Category Archives: Italian POWs and family

And 73 years later…

One special family reunion

And 73 years later, the Arici and Maddock families celebrate a reunion.

Franca and Augusta (daughters of Antonio) Camilla, Davide Dander, Maurizio Dander with Sophie Maddock
(photo courtesy of Davide Dander and Sophie Maddock)

Antonio Arici was 29 years old when he went to work on the farm of Norm and May Maddock at Hill View via Mukinbudin. In December 2017, Antonio’s grandson Davide Dander began his research journey for his grandfather when he asked the question: Can you help me?

Antonio left the Maddock farm on 15th January 1946 and on 24th June 2019, Sophie Maddock from Western Australia stepped off a train at Brescia Italy to visit the Arici family.

Sophie is the great grandaughter of Norm and May Maddock and her grandfather Bert Maddock remembers Antonio from when he lived at the family farm. Bert and his wife Jocelyn are unable to make a trip to Italy but Sophie was more than happy and very honoured to visit the Arici family.

History connects people and events, often in unexpected ways. Australia and Italy. A farmer and a prisoner of war. 1940s and 2010s. War and peace. But there is one special similarity: families who share the same values; importance of family and respect for everyone.

Different countries. Different backgrounds. Different decades. Different circumstances.

One special family reunion

Can you help me?

It started with a message from Italy via Facebook on 2nd December 2017:

Hi! I found these documents about my grandfather in the Australian Archives, but I can’t understand too much of the document. Can you help me?

And it has ended with a reunion* of the Arici family in Ghedi Brescia Italy with the Maddock family in Mukinbudin Western Australia.

Antonio Arici was 29 years old when as an Italian prisoner of war in Australia, he was transferred to the farm of Norm and May Maddock at Hill View via Mukinbudin. The writer of the above message is Antonio’s grandson Davide Dander, also 29 years old. As a tribute to his grandfather, he is retracing his grandfather’s footsteps in Australia. Davide’s research has lead him to Mukinbudin and Bert Maddock, son of Norm Maddock, who has clear memories of Antonio working on the family farm.

Step by step, the Arici family is finding Antonio’s footprints. Arriving in Melbourne Victoria on 26th April 1944, Antonio was one of 4069 POWs in a convoy of three transport ships from India.  Antonio spent time at Murchison PW & I Camp Victoria before being transferred to Marrinup PW Camp WA on 4th June 1944 along with 1099 other Italian POWs.

These 1100 were destined for farm work in several Prisoner of War Control Centres. Allocated to W19 Prisoner of War Control Centre Koorda, Antonio’s first placement was with Mr S Goodchild Mukinbudin from 16th July 1944 to 8th November 1944.  He was then transferred to the farm of Mr Norman Maddock on 8th November 1944 until 15th January 1946.

Antonio Arici PW Identity Card

Identity Card for Antonio Arici

(NAA:K1174 ARICI, Antonio)

Norman’s son Bert Maddock was a teenager when Antonio stepped onto the family farm. Bert’s wife, Jocelyn provides the backdrop to Antonio’s journey:

 “The farm at Hill View had been taken up by Norm Maddock in 1929 and had to be developed by cutting down the bush.  He did a small amount of cropping but livestock mainly sheep were his chief source of income, so Antonio would have been involved helping with these activities… Norman also had a few cattle and of course a milking cow… Bert, my husband would have been about 15 when Antonio worked on the farm and he recalls going out into the bush with Antonio to cut timber railings to build horse yards.  Antonio had a comfortable hut – made from corrugated iron and containing his bed, a cupboard, a fireplace, a couple of chairs, a small table and a bath tub.  He had all his meals with the family.  The hut had originally been built for another worker who enlisted when the War began.”

Jocelyn relates that Bert and his sister Doreen, “both of them remember separately a Sunday when Antonio and another POW from a neighbouring farm cooked the evening meal for the family and it was pasta.  This was the first time any of them had tasted pasta as it was then not a usual dish in Australia…They remember Antonio as a ‘good bloke’ which is high praise indeed and means pleasant, friendly, trustworthy, a reliable helper on the farm and respected.  Indeed most people who employed Italian POWs speak of them in these terms.  Bert has a wooden box which Antonio left behind in his Camp – it was probably too heavy to take.  It is not a large box and was empty.”

