Category Archives: Q6 PWC Hostel Home Hill

Lost Local History

Maize Crop Tolga

The Atherton Maize harvest 1944 was predicted to be a record crop and Department of Manpower was approached in 1944 for Italian POWs to work the harvest.  A letter from Vincent Quilter, a Tolga farmer asks for information about the process of applying for POW labour.  The idea of using 200 Italian POWs was suggested March 1944: to increase vegetable production, work on tobacco, peanut and maize farms.  By May 1944, the proposal was rejected.  The 1944 harvest was worked by southern pickers whose return fares were paid and who earned between 6 to 7 pounds per week.  The harvest figures were 17,000 tons from 17,000 acres.

The 1945 harvest was predicted to be down due to an excessively wet season and only 5,000 ton was harvested from 18,000 acres.  But 120 pickers were urgently required to work the harvest.

The closest POW workforce was stationed at Q6 Prisoner of War Control Hostel Home Hill.  Q6 Home Hill was a purpose built hostel for 250 Italian POWs who worked on the Commonwealth Vegetable Project in the Burdekin.  It operated from April 1944 to November 1945.

Up until beginning of June 1945, the director of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, Mr Bulcock would not sanction Italian POWs from Home Hill to go to Atherton as he believed he could not afford for his program to be jeopardised by the reduced workforce.  Out of 230 POWs at Home Hill, he said that only 100 was of any value.  A rethink and negotiations by the involved government parties, saw approval given by 12 June 1945, to set up a temporary arrangement for approximately 8 weeks and loan 60 POWs from Home Hill Hostel.

The ‘Temporary PWCC Atherton’ (prisoner of war control centre without guard) would have been an office set up in a building in Atherton to oversee the POWs and manned by army personnel from Home Hill.  Or possibly, it was set up at an army facility such as the State Farm at Kairi.  The army personnel would have been put up in boarding houses or hotels and the Italian POWs would have been billeted in groups of 2 – 3 to farmers within a radius of 25 miles of Atherton.  The POWs wore magenta dyed army issues, so as to be highly visible, although when working on farms, could wear their own clothing.  The farmers paid 1 pound per week to the Department of Commerce and Agriculture as it was the employing authority of the Home Hill POWs.

Fifty three Italian POWs arrived from Home Hill in Atherton on 3 July 1945 and were allocated to farmers on 4 July 1945.  By 26 September 1945, the temporary PWCC was closed and the POWs returned to Home Hill. The majority were captured in Libya and one was captured in Greece. These POWs came from all walks of life and had been prisoners of war for over 4 years having spent time at Prisoner of War Camps in Hay, Yanco and Cowra.

There was much military activity on the Atherton Tablelands during World War 2 and so the presence of 53 Italian POWs working on maize farms for 8 weeks would be easy to forget.  However, one local Jack Duffy remembers well seeing the men in red coats walking the road from the State Farm to the maize farms.  His father jokingly told him they were “Rugby Union Players”. Dick Daley from Tolga still has one of the tools used in those days to harvest the maize.  A leather strap around closed fingers, with an embedded three inch nail, was used to slice open the husk and the cob would then be removed.

The Rocky Creek War Memorial Park records the history of military activity on the Atherton Tablelands during World War 2.  Nine Italian POWs spent time at the 47 ACH (Australian Camp Hospital) and seven  spent time at Staging Camp (Kairi) most probably    the State Farm precinct which had been taken over by the 5th Australian Farm Camp.

Rocky Creek War Memorial Park Atherton Tablelands

Q6 PWCH Home Hill

I am yet to find a photograph taken at the Home Hill hostel.  Military zones, such as this prisoner of war camp, were governed by strict rules and protocols regarding the taking of photos.  According to the regulations, “Group photos of PW allocated through Control Centres for employment in rural industry were NOT permitted” (NAA:A7711)  and while POWs allocated through PWCC had their photos taken by their host families, there is no photographic record of the POWs while working on the Commonwealth Farms, nor of the hostel.  Or maybe there are photos of the POWs at Home Hill hostel that are yet to see the light of day.

The Australian War Memorial holds an amazing array of photographs taken of a number of POW Camp facilities in Australia and group photos of the prisoners of war.  The group photos were taken so that the Italian POWs could purchase a copy to send home.

