A voice down the phone line said, “I think you will be surprised with what I have. I don’t think you will find another like it.”
Many thoughts flashed through my mind but I was not prepared for this treasure:
Neil Buchanan managed and ran Redslopes at Goomboorian via Gympie as part of a partnership between himself and three brothers. Every day he wrote in the Redslopes diary. He wrote about workers coming and going, about the weather, machinery breakdown, visitors to the farm, important milestones during the war AND he wrote about the four Italian prisoners of war who came to Redslopes to work the farm.
Jim Buchanan was the voice at the other end of the phone and I am sure he could hear my excitement at being offered the opportunity to read this unique primary source.
Generalisations about this history were replaced with specifics. No longer did the Italians undertake farm work, the diary revealed exactly what type of farm work they did. No longer did the Italians rarely go into town except for church, the Italians at Redslopes took produce into town with their boss and they went to the barber for their monthly haircuts.
Jim and I talked at length about farming during World War 2. They were different times: when wooden crates for the produce were made on site and stamped, when spare parts for farm machinery were scarce, when horses were used to plough the fields and when farming was labour intensive.
There are few statements about the importance and value of the POW workforce. But finally, it was there… in the diary:
Dec 31 1945 Last day of old year. Four men for half a day. POW then finish up, much to sorrow of Boss. Had final talk with Ities at night.
Jan 1 1946 New Year’s Day but a sad day at Redslopes. Took the three POW to town and said goodbye. Farm is now badly understaffed with no prospects of further employees.
The Redslopes diary is rarely personal. But while these final two entries might be brief, the words reveal how important the POW workforce was to the farmer.
War time is a busy time. War time is a complicated time. War time is often a time of irony. Our young Australian workforce had joined the services leaving our agricultural industries severely understaffed. Feeding a nation was paramount for both domestic and service requirements.
The Italian prisoners of war not only provided a much needed agricultural workforce but these men helped feed a nation and enabled farmers to be economically viable and sustainable.