Government records further confirm Bert’s memories of Antonio.  Notated on one of these forms are the words: A good worker with a cheery disposition.  Highly regarded by employers. 

Antonio took home to Italy a few mementos of his stay in Western Australia.  Two of them take pride of place, displayed on a wall in a daughter’s home: a felt hat and a whip.  Jocelyn mentions that “we find the picture of the hat and whip intriguing.  All the men on farms wore similar felt hats as a general item of clothing in all seasons so it may be the one he [Antonio] had on the farm. Whips were not general use on the farm … Bert surmises the whip in your [Davide’s] photo is a sulky whip used by his Grandfather George Maddock as George’s possession were brought to the farm after he died.”

Antonio Arici. Hat and Whip from WA 

Hat and Whip belonging to Antonio Arici

(photo courtesy of the Arici family)

After leaving the Maddock farm, Antonio arrived at the Northam PW Camp on 21st January 1946.  It wasn’t until 17th October 1946 that Antonio boarded the SS Katoomba for his repatriation to Naples.

Antonio’s daughter Franca continues retracing her father’s footsteps: “…[he] arrived in Naples on 23rd November 1946, from Naples, with the train reached northern Italy, his hometown, Brescia and the village of Ghedi.  He resumed the activities left before the war, working in the countryside as a farmer and herdsman, helping the family and his brothers.  In November 1954 he married my mother, Agnese, and the next year his first daughter was born. Immediately and almost constantly, my father asks my mother to move to Australia.”

An extract from a letter written by another Italian POW, Donato Caruso, working on Oscar Miell’s farm in the Mukinbudin district explains the impressions the Italians had of Australia and the reasons why Antonio wanted to move to Australia:

“Here one lives well.  There is everything to eat that one wants.  I hope I can return here at the end of the war.  There is enough land for all ITALY to be lodged here.  Here the farmers could live till they reached a hundred.  There are no hoes, the ground is worked with horses and tractors.  The climate is good (better than there). There are all conveniences, and nothing is missing.  The country is flat plain and a lot of wheat is lost on the ground. Wheat which we badly want.  Nothing is missing as regards enjoyment.  There is everything that one desires.”

Franca Arici says that, “the years spent in Australia had remained in the heart of my father, who always told of the past moments with great nostalgia; life as a prisoner of war should not have weighed too much in his memories, instead leaving the place to stories of boundless landscapes, meeting with people who respected him and considered him positively even if he were in a subordinate position… it is a beautiful, serene, nostalgic memory of my father’s and the desire to return to Australia has always remained alive in him, it certainly owes to the good treatment received on the farm that hosted him [Maddock farm] and we are very grateful to your family [Maddock family].”

The other mementoes Antonio kept from his time in Australia are a few librettos. Italian prisoners of war working on farms were provided with a copy of Pidgin English for Italian Prisoners of War published by the Department of Army. It contained a list of common words and phrases relevant to life on a farm as well as pronunciation guides.  The other book was written specifically for Italian migrants but by the end of 1945, the Department of Army allowed for its distribution to prisoners of war considering migration to Australia: Piccola Guida  per gli Italiani in Australia. This handbook gives descriptions of Australia’s climate and geography with practicalities such as opening a bank account. As well, it included comprehensive English language instruction.

Franca Arici talks about her father’s librettos and “His [Antonio’s] passion for the English… he had brought and kept with love from Australia his notebooks of English and during the winter evenings he would often read from them to us [his daughters].”

Antonio Arici Piccola Guida per gli Italiani in Australia 

Piccola Guida per gli Italiani in Australia belonging to Antonio Arici

(photo courtesy of the Arici family)

Like many Italian POWs who had a dream to return to Australia, circumstances prevented their migration.  “My mother’s seamstress work, family ties, bureaucratic and economic difficulties have prevented my father to fulfil his life dream to bring his family to Australia,” Franca relates.

Antonio was only 57 years old when he died on 19th July 1973, leaving behind his wife and family of four daughters.  But through the decades, his daughters have remembered their father’s dream to return to Australia and now are visiting Australia and Antonio’s life on a Western Australian farm through the memories of the Maddock family and the government records.

