History needs to be written with balance and perspective. War is complicated.
The system which placed Italian prisoners of war to work and live on farms was a necessary strategy to keep ‘food on the Australian table and in the bellies of US and Australia military’. As our young Australians joined the military services, farmers were left without a farm labour workforce. The labour shortage situation was dire. War Cabinet documents convey this view. It was imperative to keep farms operational. With 18,000 Italian sitting idle in camps, allocating the Italians to farms, was a matter of supply and demand.
BUT more importantly, placing the Italians on farms, was a major benefit to their physical, emotional and metal health. With no barbed wire, these men settled into a familiar routine in a family environment: there was work to be done, attention to keeping their accommodation clean and orderly, cooking of meals, growing of vegetables in small plots, new skills to be learnt and new farming techniques to be mastered.
The other side of this history is the resentment and prejudice of many Australians. Criticism ranged from Italians being treated favourably in local hospitals to resentment that the POWs could buy items from the canteen truck that were unavailable to the civilian populations eg. canned peaches, chocolate.
The following report highlights some of the complaints in Smithton, Tasmania. This is an example of ‘name and shame’…
(NAA P617, 519 3 151 PART 2)
The newspaper Smith’s Weekly was well known to headline anti-Italian and migrant sentiment from 1919 through to 1950. Its criticism was therefore not only aimed at Italian prisoners of war but Italians in general. The below article highlights one of Smith’s Weekly’s complaints. The full article is available via the link below:
1944 ‘PETROL TO DRIVE LUIGI TO CHURCH’, Smith’s Weekly (Sydney, NSW : 1919 – 1950), 18 November, p. 1. , viewed 06 Feb 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article235761465
Prisoners Eat; Guards Starve relates to the Italian prisoners of war who travelled by train to Sydney December 1946. They were in transit to board the Alcantara for repatriation to Italy. I think that the Italians POWs would have been able to see the humour in this situation.