Tag Archives: Q10 Boonah

We Blame Uncle Berto…

Benedetto Ierna or better known as Uncle Berto, was 23 years old when he was captured at Alan Tumar on 9th December 1940.  A barber from Floridia, Siracusa he was a soldier in the Engineers Corps when captured and was sent to India until April 1944.

Within 10 weeks of his arrival in Melbourne on board the Mariposa, he was being taken by army truck to the farm of Kelly Bros. at Silverdale, Harrisville together with Giuseppe Venturelli. The policy of the day was for the placement of Italian prisoners of war in groups of two or three.

Berto had journeyed from  Melbourne through Cowra then Gaythorne and then to the Q10 PWCC at Boonah. More than likely, the barber mentioned in this article below from the Queensland Times, 13th July 1944, was Berto. While a barber by trade, he had learnt a number of skills as a soldier in the Engineers Corps.  Berto arrived at Bill Kelly’s farm on the 10th July 1944.

P.O.W. Worker “A Barber Too!”

Italian prisoners-of-war now are arriving in the Fassifern district and are being placed on the farms.  The Lieutenant-in-Charge reports some amusing incidents.  Two Ps.O.W. were placed on the farm, one of whom could speak fairly good English.  He was a carpenter, had some knowledge of machinery &c., and appeared to be a good man, although only a handful (English words).  When handing the men over, the Lieutenant said, “Mr -! You should have a good man here. He is very handy with the tools.” The P.O.W. heard him and coming to attention saluting said, “I am a barber, too, Sir.” The farmer in question had been busy for the past fortnight and had not taken time off for a shave.

Berto was a strong short man who was a hard worker.  He was known for being able to run a distance with a sack of potatoes on his back and continue to do this until the truck was loaded. He was grateful for the hospitality of Bill Kelly and his sister Kate and never saw any reason to escape.  Working on the farm returned to Berto a sense of dignity and self-worth.
There are stories of Bill Kelly loaning a bike to Berto so he could go to the movies in Kalbar and most probably also civvies as these types of activities was against the regulations .  The Kelly’s treated Berto like a son and arranged to sponsor Berto to return to Australia. In a show of good faith in Berto, the Kelly’s offered sponsorship also for Berto’s brother Antonino.

Such was Berto’s personality, locals like Laurie Dwyer remembered Berto as ‘the young fellow who returned after the war and would say, I not work as a POW, I work as a free man now’.  

The Boonah district continued to hold a special place in Berto’s life.  While he owned a barber shop on St Paul’s Terrace, he also was reported to own, in partnership with Dudley Surawski, a house in Clumber, Kalbar when it burnt down in December 1953.  It might have been here that Berto grew a crop of tobacco which was destroyed by floods.

Uncle Berto continued to touch base with the Kellys and the Boonah district. Joe Indomenico, nephew of Berto remembers the visits to Silverdale.  The family would take a day trip out to Kelly’s, with Uncle Berto shooting for quails and the children riding ponies.  And Bill Kelly would come and visit Berto in the Valley.  He would come in for the Ekka, park his car at the house and walk to the Ekka grounds.

Those early days as a migrant was a time when sacrifices had to be made.  Berto rented his barber shop, but would sleep on a layer of newspapers in the back room.  Finances did not stretch to the rent of a shop and rent for a residence.  In time, he bought the shop and then the row of shops and today, his son Carmelo is planning to develop the site.

With an ability to turn his hand to different ventures , Berto would buy up houses in the Valley which were part of land resumption for the building of the freeway.  He would buy the houses, have them cut in half and then remove them to blocks of land out Kilcoy, Helidon and Esk way.