Antonio Arici and Family 1964.jpeg

Arici Family 1964

Back row: Agnese, Franca, Antonio and Elena

Front row: Maria Augusta and Luigina

(photo courtesy of the Arici family)

Franca reflects, “Now rediscovering you [Maddock family], allows us to ‘compensate’ our father for that desire which he had to give up and from heaven he will surely smile at us…”

Antonio Arici.jpeg

Antonio Arici

(photo courtesy of the Arici family)

And the last words to this journey belong to Davide, Antonio’s grandson who at the same age as his grandfather took a journey* to Australia to walk in his grandfather’s footsteps.

Davide had started with the question ‘Can you help me?’ On receiving the news that the Maddock family had been found and that Antonio was remembered, David wrote:

“oh my god!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! scusa non riesco a scrive in inglese dall’emozione, spero che google translate faccia un buon lavoro.

grazie grazie grazie davvero,!!!!! grazie ancora con tutto il cuore

Grandson Davide Dander.jpeg

Davide Dander, grandson of Antonio Arici

(photo courtesy of Davide Dander)

*Technology (Facebook, Google translate, email and internet searches) has enabled Davide and his family in Italy to ‘travel’ to Australia and retrace the footsteps of Antonio Arici: Italian Prisoner of War as well as ‘meet’ the Maddock family and be reunited with Antonio’s past.

Exceptionally Good

Luigi Pinna from Cagliari  Sardinia is on a mission.  Luigi wrote “Buongiorno, scrivo dalla Sardegna. Mio padre nato il 19 aprile 1915 San Giovanni Suergiu prov. Cagliari. io non ho molte notizie, so che era prigioniero in India poi trasferito in Australia, mi piacerebbe sapere della sua vita di prigionierro militare.” With a handful of photos, Luigi wanted to trace his father’s journey as a prisoner of war in Australia.*

Pinna Africa

Antioco Pinna : Distaccamento Autonomo Autocentro in Gondar

(photo courtesy of Luigi Pinna)

Luigi explains a little about his father’s military service: “In 1935 he was a soldier until his discharge in 1937. In 1939, he was recalled to arms, embarked and left for East Africa and assigned to the Autonomous Detachment Autocentro in Gondar. This picture [below] is dated October 23, 1940, my father is the first on the left.”

Pinna Africa 1940

Antioco Pinna [first left] in Ethiopia October 23 1940

(photo courtesy of Luigi Pinna)

Antioco’s Australian Service and Casualty Form, fills in some of the missing details.  He was captured at Uolchefit 22nd September 1941 which is to the north east of Gondar. Before his arrival in Australia, Antioco was a prisoner of war in India from 1941 – 1944.

Luigi now knows his father better, with thanks to the army officials who kept these records.

Antioco was allocated on paper to S13 Mt Gambier-Penola-Mt Burr.  His assignment was to the Mt Burr forestry sub-camp and hostel.  He had been part of the first group to set up this hostel and Vincent Healy, a forestry worker at Mt Burr said, “… and anyhow the army had a  whole heap of Italian Prisoners of War from the Middle East who had been in India and they’d, when the Japs looked like taking over India, they stuck them all on a boat and sent them out to Australian and landed… landed them, so we got landed with a camp full of those.  But er … they  didn’t cut any wood at all, oh they’d cut a few hundredweight that’s all they’d cut a few hundredweight a day and then knock off, it was too hot.  It was run by the army, I had no authority over that, that was an army camp.  It was our camp and we were to get the wood but er… we got very little wood out of them.  See the first week they were there, they put them in this camp and I went out to see the bloke in charge of the camp and I said, “When are we going to get some wood?” he said, “When we get the camp ready,” He had these blokes all painting white stones to make nice pathways round the camp and all this sort of business.” from Vincent M. (Vin) Healy J.D. Somerville Oral History Collection State Library of South Australia

But this memory does not apply to Antioco.  Basil Buttery, Captain of S13 Hostel wrote: “An excellent worker and a steadying influence and leader of other P.W…  This P.W. is needed again in this hostel on completion of [dental] treatment.  His return is requested… Excellent type. Desirous of remaining in Australia.”

Luigi says, “I never heard my father say he wanted to go back to Australia.  He was too many years away from his family and had great nostalgia for his land and his friends.” But Antioco’s photos of local residents indicates that the hospitality of locals and the respect he gained from Aussie workers left an impression on him. While Luigi understands more about his father’s time in Australia, he would like to know something more about the people in these photos.

