POW Centres Queensland

Food security for Australia during war time was  a major concern and the establishment of PWCC in Queensland aimed to provide workers for farmers across a number of primary industries. The program was operational from October 1943 through to February 1946 and placed up to 1300  Italian prisoners of war in south east Queensland. With the addition of up to 250 Italians employed at Q6 PW Hostel Home Hill, the total approved allocation of Italian Prisoners of War to Queensland was 1550.

The Department of Labour and National Service during this period adjusted allocations per centre to take in to account seasonal fluctuations and increased demand. Within a 10 month time frame from October 1943 to August 1944, 9 PWCC had been established, 1 PWCC had been disbanded and 1 PWC Hostel had been established. By 3 January 1945, 1150 Italian prisoners of war were working in primary industries in Queensland.

The The first six prisoner of war centres were:

Q1 Stanthorpe

Q1 was approved by 13 September 1943 with an allocation of 150 workers and approved employers selected by October 1943. The first group of Italian prisoners of war were allocated to Stanthorpe employers from 16 – 21 October 1943.  By January 1944, approval had been given to increase Q1’s allocation from 150 to 200 workers.

Once Q1 Stanthorpe was operational, the establishment for PWCC without Guard at five further locations were proposed on 30 November 1943:

  1. At Gympie, as control for the Gympie-Mary Valley district in which there is a large production of pineapples etc. It is anticipated that the centre will open with 50 placements and eventually absorb 100.
  2. At Nambour, covering an important fruit and vegetable growing area. Anticipated opening number is 50 eventually rising to 100.
  3. At Coolangatta, covering the south coast (Queensland) and Tweed Heads (New South Wales) vegetable and Fruit areas (particularly beans and bananas). No particular canvas of the area has yet been made but it is anticipated that no difficulty will be experienced in placing that requisite number of prisoners.
  4. At Gayndah, to serve a considerable portion of the Burnett area in which citrus fruit production and general farming etc is carried on. It is anticipated that the centre will absorb almost 70 prisoners immediately it is established and quickly rise to 100.
  5. At Texas, to cover the tobacco growing areas of Texas and Inglewood and small pastoral properties. It is anticipated that the centre will place 50 prisoners in a very short time and gradually rise in the number of placements.  (National Archives of Australia NAA: A373 11638A, 1943-1944)

No security objections were raised for PWCC for Gympie, Nambour, Gayndah and Texas but several objections were raised against a PWCC for Coolangatta.  The Deputy Director of Security for Queensland stated:

(a) Coolangatta is situated right on the border of Queensland and New South Wales, and it is considered that some difficulty might arise owing to the jurisdiction being split amoung two states.

(b) Coolangatta is a popular seaside resort, much frequented by civilians and American personnel on leave.

(c) It is right on the coast and most coastwise shipping passes in full view.” (National Archives of Australia NAA: A373, 11638C, 1943-1944)

The first six placements in Queensland for Italian Prisoners of War were confirmed by 25 January 1944:

Q1 Stanthorpe: already in operation, Q2 Nambour, Q3 Gympie, Q4 Gayndah, Q5 Texas and Q6 Home Hill.

Q2 Nambour

Q2 began operation in February 1944. The first of its 100 workers were employed from 24 February 1944 at Woombye, Palmwoods and Montville. Captain Fletcher and his staff set up their centre at the Diggers Hall Nambour overseeing POWs placed in the localities of “Cooroy to Glasshouse Mountains and from the coast west to the Blackall Range including Montville and Mapleton, but excluding Maleny”.(Nambour Chronicle and North Coast Advertiser (Qld.: 1922-1954), 1944) Locals, Nev Townsend and Martin Schulz remember the PWCC being in Sydney Street in the old St James Private Hospital which was located behind the Catholic School. Allocation of workers was increased to 150 in March 1944 to absorb Q4 Gayndah numbers. Numbers were increased to 200 by February 1945.

Q3 Gympie

Q3 placed the first of its 100 POWs from 4 March 1944 with men being placed with farmers at Calico Creek. Allocation was increased to 150 later in March 1944 to absorb Q4 Gayndah numbers and to 200 in February 1945.

Q4 Gayndah

Q4 was approved but its temporary abandonment (it had not been set up) was approved March 1944 with its allocation of 100 positions to be split with 50 positions going to both Q2 Nambour and Q3 Gympie. It was eventually established with its first allocation of POW workers from 6 July 1944.  Gayndah’s farmers benefited from the Italians experience with “some of them… skilled in fruit culture while many had experience in deciduous fruits in Italy”. (Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld.: 1878 – 1954), 1946)  The old School of Arts building was used as the PWCC administrative centre. Allocation of workers was increased to 150 in February 1945.

Q5 Texas

Q5 employed its first POWs from 6 March 1944 and POWs worked in the district through March to July. This PWCC was closed 12 July 1944, POWs reallocated and Q9 Monto was established and took up the Texas allocation for 100 workers. Texas POWs were sent to Gayndah, Stanthorpe and Kenilworth. This PWCC faced a number of problems: two large tobacco companies were to close, placements were 50 miles from Texas and too time consuming to oversee, number of tobacco farmers were of Italian origin and not eligible for POWs, due to scale of production on tobacco farms, farmers applied for large groups of workers eg 25, 10 – 12 but this request did not fit within the parameters of the PWCC for placement of 2 – 3. By April 1944 31 POWs were placed in Q5. Canvassing was conducted but at the most, the demand would not exceed 60.

