Tag Archives: Home Hill Italian Prisoners of War

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.