With so little information known about the Home Hill hostel, I searched the Australian War Memorial (AWM) records to catch a glimpse of my Home Hill POWs.  I had the list of names: 272 but I was not satisfied with names only.

I did not want this group of men to be defined by the few trouble makers who refused to work or escaped and were recaptured.  After all, they were men who were fathers, brothers, husbands and sons.  By the time they walked into the hostel, it had been seven months since Italy had surrendered.  The Allies were making their way north through Italy, but by 28th April 1944 there was a lull in Allied activity due to bad weather:

LONDON. Thursday. – Land
and air fighting has slackened in
Italy because rain and mist are
again shrouding the front lines,
says Reuters correspondent at
Allied Headquarters.
There was harassing artillery
and mortar fire on the Cassino
front and in the nearby Garigliano
River sector.
(News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954) Friday 28 April 1944 p 1)

Home Hill. The Men

The first group of 115 Italian POWs arrived on 30th April 1944.

These men came from all walks of life. The requirements of the hostel meant that the following occupations were minimum requested and recruited: 1 x Medical Officer, 4 x orderlies, 190 x workers, 10 x cooks and fatigues, 50 x PW capable of driving tractors including mechanics.

Some of their occupations included: police, hairdresser, sculptor, brewer, bookseller, sailor, electrician, tinsmith, tiler, brick layer, linotypist, cyclist, tailor, miller, mason and blacksmith.  Considering that the hostel had not been completed when the first 115 POWs walked into the hostel,  men with trades would have been most welcome.

The photo below taken at Cowra shows three of the Home Hill POWs: Giuseppe Ippolito  – labourer, Salvatore De Micco – farmer and Agostino Leto –  postal clerk.  All three men were in the first group of 115 to be sent to Q6 Home Hill Hostel.

Ippolito De micco Leto

Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 49115 C. Trentino; 49354 G. Ippolito; 49592 A. Poggi; 49107 G. Zunino; 48833 R. Bartoli; 49212 R. Papini; 48863 S. De Micco. Front row: 48939 A. Leto; 49172 A. Mandrini; 57531 B. Protano; 49923 F. Carlone; 45196 A. Ciofani. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.

(AWM Image 030173/11 McInnes, G)

They Did Know!

Did Burdekin locals know what was happening at the POW farms during those years.  YES they did.  They knew because the POW farms were relevant and had a context.

One of the puzzles about the Q6 Prisoner of War Control Hostel Home Hill, was that very little is remembered by locals about a POW camp which housed 250 Italian prisoners of war.  My father said to me once, “Did no one see or hear 250 Italian prisoners of war in red uniform board a train in November 1945?  Did no one see the trucks carrying these men 22 mile from the hostel site to the Home Hill train station?  Why has this history been forgotten?”

Q Imagery Burdekin RiverAyr 14.4.1994  8358 Run 5 119-135    (The State of Queensland 2013 Natural Resouces and Mines Q Imagery)

Dad was 20 years old at the time and living in Jarvisfield on the Ayr side of the river, busy with farm work growing cane, cotton, pumpkins and potatoes.  Tractors were imprest items and farmers had to revert to the use of horses.  More work for my dad and his brother. The war years were a time when ears were tuned to the radio broadcasts about the war and people’s thoughts were with the possibility of a Japanese invasion and what an invasion would mean for those north of the Brisbane line.  As well, petrol rationing meant that fuel was kept for essentials.  In those times the Tapiolas family on the Ayr side of the Burdekin River did not visit the Tapiolas family on the Home Hill side. War time was a busy time.

Like many events in the past,  memories are brushed aside because they no longer have relevance.  Yes, there were POWs growing vegetables on the banks of the Burdekin River, but these Italians left, nothing remains of the buildings, so there is no reason to remember.  And sometimes a memory needs relevance and context.

Did Burdekin locals know what was happening at the POW farms during those years.  YES they did.  They knew because the POW farms were relevant and had a context.

Burdekin farmers and associated stakeholders wanted the facility to be converted into an agricultural college.  They wanted the research and development that was taking place on the POW farms to continue. These men wanted to retain the civilian supervisors who had capably trained the Italian POWs, to continue to teach and train the next generation of farmers.  What was happening at the POW farms was relevant. There were advancements in soil testing and varietal seed testing specific to a tropical climate. State of the art farming equipment was imported from USA  and different irrigation systems trialled.