Q6 Home Hill Hostel

Q6 was approved with a placement of 250 POWs.  By December 1943, there was Cabinet Approval in place to secure 1000 acres of land to ensure better supply of fresh vegetables for the services based in the north.  Communication on 6 January 1944 approved for a PWC Hostel to be built on the Burdekin River to accommodate the POW labour force required for the extended Commonwealth Vegetable Farm Scheme with the Department of Commerce and Agriculture being the employing authority. The first 115 POWs arrived 28 April 1944 with another 136 POWs marching in on 18 September 1944.  The Hostel closed on 8th November 1945 when all POWs boarded the train to Gaythorne in transit to Cowra.  It was situated 22 miles up river Home Hill.

PWCC Atherton

An adjunct to Q6 was the establishment of temporary PWCC Atherton.  It was established at Atherton for an 8 week harvesting season of the maize crop in the area. An allocation of 60 was granted but only 53 POWs were sent from Q6 Home Hill arriving 3 July 1945 and being allocated to farmers by 4 July 1945.  The employing authority remained the Department of Commerce and Agriculture. A group of 7 Italians spent time at a Staging Camp at Kairi from 5 September until there return to Home Hill 13 September 1945. The remaining POWs had returned to Q6 Home Hill by 26 September 1945.

Interest from other districts included Beaudesert, Laidley, Pittsworth, Toowoomba, Crow’s Nest, Dalby, Chincilla, Monto, Mundubberra, Biloela, Murgon, Thangool and Kingaroy.(Queensland Country Life (Qld: 1900-1954), 1944)

Hesitant at first, farmers were encouraged by reports of good conduct, satisfactory service, cleanliness of prisoners and success stories: “Stanthorpe has proved the most successful centre so far, Italians being employed mainly in orchards and vegetable growing. A grape grower has stated that he learnt more on grape growing from his two prisoners in four months than he had learned in the previous 20 years”. (Queensland Country Life (Qld: 1900-1954), 1944)

The The final four PWCCs established were:

Q7 Kenilworth

Q7 was approved in April 1944, the first of 100 POWs employed in this centre began work on 15 May 1944 when they were allocated to farmers in Maleny and Wootha. Kenilworth House (corner of Elizabeth and Phillip Streets), a boarding house with about 20 rooms, was the PWCC headquarters. The dwelling was owned by “Mrs Er Fritz and Mrs MA O’Connell.”  Numbers were increased to 150 in February 1945.

Q8 Kingaroy

Q8 was authorised as a temporary PWCC with an initial allocation of 50 POWs employed in the harvesting of the peanut crop on 18 March 1944 but by 22 March 1944 the approval had been amended to up to 120. Furthermore, Q8 was approved to operate on a permanent basis 24 April 1944. Initially, a temporary office was located at the Court House. By February 1945, numbers had been increased to 150 workers being employed in the area from Nanango to Murgon. The headquarters of the PWCC was in Haly Street Kingaroy “next to where the Commerical Hotel now stands… The Barracks were enclosed at the back by a high fence towards where the Town Hall now stands”.(Grimmett, 2001) The site plan for Q8 PWCC Kingaroy shows that it adjoined Livingstone’s Bakery and the Commercial Hotel with a frontage of 45’.

By May 1944, six prisoner of war control centres had been established and were operational.

Q9 Monto

Q9 began operation 1 August 1944 with the first of its 100 POWs being placed with farmers on 4 August 1944.   Sometime after February 1945, this quota was increased to 150.  The PWCC was set up in the Monto RSL Club.

Q10 Boonah

Q10 was allocated 100 workers and the first POWs were employed from 10th July 44.

The map below illustrates the geographic position of these Prisoner of War Control Centres and Hostels. Geography largely dictated the establishment of the nine PWCC in south east Queensland. Concentrating them within this area assisted with the management of the centres, transfers between centres, transfers to military hospitals and transfers to Gaythorne in Brisbane for detention. The location of Q6 Hostel Home Hill was directly related to an already existing Commonwealth Government Vegetable Scheme. Temporary PWCC Atherton was a one off transfer of prisoners for an 8 week maize harvest.

 

By August 1944 eight PWCC and one PWC Hostel were in operation as Q5 Texas had closed in July 1944.  Incomplete data makes it difficult to gauge the numbers of employers who opened their homes to Italian prisoners of war from 1943 to 1946.  The table below provides at best a minimum number of employers and minimum number of Italian prisoners of war for each centre. Some data on employers is difficult to decipher with the possibility that some employers are counted twice. Data for POWs and employers is incomplete resulting in numbers ascertained being at best a minimum figure.  However the figures illustrate at least 600 employers were part of the scheme. It is important to note also that at least 146 Italians worked within more than one centre. With the data available, 1504 Italian prisoners of war are confirmed to have lived and worked in Queensland providing a workforce for 600 primary industry employers.

Centre Quota Employers Prisoners of War
Q1 Stanthorpe 200 139 232
Q2 Nambour 200 98 174
Q3 Gympie 200 76 208
Q4 Gayndah 150 60 118
Q5 Texas 100 17 36
Q6 Home Hill 250 1 (Govt Dept) 278
Q7 Kenilworth 150 67 124
Q8 Kingaroy 150 83 191
Q9 Monto 150 33 142
Q10 Boonah 100 27 92
Gaythorne Camp 55


 An Overview of Prisoner of War Centres in Queensland