 

 

To Jimmy Man from John

(photo courtesy of Luigi Pinna)

Another record in the National Archives highlights that Antioco had an exceptionally good character, was an excellent worker who was industrious and ‘by far the best type in S13 hostel’.  Possibly AE Warren from Millicent worked with Antioco in forestry or Antioco worked on the Warren’s farm.  With every question answered, there is another question left unanswered.

 

 

To Jimmie from AE Warren Millicent

(photo courtesy of Luigi Pinna)

My father returned to Italy and he has always been a farmer.  He worked the vineyard and made wine and also produced tomatoes, aubergines, watermelons and melons.  On 25th April 1950 he married my mother GiacominaTrincas,” reflects Luigi.  Antioco died of a heart attack in 1976.  He was 61 years of age.

Click on the link to read more: Journey of Antioco Pinna

Pinna Family 1956

Pinna Family Photo 1956: Antonio, Antioco, Luigi, Giacomina and Lucia

(photo courtesy of Luigi Pinna)

 

*All prisoners of war have two files available for viewing online at the National Archives of Australia.  The documents contain valuable information about movement, places and basic personal details.

Some states of Australia eg Western Australia and South Australia have additional archived documents.  The stumbling block for Italians doing research is the process of obtaining copies.  It is easy if you read English, but extremely difficult and confusing if Italian is your only language.  Following the guides linked in Finding Nonno: Finding Nonno and How to Order NAA Luigi has unlocked a file containing information about his father.

 

Friends of the Italians at Amamoor

 

Anna Eusebi and Raffaele Iacopini are researching their father’s and grandfather’s time as prisoners of war in the Gympie district from 1944-1945 and need the help of Gympie locals to fill in the missing details.

Anna’s nonno Fortunato Gobbi and Raffaele’s father Luigi Iacopini, together with Giovanni Meconi, all from the Ascoli Piceno province of Italy, began work on an Amamoor farm owned by J.J.Parr on 5th August 1944.

Anna says, “My nonno never talked much about this piece of his life after he returned to Italy and I would appreciate any help from people who can help me find out more.  If possible, I would like to contact someone from the Parr family at Amamoor to know if someone remembers my nonno.”

Anna has shared photos from Fortunato’s time at Amamoor in the hope that someone might remember something. “We always knew that these photos held special memories for my nonno.  But it wasn’t until I found the research project “Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War in Queensland” that I began to understand some of nonno’s story.  The researcher, Joanne Tapiolas, told me the name of the farmer and where the farm was.  She also told me that the photos show the Land Army Girls and the Italian prisoners of war who worked together on many farms during the war. One of the photos shows a truck loaded up with sacks of potatoes.”

Scan0009

Amamoor Farm Gympie 1944-1945

Luigi Iacopini on the left and Fortunato Gobbi centre front.

Raffaele Iacopini is hoping that Gympie residents might recognise the people in one of his father’s photos.  Raffaele believes that the photo was sent to his father Luigi after the war and must be from someone that he knew. Possibly it was sent to Raffaele after he left a Gympie farm but was still in Australia.

The sender wrote on the back of the photo, You know who this is? Miss …cia and me, horses and fruit. “I hope that someone recognises the people in this photo and can tell me something more about my father when he worked in Amamoor and the people he met,” says Raffaele.

Foto Luigi Iacopini AUS__001 - Copy

Pineapple Harvest Gympie District c. 1946-1947

A Hard Day’s Work

Anna Eusebi from Ancona Italy is the granddaughter of Fortunato Gobbi.  In her quest to find out more information about her Nonno Ernesto (as he was known), she found this project’s research and website.

Anna mentioned that she had some photos of her grandfather when he was on a farm in Australia and that her family only had a few stories about Ernesto’s time in Australia.  Ernesto told his family that in Australia there were many snakes and that he cultivated potatoes.  He also told of the frustration of the Italian POWs who were taken off the farms but then had to wait almost a year before boarding a ship for Italy.  Together, we pieced together Ernesto’s journey as an Italian soldier and prisoner of war.

Every photo that is shared with me is special:  photos of the Italians posing on horse back, family photos which include the Italian prisoners of war.  Each is special because every photo has a story to tell.

Ernesto’s photos however are extraordinary.

His photos are a first for this Queensland research. While there is written documentary evidence confirming that the Italian prisoners of war worked side by side with the Land Army Girls, this practice was a rather contentious issue: Itye POWs fraternising with our Aussie girls! A newspaper headline: DAGOES PESTER LAND ARMY GIRLS sums up a commonplace viewpoint.