Our grandfathers knew this, but their cause fell on deaf ears and the buildings were sold off.  No longer was this site important or relevant.

But the archived newspapers provides a context: 1945.  As early as  January 1945, an article in the Townsville Daily Bulletin reported that a submission had been made by the Agricultural, Pastoral and Secondary Industries Development Association for the Queensland Government to purchase the Commonwealth Farms at Home Hill and convert them to an Agricultural High School and College, similar to Gatton Agricultural College. My grandfather Mr B Tapiolas spoke at the meeting. Article mentions Burdekin war vegetable farms.

By May 1945, interested parties convened a meeting with three North Queensland Parliamentarians, Messrs. G. Keyatta (Townsville), T Aitkens (Mundingburra) and F.W. Paterson (Bowen). Burdekin locals mentioned are : Mr B Tapiolas, Mr A Coburn, Mr HV Sainsbury, Mr S Smith, Mr Reading, Mr R Gray, Mr WR Gist, Mr FJ Woods (Chairman of Ayr Shire Council) as well as Mr F Hely from the C.S.I.R who was the main adviser for the Commonwealth Vegetable Project.  There is mention of the ‘POW farm at Home Hill‘.

Further meetings reveal the names of more Burdekin men: Mr J J McDonald, Mr Wellington, Mr Beames, Mr Giffard, Mr Berryman, Mr Jackson, Mr Osborne, Mr Donavon, Mr Honeycombe and Councillor HW Irving.

By 28th August 1945, details of the POW farm at Home Hill are revealed.  “Mr Gist convened that – The facilities already existing in this area for an Agricultural College are located near Home hill which is situated on the southern bank of the Burdekin River. The present Commonwealth Vegetable farm unit which we propose should be acquired for use as an Agricultural College.  These farms have been leased by the Department of Commerce and Agriculture and development by it for the production of all classes of vegetables and some fruits by POW labour with civilian supervisors and expert assistance.  Improvements include buildings to accommodate 300 personnel with administrative, storage, canteen and recreational facilities.  Modern conveniences such as septic system, electricity, hot water systems and telephone are provided.  A workshop, machine sheds, packing sheds and several cottages are installed on this farm unit.  We submit gentlemen, that this POW farm in reality has been acting as such [Agricultural College] for the past 15 months.” (Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld.: 1907 – 1954), Tuesday 28 August 1945, page 3)

For me, the research on the  Home Hill Hostel was all about finding out ‘what had been forgotten’.  It has been about recording the history and sharing it. And should someone from Italy arrive in Home Hill looking for information about where their grandfather worked as a POW from 1944 to 1945, then they too can have their answers.

Escaped P.O.W. at Bowen

I have intentionally left the stories of the Q6 Prisoner of War Control Hostel Home Hill to last.  The Q6 Home Hill centre was a purpose built hostel/camp to accommodate 255 Italian prisoners of war making it a very different situation to the Italian prisoners of war on farms in south-east Queensland.  The Burdekin: Ayr, Home Hill, Brandon, Jarvisfield, Rita Island, Clare, Millaroo, Dalberg is my backyard and it was the first prisoner of war centre I researched and my original motivation for this research.

I have known from an early age that Italian prisoners of war were brought to Home Hill  to grow vegetables. These POWs had been captured in North Africa and some of them tried to escape.  I also knew about the Italian Queensland residents who were arrested when Italy declared war and sent to Loveday South Australia.  My Aunty Dora’s father, we knew him as Nonno Jim, was one of those internees. So from my childhood I knew about these two historical events.  Funny the stories you remember.

Alan Fitzgerald, who wrote the first comprehensive book about Italian prisoners of war in Australia, explains that his book,  The Italian Farming Soldiers was inspired by his childhood memory of an Italian POW :  ‘As a child, I saw my first Italian prisoner of war at Coonabarabran, New South Wales, in 1944.  He stood out in his magenta-dyed uniform as he walked down a road in this small town of 2000 people.’

This project’s book Walking in their Boots has also been inspired by childhood memories, as told to me by my father Brunie Tapiolas.

I would like to introduce you to Vincenzo and Pasquale.  Their story provides an insight into the men who were encamped on the banks of the Burdekin River.  Their story gives a face to this Q6 Home Hill history.

