my little friend Peter” or “a big hug to Peter”.  From Hay, 12.8.1946 Adolfo wrote, “Dear Peter, I express you my best wishes for your birthday. Sincerely Yours Adolfo.” I was looked after and carried around by the Italians.  They made trinkets and little toys for me and I have a memory of sweets they gave me, like a boiled lolly in the shape of fruit.

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Tecoma: Italian POWs, Mr Pownall driving, family friend standing, Aussie worker with hat, ‘Pietro’ at back 1945

(from the Collection of Assunta Austin)

Adolfo was a barber and one day when he was cutting my hair in the shed, a neighbour rode over home for a visit.  Adolfo asked Mr Mick if he would like a hair cut to which he replied, “You’ll have to charge me ½ price”. Language was a bit of a problem because Mick was bald and had no hair, so he took off his hat, yelled at Adolfo and repeated his “joke”. While the Italians managed to get by with limited English, they were slow to comprehend conversations especially if someone talked loudly and quickly.  Of course there are lot of my generation who can count to ten in Italian, compliments of the POWs.  The words ‘understand’, ‘no understand’ and ‘possible’ were much used.

Another story about language is the time that we left the property to go on holidays for a week.  The Italians and our Aussie workers were left to care take.  There were pigs to attend to, cows to be milked and they would ride the horses to check on the windmills.  Dad and Mum returned to a note, “Pig is death. Possible eat snake.”

The Italians worked out at a camp during the week and came in on weekends.  The work they undertook was ring barking.  It was a hard job and in the beginning their hands were covered in blisters.  No doubt they had never held an axe before.  They camped in tents which had rudimentary bedding and I remember the pillows were nothing more than a round log.  The countryside is treed with iron bark and grew thick which wouldn’t allow the grass to grow.  Saplings were ringbarked with a small frill, but the mature trees required a 4 inch band of frilling.

When they were back home on a Sunday, mum would cook up a Sunday dinner of roast chicken or beef.  They complained about the spaghetti that came out on the canteen truck because it was ‘not long enough’.  I suppose mum would have made spaghetti for them.

They were never any trouble. Of course they would have arguments amongst themselves and sometimes run at each other with a knife, but no one was hurt and it was more a way of sorting out their disagreements.

Reading letters they sent from Gaythorne after they finished up with us, tells a story of unhappiness and longing to be back on the farm. They always asked after our health, mum ‘lady’ and me and wrote about the good treatment that they had at home. Questions about the cattle, the cucumbers, the melons and tomatoes were asked and regards and goodbye to Pat and Lesley (workers) sent.  Appreciation was expressed for letters received, apologies made for their English and concerns for the family if they hadn’t received letters. Hopes of being home within 2 – 3 months were mentioned despite, them not getting home to Italy until early 1947.

After the war, Dad and Adolfo corresponded as Dad had offered to sponsor Adolfo to return to Australia.  Dad only had work for one and so Adolfo’s dream of bringing out his sons was put on hold.  Adolfo worked hard and saved his money.  After missing so much of his children’s lives, he wanted to keep his family together and so when he was able, he brought out his two sons: Mario and Attilio.  The two sons worked on a forestry project in the Coominglah range.  At some stage, his sons wanted to leave the district and go cut sugar cane.  Adolfo told dad that where his sons went, he went.  They would stay together.  They moved to Bundaberg and Adolfo then brought out his wife Assunta and daughter Aminta in 1956.

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Mrs and Mr Pownall, Attilio D’Addario and Adolfo D’Addario (photo taken by Mario D’Addario

(from the Collection of Assunta Austin)

Our family would visit Adolfo and his family in Targo Street Bundaberg and I have memories of being served black coffee and a liqueur named cent herbes. Adolfo had a cane farm and I remember that he also helped out another family. His pride and joy in later life was a Poinciana tree in the front garden which was a local landmark.

Only just recently, I have been in touch with a granddaughter of Adolfo: Assunta.  She has sent me a copy of the letter my dad sent to Adolfo 8.2.51 explaining the arrangements regarding sponsorship and the process Adolfo needed to follow so that he could be on the Toscana in June 1951.

Peter Pownall


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