Tag Archives: Post War Italian Migrants

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.JPG 

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.JPG

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

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

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.

For the Family

Life in the small villages of Calabria was one of hard work with limited opportunities. Vincenzo Tigani was a farmer, who faced with limited opportunities in an economically depressed 1930’s Italy, made decisions in the interest of his family. These decisions would see him journey from Italy to Eritrea, India and Australia.

Q2 Tigani Family Maria Rosa, Domenico, Domenica, Vincenzo Brisbane

The Tigani Family: Maria Rosa, Domenico, Domenica and Vincenzo

(from the collection of Maria Rosa Allan(nee Tigani))

Farmers from Vazzano and Santo Onorfrio had been part of the first wave of migrants away from Italy. This Push-Pull migration resulted from farmers experiencing difficulty in making a reasonable living from small plots of land which were mainly rented.  Sons worked with fathers on these plots without a wage. A roof to sleep under and food to eat was the currency.  This offered little opportunity for families to grow their wealth, build their own homes and increase the acreage under cultivation.  Combined with disease, underemployment, high taxes and the degradation and erosion of the soil, men looked for opportunities offered through a system termed chain migration.

Labour agents in USA assisted the Italians to find employment and accommodation and the period from 1870’s to 1910’s saw an influx of young Italians arrive to seize opportunities.  Bruno Tigani from Vazzano (Vincenzo’s father) found his way to Braddock Pennsylvania, likely working in the steel industry and like many made the journey back and forth across the Atlantic. Domenico Lipari (Vincenzo’s future father-in-law) found his way to the “Little Italy” of New York living on Hester Street and working at N.Y. Steam Company. He would also travel between Italy and New York before becoming naturalised in 1937.

Against this background, Vincenzo Tigani enlisted in the Italian Army. In 1936, Mussolini combined Italian Eritrea, Italian Somaliland and Ethipoia into the Italian territory of Africa Orientale Italiana. Government employees, workers and soldiers were needed and Vincenzo became a soldier in the 1st Battalion Speciale Genio dell Eritrea. It would have been a difficult decision to leave behind his wife Domenica and two young sons: Bruno aged 3 and Domenico an infant with this decision resulting in a 10 year separation from his family.

Captured in Massaua, Eritrea 8 April 1941, Vincenzo as a prisoner of war was sent to Australia via India. In less than three years, he was working on a banana plantation owned by Mr AJ Schulz at Poona/Palmwoods in the Nambour district. His time there offered him an insight into the opportunities that Australia offered and the seed would have been sown as to the future direction of his and his family’s life. His hard work earned the respect of the Schulz family, with family members over 70 years later, speaking kindly and fondly of Vince.  Vince told his family how he climbed the middle Glass House Mountain and carved his initials on a rock and how they, the POWs would walk everywhere including Nambour to Brisbane.

The return journey from Australia to Italy was long and protracted for Italian prisoners of war. But while waiting at N33 Prisoner of War Camp at South Head Sydney, Vince was allowed to visit family and/or Calabrian Italians in Liverpool.  He would have weekend release from Friday night to Sunday evening and during this time he would have made the acquaintance of Salvatore Raffaele from Dee Why. Much discussion would have transpired over immigration to Australia, work opportunities in Sydney and the process of returning to Australia.

Vincenzo returned to Italy and to a stagnant and economically depressed Vazzano.  Little had changed during his ten year absence.  It was a village that was not directly impacted upon by the war, although planes often flew over the village and black outs and curfews were imposed. Only 100 kilometres away, Reggio Calabria was bombed heavily by the Allies.  It was however a time of uncertainty and hardship.

The Tigani family survived with the support of Domenica’s family. Domenica’s father sent money from USA to fund the building of a home.  With two sons to provide for, Domenica worked hard in the fields.  Her fortitude ensured she survived the ten year separation from her husband. Vincenzo returned somewhat as a stranger to his family. His wife Domenica had, out of necessity, lived an independent life. His sons had grown up without the presence of a father and his youngest son Domenico had difficulty in accepting this stranger as his father. Their reunion was bitter sweet.

The Tigani family welcomed a daughter and sister, Maria Rosa in 1948. Little had changed in the region, and like his parents and parents-in-law, Vincenzo planned for a brighter future for his family.

The family was separated again when Vincenzo returned to Sydney in 1950. Within two months he was working as a labourer at Crown Crystal Glass Company in Bourke Street Waterloo and living at 72 Riley Street Surry Hills. In all likelihood, living in a city and working in a factory might not have been the ideal situation. Another complication was that the employees were strongly unionised and union action was being reported in the newspapers during May to June 1950.

