I have a couple of wonderful photos of my family with Peter and Paul our Italians POWs. I would have been ten years old when they came to our farm to help dad with the farm work. There was a shortage of farm labourers during the war and we grew potatoes. Dad was involved with the Potato Board and would travel around Australia attending meetings and conferences.
We also had soldiers and Land Army girls help with the farm work and the harvest. Some of the soldiers were USA soldiers. One Negro solider stayed on the farm and took over cooking for mum. I think he was then sent to New Guinea.
Then came Peter and Paul who stayed with us for about 18 months. Language was a problem especially between dad and Peter and Paul. It was more that dad would tell them to do something, they were eager to please and follow instructions but they would get the wrong idea and then voices were raised. They called our grandmother Extra Madame, mum was Madame, but Grandma Kelly hated the reference. I think it was because she was a big lady. But I don’t think they meant anything other than being respectful. Sometimes we would call Grandma Kelly, Extra Madame and she would get very irate with us.
Dwyer Family Photo 1945
Back: JJ Dwyer, Margaret Dwyer, Des Dwyer, Grandma Kelly
Front: Laurie Dwyer, Pietro Romano, Carmel Dwyer, Michael Dwyer, Paolo De Propertis
We loved Peter. He was outgoing and friendly. Once when Mum and Dad were away, Peter came and slept in the house and looked after the family. And 70 years later we still talk about Peter’s potato cakes. We were introduced to rice and spaghetti by Peter and Paul. They would teach us how to twirl the spaghetti with a fork and spoon. My first pair of sandals was given to me by Peter. I used to get hand me downs from my sister Margaret, but Peter made me my very own sandals. He used to cure the hides and make leather. They would have made us trinkets and toys, probably from pieces of wood or corn cobs. Another time, Mum, Grandma and Michael went to the coast for about two months for a holiday. Peter would do everything and looked after the house. My parents trusted the Italians. I remember he would wash my hair on a Sunday afternoon and plait it. For the first few days of school, my hair remained neat and tidy. By the end of the week, the teacher would be telling me to ‘do something about my hair’.
Peter loved watermelons. The story goes that at night, Peter would cut a watermelon in half and then munch on it throughout the night. He would also cut a small triangle into the watermelons to check to see if they were ripe.
Paul was much quieter than Peter. He enjoyed milking the cows and doing the dairy farm work. Reg and Molly were share farmers and neighbours. There was some confusion with language and Paul tried to explain this by saying “I like Molly. But I don’t like a Molly”.
Paolo De Propertis
On canteen truck day, we would race home from school because we knew that Peter and Paul would buy something for us. We went to Tarome school and from school we would see the canteen truck drive past on the road. We would race across the paddocks, creek and a swamp to get home. It was mainly a lolly they would give us, but they were a real treat.
On a Sunday, the other POWs from around the area would congregate on our farm. This was against the rules but because we lived out of town, they didn’t get noticed. In those days you knew local cars and who owned them. If there were any strange cars coming up the road, the Italians would disperse and take cover. Their meetings were often rowdy. Dad would be concerned that there was a fight happening and would go over to see what was going on. One minute they were talking angry and the next they were laughing. Dad said that they would mimic the mannerisms of their bosses. They would walk and talk like their bosses and they found it hilarious. Dad said they were very true with their interpretations.
My brothers had more to do with Peter and Paul than I did. As was appropriate in those days, mum kept Margaret and I at a distance from the Italians. She felt that the girls shouldn’t be around them. We used to get letters from Peter and Paul but because of the language issue, this stopped. They couldn’t understand our letters and we couldn’t understand their letters.
They must have talked about their homes and families because I remember a couple of things about the differences between life in Australia and life in Italy. They thought that Australian women were very lonely. They lived on the farm, a long way from other women and the town. In Italy, families lived in villages. The men left the village to go to work during the day but the women had the company of the people in the village. The other difference was to do with twilight. When they first arrived, they had this idea that after dinner they would go walking. Dad had to try to explain that our twilight in Queensland was short. The sun would set and it would turn dark quickly. It is different in southern states and also in Europe when it is still light close to 10pm in some places.
When Peter and Paul left our farm, we took them into town. Upon our return home, we saw that they had painted their addresses on a wall of the house. I travelled to Italy and asked the tour guide if we went close to Tocco Cassauria and explained my memories. Unfortunately, this was not on the tourist route.
Many people today, do not have a knowledge of this history. I have told the story of Peter and Paul many times to people I meet and they always are puzzled by a scheme which placed Italian prisoners of war on farms to live with Queensland families. While there were many benefits for the Italians to be on farm, the scheme had reciprocal benefits.
Peter and Paul enriched our lives.
Carmel Peck (nee Dwyer)