I was five years old at the time, but I have clear memories of the time when Domenico Masciulli lived and worked on our farm at Radford via Harrisville. I was the chatterbox in the family; my eldest sister Judith was at school and my youngest sister Diana was a baby, so I think I had more time around and with Domenico than my sisters.
Christmas 1944: we went to Rosewood to be with my grandparents. With my dad having cancer, this was to be his last Christmas. Domenico and Frank (Uncle Roddie’s POW) were loaned a vehicle so that they could also join us there. The family photo captures those present: ‘The Hardings’ all my mother’s family and Domenico and Frank. This was our last family photo taken with daddy; a special photo.
Christmas 1944 Harding Family Rosewood
Standing: Bill Harding, Joyce Harding, Alice Harding, Connie Isles, Tom Isles, Margo McMillian, Robert McMillan, Edith Rackley (Mum), Judith Rackley (to the front), Cyril Rackley (Daddy), Diana Rackley (Baby) Francesco Pintabona, Domenico Masciulli, Dugald McMillan
Seated: Gran Harding with baby Nancy Harding, Alan Harding, Grandad Harding, Helen Rackley
(Photo courtesy of Helen Mullan [nee Rackley])
Daddy had a small crops farm with some cows for cream which we sold. Our farm produced corn, lucerne, pumpkins, potatoes, watermelons, cream melon or Indian Cream I think they were called, carrots, beetroot, peas and tomatoes. Daddy also had bee hives, so we always had honey.
Domenico’s lodgings was referred to as the ‘worker’s hut’. It was similar to one on my Uncle Roddie Harsant’s farm and was probably a standard worker’s hut. I remember Domenico sitting on the step and me looking into a small room with a bed; being told not to go into the hut and being a little five year old, that’s most likely all I could see. There was always a farm hand on our property, Mum used to say she always had work men to feed.
Domenico was like part of the family and ate with us. Judith first, then while she was at school, I took the smoko, which was a billy of tea, cake or biscuits down to the men in the paddock, morning and afternoon. The most memorable meal we had with Domenico and Frank who was at Uncle Roddie’s farm, was a Sunday lunch. We were all going to Church. Mum had a Rolled Beef Roast cooking, however Domenico asked if he could cook spaghetti for us as the canteen van had called that week and a box of spaghetti was purchased, the size of a half bushel case. Domenico asked mum for a big vessel to cook the spaghetti. Mum got him a saucepan. NO, not big enough to cook the spaghetti; so out came the boiler and off we went to church. On arriving home, Domenico and Frank were in the backyard cooking the spaghetti in the copper. Mum was flabbergasted!
Those plates coming out to the table still stay vividly in my memory…. piled high. Spaghetti, tomato sauce with slices of Roast Beef and topped with cheese. The following day Domenico was really sick, but he wouldn’t have it that he ate too much spaghetti. There began my love of spaghetti. He taught us how to use a spoon and fork to eat it and this I have passed down to my children and grandchildren.
The only words I can remember Domenico teaching us were ‘forchetta’ – fork which he used while teaching us to eat spaghetti; ‘bambina’ – baby, which Di was; and ‘bicheralia’ – he used when singing Di a lullaby. Di called him ‘Manny’, part of ‘Domenico’ I guess. She was only 22 months old when we parted.
Before he left the farm, Domenico gave me the needlework of “Madonna and Child”. He had painstakingly worked on a men’s handkerchief, when in a prison camp in India, I believe. It was kept folded in an envelope for many years. It is my special treasure, a reminder of Domenico, and I felt I needed to share this treasure with everyone, so I had it framed. It has pride of place in my China Cabinet. You can see that is a combination of needlework and drawing with a painted background. I have often wondered if he ran out of cotton as there are sections which have not been embroidered like the feet and the arms of the angel. It looks like he copied the image because you can see his pencilled in grid pattern. As an adult, I reflect upon what it must have been like in the POW camp in India and the hours he spent embroidering this “Madonna and Child”.
Madonna and Child: Domenico Masciulli
(courtesy of Helen Mullan [nee Rackley])
Other memories I have are of Domenico giving me an Italian coin and Salvital. I treasured that coin which was about the size of a threepence, but over my childhood, I lost it. Salvital was another first for us. It was available on the Canteen Van. Domenico would give us a drink now and then, not with chilled and iced water like it is used today though. There is also a letter that Domenico wrote to mum after he left the farm. I found it in mum’s paperwork but for the time, it is ‘lost’.
Domencio shared a special Christmas with my family. The photo of this Christmas in 1944 together with Domenico’s needlework gift to me, are fond reminders of the time our Italian prisoner of war worker lived on our farm.
Helen Mullan [Rackley]