Ninety-year-old Ron Treloar was 14 years old when Tony, Mike and Matt came to work and live on his family’s farm at Hansen Road Dagun via Gympie.
In the red volcanic soil of the district, the Treloar family grew French beans and pineapples for the Melbourne and Sydney markets. The three Italian prisoners of war were also responsible for clearing some of the scrub which was littered with volcanic basalt rock. They used the rocks to build dry stone walls/barriers which were about four feet high. They were very skilled in keeping the wall aligned.
Ron remembers that the men were good at pruning the grape vines, grown for house grapes. They lived in a three-roomed part of the shed which had been fitted out for them with beds, a kitchen and stove. Mike returned to Australia after the war and wrote dad a letter. He asked if he could visit as he really wanted to collect the old stove. Mike must have mastered the wood stove and saw it as important to his memories of those years. Unfortunately, his wife told him it was too dangerous to travel to Dagun.
The open spaces of farm life was appreciated by the Italians. Ron reminisces, “The country is hilly and they would sing O Sole Mio and Ave Maria and their voices would reverberate through the hills. I remember a visit from my cousin Trevor with his family. Trevor was about 3 or 4 years old at the time. They talked amongst themselves when they saw Trevor. He had red curly hair and reminded them of cherubs. They were allowed to go to church at Kandanga but they always returned home subdued. Dad found out eventually that one of the prisoners in the district was a fascist and he would goad our fellows and stir them up. They were different when they returned from church.”
Ron continues, “The canteen truck would come around home once a month and they could buy items. The spaghetti came in a wooden box about 3 feet long, 1 foot wide and 4 inches deep. One month, there was no spaghetti. They were different without spaghetti and very annoyed. They asked mum for some flour and eggs and they made their own spaghetti out under the awning of the shed. Then they hung up the strands like you would hand up washing. Once dad had shot a hare. They were keen to ask if they could have the hare to eat. They cooked it up with tomatoes and onions and served it up with spaghetti.”
“When it was time for them to leave, the Italians cried. It was a sad day for the whole family. We never had any trouble with them, they were like family. I still remember their names all these years later: Tony Palladino, Matt Macchia and Mike Laricchia,” Ron reflects.
There full names are Angelo Antonio PALLADINO, Matteo MACCHIA and Michele LARICCHIA. From the same region of Bari, the three men are in a photo taken at Cowra Camp 6th February 1944. They were then transferred to Gaythorne Camp in Queensland on the 6th April 1944.
The Treloar farm at Dagun was their home from 2nd June 1944 to 4th January 1946.
Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Back row, left to right: 47904 M. Bello; 45091 C. Bono; 47434 F. De Venuto; 57496 G. Sinisi; 49432 S. Cristiano; 46264 N. Monteleone; 57291 M. Laricchia. Front row: 45349 L. Caputo; 57302 F. Liberto; 57414 A. A. Palladino; 57324 M. Macchia; 57210 A. Fato. Note: The number is an assigned POW number. (AWM Image 030173/06 Photographer Geoffrey McInnes)
Michele Laricchia [Michael Laricchia] was interviewed by John Meredith and Rob Willis from the National Library of Australia. Click on the link to hear the interview: NLA Interview with Michael Laricchia.
A special thank you to Ron Treloar for sharing his memories via a telephone conversation. Ron’s memories are vibrant and fresh in his mind. Thank you also to Alex Miles for tracking down contact details for Ron.