Ernesto’s photo talks to us about the workforce on JJ Parr’s Amamoor farm during WW2.  These photos are a unique snapshot of the combined POW and LAGS workforce at Amamoor via Gympie.  While the prisoner of war workforce was employed on a permanent basis on most Queensland farms, the Australian Women’s Land Army (LAGS) workforce tended to be used for short periods during the hectic harvest seasons.

The Fourth Service by Mary Macklin is an excellent resource chronicling the services of the Land Army in Queensland during World War 2.  There are two mentions of the LAGS picking potatoes, “It was hard work picking up potatoes, filling the bags, sewing them up, then tow of us loading them onto the trucks…” and “May Higgins picked and bagged sixty five bags of potatoes in one day, three bushel bags each, an amazing worker…”

In the photo below, the truck is loaded with bagged potatoes.  Nonno Ernesto is sitting third from the right, and Luigi Iacopini, a friend from the same village as Ernesto is sitting first on the left.

Gobbi and LAGS and Potatoes

A Hard Day’s Work

Italian Prisoners of War and Land Army Girls Amamoor via Gympie

(courtesy of Anna Eusebi)

Mention of Land Army girls working at Amamoor is made in Mary Macklin’s book: “A group of four girls went to work on pineapple harvesting and later will be harvesting beans.  The number is now six.  LAGS of this group are B Cedergreen, A Cedergreen, G [Gloria] Pattison, C [Clarice] Keyworth, C Burroughs, E Bonning and Mrs Cedergreen does the cooking for the girls.”

From the archives, we know that J.J. Parr employed POWs and LAGS on two properties: The Golden Mile Orchard near Gayndah/Mundubbera (Q4 PWCC) and Amamoor (Q3 PWCC). One LAG, Cecily Gourley (nee Brennan) wrote about her memories of these times.  Cecily worked on both properties of J.J. Parr.

Cecily wrote:

The next property was the Golden Orange [The Golden Mile Orchard] at Mundubbera.  It was Christmas time, rockmelon harvest for the southern market and potato crop. Wages were two pounds, four shillings weekly and keep. When the season finished we left for Amamoor, Kadanga – same owners [J.J. Parr] as above property.

Contract potato pickers machine dug up to surface, with us picking up along rows with two kerosene tins.  These tins were four gallons and square in which was commercial dispensed kerosene, for lighting and various needs.  In one tin we collected small potatoes for the domestic market and in another, larger potatoes for Defence Forces. At the end of the rows, bags were filled and sewed across the top, but forming left and right “EARS” for grip handling. 

Lunch time was taken at the nearby creek, in a beautiful atmosphere listening to the magnificent bell birds call and sounds of other birds, tranquillity so long ago…

On this property also six to eight Italian P.O.W.’s working as directed by Overseer [Manager].  Due to circumstances, the Overseer was absent, personal reasons and arrangements.  A car arrived on the property with four male officials and no Overseer.  The four men returned to Gympie.  An hour later, Army M.P.’s arrived in a military truck and took the POW’s away.

The AWLA members were given instructions by phone to pack up and return by train to H.Q. Brisbane… (From The Fourth Service)

The authorities did not abide by a situation where the POWs and the LAGS worked together without appropriate supervision.

It is unlikely that Cecily and Ernesto’s paths crossed.  Cecily appears to have been at the Amamoor property early 1944 and Ernesto did not arrive at Amamoor until July 1944. But Cecily’s memories and Ernesto’s photos sit side by side to tell us a story of the Amamoor workforce.

Scan0009

Morning Tea for the Workers and young boy

Luigi Iacopini far left and Nonno Ernesto centre front

Italian Prisoners of  War and Land Army Girls Amamoor via Gympie

(courtesy of Anna Eusebi)

Ernesto also told his family that he “regretted not being able to stay in Australia because he said he was well looked after and that there was so much work”. Other poignant memories were: living in tents, making gnocchi when he took care of the kitchen, a terrible journey from India to Australia when Italians died from dysentery and were thrown into the sea and Italians committing suicide in the camps because they could not cope with the emotional stress of waiting and waiting to return home to Italy.

I thank Ernesto and his family for keeping these photos safe for over seventy years.

They are extraordinary because of the history they reflect. They tell us about a war time workforce, a potato harvest, Italian prisoners of war, Australian Women’s Land Army girls, life on the farm during World War 2, farming life at Amamoor via Gympie:

 a hard day’s work.

