Tag Archives: Donato Caruso at farm of Oscar Miell Western Australia

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.