Vincenzo returned to a familiar life and to the employment of his former POW employer, Mr Schulz.  Within three months, he moved to Brisbane.  Alexander Filia, also from Vazzano was an ice cream manufacturer and offered Vincenzo a place to stay at 10 Ernest Street South Brisbane. Vincenzo worked as  an Ice Cream Vendor selling Filia’s Popular Ice Cream. His daughter Maria Rosa remembers a story from her father about those days:  “He had a line-up of customers, when a cockroach raised its feelers above the metal frame of the cart.  Children began to scream and Dad, nonchalantly, rang his bell repeatedly and called out loudly, ‘Ice-creams for Sale’.”

Within 18 months of his arrival in Australia, Vincenzo was reunited with his son Domenico who arrived as a 15 year old in November 1951.  Priority became saving the passage for Domenica and Maria Rosa to travel to Australia and a new home in Brisbane.  Domenico’s actions of hiding saved money under the stump caps of the house, reflected his intention to bring his mother and sister out to Australia and set them up with a new life.  His sister, Maria Rosa reflects that Domenico took on a quasi-role of protector and provider for his mother and sister.  He had spent more years with them, than his father had, and so he felt an obligation and responsibility for them.


1951-1952: Domenico and Vincenzo Tigani in Brisbane

(from the collection of Maria Rosa Allan (nee Tigani))

Domenica and Maria Rosa arrived in Fremantle in July 1957.  Domenico had made the journey to Fremantle to greet them and to assist them on the last stage of their journey to Brisbane.  The voyage to Australia had seen Domenica in bed with sea sickness for a month while Maria Rosa wandered the ship freely, exploring this ‘new’ world. It was an adventure and the staff continually reminded the nine year old to go back to her room as her mother needed her.  Upon arrival Domenico asked his sister if she spoke any English, and her curt reply was, “Shut up!  Money.”

In time, Stafford Street East Brisbane became the family’s new home. Vincenzo worked in the building industry, with a gas company and as a night watchman with Evans Deakin at Henry Point.  Those were difficult times for migrant families: the impact of war, years of separation and social isolation. As a family man, Vincenzo made decisions in the best interest of his family.  At times, these decisions had a negative impact upon the unity of the family.  Maria Rosa remembers that after her father died, she found two photos he had kept.  One was of her as a 9 month old and another as an 18 month old.  Her reflections were tinged with sadness as she thought of her father in Brisbane with his memories and photos of his family, while his wife and daughter were in Italy.  It was a case of doing something to make life better- enlistment in the Italian army and migration to Australia and at the same time, these actions caused much hardship for the family.

Daughter Maria Rosa is grateful to her father for many things.  “He gave us many opportunities which would have been unattainable in Vazzano.  Opportunities such as a good education, owning our own businesses, owning our homes, can be attributed to the difficult decisions made by my parents,” says Maria Rosa. “My father’s story is no different from that of my grandparents who had emigrated to USA.  Long periods of separation between family members, financial uncertainty, the dream being hard to find, social isolation and all those things associated with being a foreigner in a strange land.”


 Vincenzo Tigani – Icecream Vendor

(from the collection of Maria Rosa Allan (nee Tigani))

A family man, Vincenzo’s legacy is the close family ties between members of the Tigani extended family in Australia. There are relatives who have loaned money to those struggling financially, there are those who have assisted ‘new comers’ by finding them jobs and accommodation and there are those who continue to support others through health problems.  Maria Rosa believes that at one stage her father seemed to have ‘lost faith’.  “It is hard to define what I mean. It might have been a sense of insecurity about the decisions he made and how other people interpreted them. It might have been that he didn’t realise his dreams. It might have been his sadness over the ‘lost family years’,” reflects Maria Rosa. But life is what it is. Doors open, decisions are made and legacies forged.

And Maria Rosa  now takes on the role of the head of the extended Tigani family in Brisbane. In 2017, to celebrate the feast day of the Patron Saint of Vazzano,  Maria Rosa approached her parish priest to honour Saint Francesco Di Paolo.  This special gathering of family ensues that traditions and stories from Vazzano are not forgotten: a tribute ‘for the family’.

St Francesco Di Paola Vazzano

Celebration of Saint Francesco Di Paolo in Brisbane 27th August 2017

(photo from the collection of Maria Rosa Allan)