Why research Italian prisoners of war in Queensland?
Joanne Tapiolas – Accidental Historian
(photo courtesy of Michele Sinclair)
My research started with the Italian prisoners of war growing vegetables up river Home Hill. As a Burdekin local, I had heard stories about these Italians who had come from North Africa after being captured. Memories of the locals of the time are sketchy, ‘we knew about them’ ‘ we knew they were there but not much else’ ‘one didn’t talk about those things back then’. In my mind, there must have been a barbed wire enclosure housing 20 – 30 Italian POWs to grow vegetables.
A puzzle for my young 10 year old self was the image of the map in my school Atlas. North Africa was a long long way from Home Hill in northern Queensland. Questions beginning with WHY and HOW and WHAT stayed in my memory bank. Not too much of this made sense.
When I found the time to do some research, I consulted an excellent publication on the Burdekin history : Black Snow and Liquid Gold by John Kerr. A section covering the years of the war provided me with the background and details. I found the names of two Italian POWs who twice escaped the hostel BUT I became frustrated because in an editing error, the names of these men were printed incorrectly. They are named as Pietro Di Vincenzo and Landolfi Pasquale. Their names are Vincenzo DI PIETRO and Pasquale LANDOLFI. The other Italians mentioned have their names correctly ordered.
My dad was as amazed as myself at the records I began to uncover. The research told a story of 250 Italian POWs who lived in barracks and grew vegetables for the armed forces in North Queensland. Now Q6 Prisoner of War Control Hostel Home Hill not only had a history but also a context. It was one of 10 prisoner of war control centres in Queensland and it operated as part of the Commonwealth Department of Commerce and Agriculture’s Vegetable Project : Home Hill and Ayr.
I became quite attached to MY Home Hill POWs especially when I could put a face to a name. I left a copy of my research with the local historical society hoping that one day, the children or grandchildren of a Home Hill POW would pass through Home Hill looking for some information. At least the list of POW names attached would verify that their father or grandfather had been at the hostel up river Home Hill.
I put aside other documents I found about the other nine centres in Queensland, just in case. I felt that if the Burdekin locals had little knowledge about the Home Hill POW hostel, then did people in the other nine districts know about their POW history.
Curiosity got the better of me and so I began digging for information. I found little bits of information BUT I was frustrated because the information in the public domain was scarce and incomplete. The only photographic evidence of Italian prisoners of war in Queensland is three photos taken at Calico Creek. They are housed in the John Oxley Library. Other records mention only six centres and there is no reference to the differences between a control centre: without guard and a hostel. Once such reference is: Prisoner-of-war control depots were established at Stanthorpe, Home Hill, Gympie, Nambour, Gayndah and Texas.(Fortress Queensland 1942-1945)
I believed that the history of Italian prisoner of war in Queensland needed to be more comprehensive, contain various perspectives, and include those who had a memory of the Italians an understanding of the context surrounding the placement of these men on the family farm.
It became obvious that this history was not found in the books of the libraries. This history is found in the memories of Queensland locals and Italian families. Letters to editors, newspaper articles, letters to historical societies, Facebook posts, cold call letters, website development, oral history interviews, face to face interviews and radio interviews.
Slowly but surely, Queenslanders and Italians have helped write this history.
And just as I had hoped, the son of a Home Hill POW did come looking for the footsteps of this father. Francesco (Ciccio) Cipolla was at the Q6 PWCH Home Hill from April 1944 to November 1945. His son, Nino, on previous trips to Australia had visited the PW & I Camps at Hay and Cowra but the notation Q6 Home Hill had remained a mystery. On a holiday to Melbourne in 2017, Nino searched yet again for some reference to this Q6 Home Hill. Nino found my research and Stepping Back in Time, Ciccio’s son was able to understand better his father’s time growing vegetables for supply to the armed forces in the north.
Nino Cipolla Home Hill Railway Station April 2017
(photo courtesy of Joanne Tapiolas)
And back to the answer to the question: Why research Italian prisoners of war in Queensland?
Because it hadn’t been done… because if it wasn’t done now, the stories would be lost to time…because it needed to be done…Because it is a valuable part of Queensland history and this history should have a voice.
The rest they say is “HISTORY” and on these pages is this history.