Landolfi 1 Murchison

Pasquale Landolfi seated centre with accordian 2nd March 1945 Murchison

(from Australian War Memorial, Image 030230/04)

Vincenzo di Pietro and Pasquale Landolfi did not want to be at the Home Hill POW Hostel.  They really didn’t want to be in captivity.  Twice escaped from Q6 Home Hill Hostel, they were sent south to Murchison in Victoria.  Both escaped Murchison PW Camp. But that is another story.

During my research into this history I have become acquainted with several men in these photos:  Riccardo del Bo, Liborio  Bonadonna, Guglielmo De Vita,  Pietro Rizelli, Sabato Russo and Bartolomea Fiorentino.  Each man has a story. Liborio’s story is featured in A Father’s Love

Di Pietro Murchison

Vincenzo di Pietro standing second from the right  2nd March 1945 Murchison

(Australian War Memorial, Image 030229/02)

Enjoy this newspaper article from Bowen Independent(Qld: 1911-1954), Friday 6 October 1944, page 2 which is available to view online at trove.gov.au

Notice the vague reference to ‘a Northern camp’. Very little was known by the general public in the Burdekin about the POW camp which was deemed a military zone.

Escaped P.O.W. at Bowen

Re-Capture Effected

The intelligence of a local resident was responsible for the re-capture of two escaped Italian prisoners of war from a Northern camp, on Thursday.

Noticing two strangers, obviously foreigners, at the new railway station, he recalled press and radio announcements on the subject of the escape of two prisoners he took more than ordinary notice of them.

But the fact that they were mixing freely with troops [Australian] from a train in the station, most of whom wore Africa Star ribbons and were therefore familiar with the Italian soldier, made him hesitate to voice his suspicions.

Later he again noticed them on the road near the Salt Works, resting under a pandamus tree.  They wore no hats, and the circumstances were very suspicious.

They later headed towards the Don [River] and passed under the small railway bridge, whereupon the observer decided to give the local Police a chance to investigate, which they did and rounded up the pair who turned out to be the wanted men.

The local resident is to be commended for his part in the re-capture.

Walking in their Boots

 

BOOK LAUNCH

 

Walking in their Boots

Italian Prisoners of War in Queensland 1943-1946

Walking in their boots JPEG

North Queenslander, Joanne Tapiolas, has been delving into the history of Italian prisoners of war in Queensland and slowly the stories and memories of this chapter in Queensland history have emerged.

Walking in their Boots incorporates the facts and the personal narratives  from the ten districts where the POWs worked and lived.  Queenslanders and Italians sharing their memories, artefacts, photos and letters have added a richness and diversity to this chronicle.

Walking in their Boots is a record of this history and a valuable reference to the background and context of Italian POWs in Australia.

Book now available

Pre-Orders Only

$25.00 plus postage and handling

200+ pages

English version only

For further details and to place an order:

contact Joanne Tapiolas e. joannetappy@gmail.com

Precis of Walking in their Boots

Over 1500 Italian prisoners of war, captured in the battlefields of North Africa, came to Queensland during World War 2.  The Italians provided a much-needed workforce for farmers throughout nine south-east Queensland districts.  Additionally, 250 Italians worked at the Commonwealth Vegetable Farm on the Burdekin River, to supply fresh produce to the north’s military forces.

Queensland farming families welcomed the Italians onto their farms and into their homes.  A temporary refrain from life behind barbwire fences, friendships were forged, and lasting memories remain clear over seven decades later.

The Italian prisoners of war left their footprints in the landscape and in the memories of Queenslanders. Walking in their Boots traces the history of Italian prisoners of war in Queensland and tells the stories of a time when POWs worked on our Queensland farms.

Boonah.Niebling1

Footprints in Concrete

Farm of Ron Niebling Lake Moogerah via Boonah

(photo courtesy of Pam Phillips (nee Niebling)

 

Walking in his footsteps…Yanco

Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-31. Twenty two of the original thirty Italian prisoners of war (POWs) who arrived at No. 15 POW Camp on 19 March 1942.

(Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInness Image 063919)

I hadn’t meant to delve into places outside of Queensland, because nine PWCC, one PWC Hostel and one PW&I Camp is more than I can handle. But here I am, delving into the history of Yanco Camp 15.

Many Queensland Italian POWs had worked at Yanco, so this is justification enough.  A little more research and I realised the similarities between the work being done at Yanco and the work being undertaken at Q6 PWC Hostel Home Hill. Another Queensland connection.