A Voice from the Past…

In a beautiful tribute to his nonno, Damiano Lumia recorded the voice of Antonino Lumia telling his story as a soldier and a prisoner of war.

Lumia Antonio Lumia Hay II

Hay, NSW. 9 September 1943. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POW) interned at No. 6 POW Group. In this group are known to be: 46032 Raffaele Lomonaco; 46627 Giuseppe Restivo; 46007 Antonio Lumia (front row second left); 45586 Isidoro De Blasi; 46206 Gaetano Mineo; 45360 Giuseppe Cannata; 45103 Leonardo Barbera; 45997 Pietro Lomonte; 46221 Antonio Rondi and 47999 Leonardo Ciaccio. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.

(Australian War Memorial Lewecki Image 030143/33)

Antonino’s  journey begins in Sicily and listening to his voice, we follow in his footsteps from his home town of Bompensiere to Toburk and Benghazi, then Australia. Finally, Antonino takes us back to Italy and his family.

Antonino Lumia begins his story with,

My dear grandson, I had a lot of trouble. When they called us…”

and ends with…

I saw your grandmother. I came down. I came home. I rushed to your father. Here is my story, dear grandson. The sufferings were severe, dear grandson”.

Damiano’s video Antonino Lumia POW in Australia 1941-1946  combines images of Bompensiere with photographs and documents from Australian War Memorial and National Archives of Australia  to take the viewer on an intimate journey through time.

Antonino’s memories are told with humour and melancholy. English subtitles combined with Antonino’s voice, makes this accessible for those who only speak English. More importantly for those Queenslanders who have memories of ‘their’ Italian POW, it brings back to life their voices: the timbre and musicality of the Italian language.

“Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War in Queensland” has always been about connectivity between people, with the past, between Italians and Australians, with memories and history.

I am honoured and humbled that Damiano Lumia’s video has become part of this project for the oral histories of Italian prisoners of war are paramount to adding depth and perspective to this project.

Another aspect of the project has been to connect people with information. Research has provided Damiano with details about Antonino’s time in Queensland.  Antonino Lumia was assigned to Q3 PWCC Gympie along with Giovanni Adamo.  They were employed by Mr R – Mr Kevin John Rodney of North Deep Creek from 14 March 1944 to 4 January 1946.  Miss Gloria, mentioned by Antonino is Miss Gloria Davis from Auchenflower.  Mr R and Miss Gloria were married in St Stephen’s Cathedral in Brisbane on 6th May 1944.

Antonino remembers with clarity when he first met Miss Gloria. “The farmer was back. You could hear the horn of his car in the distance.  His wife was with him.  I had planted very beautiful flowers near the hut. I mad a bouquet of flowers.  When they arrived near us… I offered flowers to his wife.  He introduced us to his wife: Miss Gloria. They went home. For us the work continued. The next morning Madame served us the meal.  A very nice woman. Every morning I brought wood to this woman for cooking”, speaks Antonino.

Antonino Lumia’s testimony is not only a voice from the past but also an important window into the past.  Click on the above link and take a walk with Antonino through history.

Lumia Antonio Lumia Hay

HAY, NSW. 1944-01-16. ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR HAVING A MEAL IN THEIR MESS AT NO. 7 COMPOUND, 16TH GARRISON BATTALION PRISONER OF WAR DETENTION CAMP. PICTURED ARE: 46007 ANTONIO LUMIA (1); 45824 BRUNO GALLIZZI (2); 46734 ALMO STAGNARO (3); 48355 GIUSEPPE ARRIGONI; (4); 45087 ANTONIO BACCIGALUPO (5); 46620 MICHELE RIZZO (6); 46626 EMILIO RUOCCO (7); 46635 FRANCO RONDELLI (8); 45900 ALESSANDRO IANNOTTA (9).

(Australian War Memorial, Geoffrey McInnes Image 063371)

 

Stepping back in time

It was almost 73 years to the day, when Nino Cippola stepped back in time to retrace his father’s journey in Queensland. Nino’s father, Francesco (Ciccio) Cippola was an Italian prisoner of war captured in Libya on 4th January 1941.  While in Melbourne on holiday from Taormina in Sicily,  Nino thought he would try to find details about the “Q6 Home Hill” written into his father’s POW Service and Casualty Form.

