Colin Wenck lives on Upson Downs, just outside of Gayndah, a property owned by his great-grandparents Walter and Martha Sauer during World War 2. There were two properties run by the Sauer family: Upson Downs and across the river Banapan. Running cattle and growing small crops, three Italian prisoners of war were employed to take on the work around the farms.
Fred Sauer, owner of Gayndah Motors was the registered employer of the Italians, but Colin believes that the Italians lived in rooms behind Gayndah Motors until such times that a cottage was built by and for them on the farm. Colin recalls, ‘The Italians were known to have built houses on Frankie Robinson’s citrus orchard. And mention is made that our cottage was built by them as well. Apparently, they were only allowed to be employed with farm work, but there would have been a shortage of carpenters and if the Italians had the skills, then the farmers utilised their experience.’
Colin grew up knowing the history of the cottage and has been firm that the building will not be pulled down. The names of the three Italians have now emerged from the pages of the archives, adding a personal connection between POWs and the cottage.
‘Granddad Colin remembers some stories about the POWs. The Italians taught great-grandma how to make pasta dough. And a fond memory is of the pasta hanging up around the kitchen drying. There was the story about one Italian who asked if he could use some spare timber and hardware in the shed to build a barber’s chair. Antonio Iaccarino was the barber and he would cut hair for all the family. They also asked to be taught how to fish. They would bring home bags of fish which was then cooked up for dinner. One POW wrote to the family after the war, to ask for a reference to assist him to come to Australia. But we don’t know if he ever did,’ Colin says.
The other two POWs were Giovanni Farina, a farmer and Fortunato Franco, a mason. The Upson Downs cottage is an old, rustic, weatherboard and corrugated iron building with timber floors. Walking through this building is like walking back in time and walking in the boots of the Italian POWs who called this place home seven decades ago.