But in truth, my motivation is much less complicated: a gentleman from Rome, Alessdandro Di Sabatino contacted me.  He is visiting Australia in 2018 and he would like to walk in the footsteps of his father, Antonio Di Sabatino.  And so my quest to understand the operations of Yanco began.

Di Sabatino, Antonio first left standing

Yanco, Australia. 23 January 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 15 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 45593 Antonio De Sabatino;49625 Oreste Piermattei; 49876 Goffredo Mangiasciutto; 46515 Andrea Pesaola; 45240 Cesare Nobilia; 48641 Luigi Salvati; 45417 Paolo Di Massimo. Front row: 49902 Giuseppe Ricci; 45732 Armando Guaazi; 46354 Mario Palma; 49489 Antonio Galea; 45730 Nicola Clemenzi. Note: The number is an assigned POW number.

(Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 030171/01)

I have combined photos from Australian War Memorial and interspersed them through the following newspaper article, accessible from Trove.com to assist other children and grandchildren of Italian POWs to walk in their father or grandfather’s footsteps.

Yanco Camp 15 is now the Yanco Agricultural Institute (YAI).  The site has been repurposed many times during its history and the YAI celebrated its 100 anniversary in 2008. Staff of the YAI welcome visits from families of the Italian POWs and are more than happy to provide you with an historical perspective of the property.

Yanco 063917.JPG

Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-31. Italian prisoners of war (POWs) at No. 15 POW Camp enjoying a shower after a hard day’s work on the farm. This shower block can accommodate twenty four men at a time, and was originally a Riverina Welfare Farm building.

(Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 063917)

Yanco Prisoner of War Camp (NSW) was a compound housing 700 – 800  prisoners of war who worked producing vegetables for supply to the allied forces. The site is in the Riverina district WNW of Canberra, between Wagga Wagga and Hay.  It is 290 km from Cowra Prisoner of War and Internment Camp and 170 km from Hay Prisoner of War and Internment Camp.

Yanco 063594

YANCO, NSW. 1944-01-22. VIEW FROM THE WATER TOWER SHOWING THE MESS BUILDING AND THE ITALIAN PRISONER OF WAR (POW) TENTS OF NO. 15 POW CAMP. IN THE BACKGROUND CAN BE SEEN SOME 250 ACRES OF BEANS AND TOMATOES.

(Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 063594)

Yanco operated differently to the other POW camps and this included the baking of bread. A request was lodged for the procurement of 100 bread tins: “that probable reason for demand for 100 Tins, bread for No. 15 P.W. Camp Yanco is that P.W. there make their own bread which procedure is not followed in other P.W. Camps. P.W. held at this camp total 550 and in view of foregoing, supply is recommended.” (AWM War Diary 18 Oct 43)

Yanco Bread 3896867

Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-31. Italian prisoner of war (POWs) bakers at No. 15 POW of War Camp removing bread from the oven. In the foreground can be seen tins of dough ready to be baked. (AWM Photo 063916 Geoffrey McInnes)

The article below from Farmer and Settler (Sydney, NSW: 1906 – 1955), Friday 14 April 1944, page 6 explains the operations and importance of the work done by Italian prisoners of war at Yanco.

Riverina Farm Now Biggest Vegetable Garden Project in Australia

Swarthy Italians have replaced students, soldiers have taken over from teachers, and fields where games were played are now flourishing vegetable gardens at Riverina Welfare Farm, Yanco.

Yanco 063822.JPG

Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-29. An Italian prisoner of war (POW) from No. 15 POW Camp operating a horse drawn insecticide duster on a crop of tomatoes on one of the unit’s farms.

Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 063822

In two years the farm has become Australia’s greatest vegetable growing project- the biggest producer on the food front.

New methods of growing and harvesting have been introduced as well as new methods of seed production.  At present more than 300 acres have been devoted to vegetables for seed purposes only.

The farm was taken over from the Education Department in March, 1942, by the Department of Agriculture in cooperation with the Department of Commerce to step up vegetable growing.

In the first year, using only prisoners of war labour more than 500 tons of tomatoes, silver beet, sweet corn, beans, cabbages, cauliflowers and sweet peppers (an American delicacy) were delivered to Leeton cannery.  The area under vegetables was 320 acres.

Yanco 063793.JPG

Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-29. Italian prisoners of war (POWs) from No. 15 POW Camp grading and packing tomatoes at the packing shed before sending them to the Leeton Co-operative Cannery for processing.

(Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 063793)

With the importation of lend-lease machinery, several units were sent to the farm to speed up production and last October the area given to vegetables was increased to 640 acres.

Shortage of vegetable seed and the difficulty of importing it caused a change of plans.  Instead of bulk vegetable production, the farm set out to grow seed.

Two areas of 320 acres and 150 acres were laid out under spray irrigation, the remainder being furrow irrigation.  With the spray equipment, about 40 acres are given water at the rate of one inch of rain a day.

Largest crops sown are beans, 160 acres; tomatoes 75 acres; silver beet 37 acres, carrots 30 acres and sweet corn 25 acres.  The carrots will be transplanted in the winter to 100 acres for seed production.

Yanco 063820.JPG

Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-29. Italian prisoners of war (POW) from No. 15 POW Camp using a Farmall tractor and a furrowing out machine to prepare a paddock for silver beet irrigation.

(Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 063820)

Next month 38 acres will be sown to onion and in June, 150 acres of peas will be sown.  Some peas will be sent to the cannery and the remainder retained for seed.

Beside the vegetable project, the farm which is 2045 acres in extent has 225 acres under pasture, paspalum and clover, 40 acres under Lucerne, 50 acres under orchard and 30 acres under sorghum to make 200 tons of silage.

In addition, it has a stud Jersey herd of 115 head of cattle, a Berkshire pig stud of 130 as well as 300 sheep and 60 horses.  All products go to the Services.

Yanco 063884

Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-31. Italian prisoners of war (POWs) tending stud Berkshire pigs on the farm at No. 15 POW Camp.

Australia War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 063884)

The Farm Manager (Mr John L Green) yesterday described the new method of harvesting and preparing tomato seed.

Varieties being grown include 16 acres of Bonnie Best, 15 Marglobe, 12 Break of Day, 14 Pearson, 9 Earliana, 8 Tatura Dwarf Globe and one of Bonnie Marr, a new type.

Picked into kerosene tins, they are emptied into lug boxes in the field and these are carted on drays to the grading shed erected in the field adjacent to the crop.  An average day’s picking is 500 to 600 lug boxes, weighing 10 to 12 tons.

The tomatoes are then place on sorting tables 30 ft long, 3 ft wide and made of rubber and this revolves.

Those retained for seed extraction pass through an electrically driver pulper and juice extractor, and the pulp thus obtained, together with that returned from the cannery is placed in barrels and treated with hydrochloric acid for the purpose of making seed extraction more rapid and easy.

Yanco 063885

Yanco, NSW. 1944-01-31. Italian prisoners of war (POWs) from No. 15 POW Camp pulping tomatoes in order to recover the seed. The crushed tomato is then treated with weak hydrochloric acid to free the seed from the pulp. Seeds are then washed and dried.

(Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 063885)

The system was developed by Mr EM Hutton, of the C.S. and I.R. AT Canberra two years ago and makes it possible to pre-treat pulp in 30 minutes compared with two days required under the old system of natural fermentation.

The pulp is poured on to a 600 ft wooden flume with a slight gradual decline.  The flume is 15 inch wide and 12 inch deep and every 5 ft is a baffle board 6 inch high.

Water is run in at a rate sufficient to give a flow of ½ to 1 inch over the baffles.

The result is the seed, being heavier than the pulp, sinks and is caught in the baffles, while the pulp flows over and is eventually lost at the lower end in an open drain.

Two barrels of pulp, representing 100 bushells of tomatoes can be washed in this manner in 50 minutes. The washing, however, does not remove every small particle of pulp, it being necessary to take this in a screen of meshes.

After this treatment, the seed is placed for 24 hours in a solution of ascetic acid with the object of controlling bacterial canker disease.

It is then spread on tarpaulins on a drying green for six to 10 hours, collected and bagged.

Mr Green said that already 1500 lb of seed has been produced and it was expected that 3000 lb more seed would be harvested before the end of May.  The amount of tomatoes involved would be 400 tons.

Yanco 063934.JPG

Yanco, NSW. 1944-02-01. Italian prisoners of war (POWs) from No. 15 POW Camp picking Tatura Dwarf Globe tomatoes which they have grown for seed on the unit’s vegetable farm.

(Australian War Memorial: Geoffrey McInnes Image 063934)

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.