Cipolla Francesco Cipolla Photograph April 1939

Francesco Cippola: Roma 10.4.1939

(photographic collection of Nino Cippola)

A flurry of messagess via Messenger and emails, a flight to Townsville and Nino found himself on the railway platform of Home Hill. Francesco Cippola would have stepped onto the same platform. Not much changes in small country towns in Queensland.

Home Hill Railway Station: 1944 and 2017

Nino Cippola tracing his father’s footsteps

(NAA: M1415, 434, photographic collection of Joanne Tapiolas)

With only 1 three ton truck available the 115 Italian prisoners of war would have walked a short distance to the Home Hill Showgrounds.  Many of the buildings there had been leased by the Army and it would have taken more than one trip to transport the Italians over a muddy dirt track 22 miles up river Home Hill.

It was the 30th April 1944 and the Q6 PWC Hostel, to accommodate 255 Italian POWs and A.M.F. staff, had not been completed.  Wet weather, a tropical cyclone and delays with the septic tank, meant that the Italians ‘roughed it’ in temporary tents, without floor boards. The POWs were there to grow vegetables to supply to the Allied forces in North Queensland.

Little remains of the hostel buildings and the farming sheds. The concrete foundations were dug up years ago and the buildings sold off to Main Roads.  What does remain are the traces of ‘settlement’ found on the banks of the Burdekin: a lone banana tree, a cluster of custard apple and lemon trees. Using a hand drawn plan of the hostel complex, Nino could envisage the extent of what was Ciccio’s  home for 15 months.

 

1944.camp layout

Layout Plan POW Camp Homehill

(NAA: J153, T1542B, 1944)

As he stood  at the Q6 Hostel site, Nino could also make sense of the many stories his father had told him. He could also make sense of Francesco’s (Ciccio’s) obsession with growing vegetables.  Ciccio was not a farmer. He did not come from a farming background. Ciccio was a ‘carabinieri’. But time spent on the Home Hill farms had made an impression on Ciccio. His family said, he was fanatical about seeds and tomatoes. Nino explains that:

“my father’s interest in growing crops was substantial and almost at an industrial scale – he would return home from the farm with 150 kg of tomatoes in the back of the car, or grow wheat and have it ground for flour, bags and bags of it, he would have 100s of kilos of eggplants, capsicums or pumpkins. He was always asking his family about which fruit or vegetables tasted best and he would dry and save seeds of the best tasting.  He often had seeds in his pockets. He would give away his excessive volumes of fruit and vegetables to neighbours, family and friends. I never fully understood my father’s passion in this area until I visited the POW site on the Burdekin River and learnt about the work my father and other POW were doing.  My father did not come from a farming background.  Most people have a small vegetable plot, but my father grew crops on a grand scale.  I believe his time on the Commonwealth Farm at Q6, gave him this lifelong interest”.

The backdrop to this story is the purpose and operations of the Commonwealth Vegetable Project Farms: to grow vegetables for service requirements, to develop means and ways to select and grow crops suited to good yields and the tropical climate, to run seed trials and soil testing to improve productivity. Regarding tomatoes,  barrels on the Commonwealth farms were filled with tomatoes, to decompose and then be treated to extract the seeds and so began a lifelong passion of Ciccio’s centring around tomato growing and seed selection.

Ciccio’s dislike for bananas also seems to have stemmed from his time at Q6.  His children heard the recurring comment ‘I don’t eat bananas’ from their father.  If bananas were in the fruit bowl, he would reiterate his disdain for bananas.  The Home Hill Italian POWs were responsible for the cultivation of nine acres of bananas and used ground safes to ripen the hands.  Likely, the best bananas went to the armed forces and the overripe bananas, in abundance, became part of the POW daily menu.

The landscape of the Burdekin is in contrast to that of Taormina.  A mountain range rises high in the background at the end of Kirknie Road as opposed to an active Mount Etna viewed through the archways of the Ancient Greek Amphitheatre.

Contrasting Landscapes of Taormina Sicily and up river Home Hill Queensland

(Trip Advisor: Taormina, photographic collection of Joanne Tapiolas)

Up river Home Hill is a long way from Taormina and the contrasts are striking. But Nino’s step back in time, to the time his father Ciccio grew vegetables on a Commonwealth Vegetable Farm up river Home Hill, offered up an understanding of his father’s years as a prisoner of war in Australia.