“Glen Olive” Gayndah: Robinsons and Italian POWs
Ruby Robinson (at back) and Olive Munro (Robinson) (in front)
Who is Who? Antonio Colomba, Antonio Alfarano or Giuseppe Vergine
(from the Collection of Avis Hildreth)
“Glen Olive” and “Glen Ellen” in Gayndah were farmed by father and son Francis Charles Robinson and Francis William Robinson who employed Italian prisoners of War to help work their citrus orchards. Five young Italians, all in their early 20s and from farming backgrounds, arrived at the Robinson’s property on 8 July 1944: Domenico Petruzzi, Nicola Micali, Antonio Colomba, Antonio Alfarano and Giuseppe Vergine.
Avis Hildreth granddaughter of Frank Senior relates with fondness family memories of Domenico Petruzzi: “My late mother, Ruby Robinson, remembered him as being very young. He was well regarded by the Robinson family and according to family accounts, he did not want to return to Italy when the war ended… Domenico gave some needlework to my late mother. It is an arrangement of Australian wildflowers. My mother gave it to my sister”.
Domenico Petruzzi’s Gift to Robinson Family
(from the Collection of Colleen Lindley)
Colleen Lindley, granddaughter of Frank Robinson Senior, is now the custodian of this special gift and her mother also entrusted her with its story. She says, “I only tell you the history of this piece as I was told by my Mother. My Mother had this needle work sent out to her by mail order. She intended to do the needle work herself. Domenico asked her if she had any needle work that he could do to fill in the time of a night. My Mother decided to give it to Domenico as a gift, never thinking that in time, it would become his thank you and farewell gift to her. It was to be a cushion cover, but I was not willing to use it this way as I felt that it should be preserved. Mum had kept it wrapped up in a cloth with her linen until the day that she gave it to me. The lettering at the bottom was Domenico’s doing. He had put the lettering on the bottom and told her what the letters stood for: Remember Domenico Petruzzi Prisoner of War”.
Before Domenico left the Gayndah orchard, Mr Robinson had discussed with him the possibility of sponsorship so that he could return to Australia. The Robinson family could not locate or contact Domenico in Italy and letters sent to him possibly did not find him.
Over the years, family members thought often about Domenico. An ABC documentary in the early 2000s reignited Ruby Robinson’s interest in finding Domenico and so daughter Colleen took up the challenge. She contacted local historical societies and the Australian War Memorial but there were no answers nor leads.
There were many complications in the search: AWM requested a Prisoner of War Number; Ruby Robinson had never seen Domenico’s name written down so spelt it as she remembered it: Dominico Pertruse; and even if the family found his record, his home town was written as Nizzanello Lecce rather than Lizzanello Lecce. Such are the many brick walls that Queenslanders have hit when trying to locate information on their Italian POWs.
Domenico Petruzzi’s gift is an enduring memory of his time working on a citrus orchard outside of Gayndah. It is beautifully crafted and a treasured memento from the time Italian prisoners of war worked on Queensland farms.
More importantly, Domenico has had his wish come true. His story had been embroidered into his gift and the sentiments of the words have ensured that he has not been forgotten. Domenico Petruzzi’s Australia family will continue to remember him as this gift is passed down through the generations.