While Berto might have been far away from Italy and ‘home’, he made his Brisbane residence a family hub. The house on the corner of St Paul’s Terrace and Julia Street was home to Berto, his wife and son, but it also became a home to others.  At one stage for about 18 months, 12 – 14 members of the Ierna extended family lived there.  Berto lined up a job for brother-in-law Salvatore at the Nanda pasta factory at Norgate. A job was found at the Jubilee Hotel on St Paul’s Terrace for brother Antonino.  St. Paul’s Terrace was an Italian community hub as well.  Mama Luigi’s was a Valley institution serving up generous servings of pasta.  There was a saying in those days, that if the men didn’t like the meal which had been prepared, then the wife would say, “if you don’t like it, then go to Mama Luigi’s.”

As an Italian prisoner of war and migrant, Berto’s life is linked to the Boonah district.  It was as a prisoner of war in the district that Berto realised the opportunities that Australia could offer. As a migrant, he turned his dreams into reality.  He started a barber shop, he bought commercial property, he had a house painting business and he turned his hand to a house removal and relocation business.  He was industrious and entrepreneurial. On a visit to Kalbar in 1976, Berto suffered a stroke.  Rushed to Brisbane, he died aged 59 years.

A man with a big personality who was not afraid of taking risks and making sacrifices, Berto Ierna left a legacy centring on the importance of family and seizing opportunities.

Benedetto Ierna’s extended family blame their Uncle Berto… for being captured… for being sent to Australia as a POW…. But most importantly, for their own life in Australia.

Ogni cosa ha cagione

mama_luigi_BCC-S35-9311262

Mama Luigi’s on St Pauls Terrace Spring Hill

(photo courtesty of Your Brisbane: Past and Present)

…Don’t Run Away

 

Our Italian prisoners of war arrived at night, or close on dark and they were scared silly. I suppose they really didn’t know where they were going and the Queensland bush was very different from the camp at Gaythorne. We lived at Aratula.  Once they saw my brother Michael, who was about two years old at the time, they were happy to see the ‘bambino’. Paolo De Propertis and Pietro Romano were from Tocco Cassauria. I was only eight years old at the time but I have clear memories of the men.

Dwyer Family.JPG

Dwyer Family 1945

Back: Paolo De Propertis, Des Dwyer, JJ Dwyer, Pietro Romano

Front: Laurie Dwyer, Michael Dwyer

(from the collection of Carmel Peck (Dwyer))

One of our family photos from that time was taken on the day my brother Des was going off to boarding school.  He was dressed up in his suit, as was the way in those days.  Des was tall for his age and Peter was convinced that dad was sending Des off to enlist as a soldier.  He told dad, ‘no fight, no soldier’.  I think his face and the tone of his voice said more than the words. They were peaceful men who didn’t want to be involved in the war.  And they didn’t want Des involved in war either.

While Michael never learnt any Italian words, he certainly could understand Paul and Peter.  The canteen truck came to the farm to bring them supplies and they would buy lollies.  They would hide the lollies and Michael would always find where the lollies were hidden.  It was a game they played with Michael.

Paul and Peter lived in separate quarters about 50 yards from the house.  Mum did the cooking and one lunch, she served them up pumpkin.  In Italy, pumpkin was cattle feed and so they would toss the pumpkin out the window.  One day, they saw mum feeding Michael pumpkin. Mum explained that the bambino ate pumpkin as a way to encourage them to eat it.  “Propaganda” they said.  Eventually when they did try it, they loved pumpkin.

When they were to leave the farm, they took it upon themselves to take some seeds with them.  They sewed pumpkin, watermelon and cucumber seeds into the lining of their clothes.  In a letter Paul wrote, he told mum and dad how all the seeds were cut out of the clothing.

There are many stories about Peter and watermelons.  Peter would ‘steal’ watermelons from our neighbours.  A neighbour George Steffens chased Peter once with a whip in hand.  Peter managed to get some distance away but the hid behind a big log.  Steffens apparently stood atop the log, cracking the whip as a warning, not knowing how close Peter was.  Another time Oliver Hill was out in his potato fields and could see Peter on the edge of a field of watermelons.  It became a bit of a stand off: Oliver would stop and watch. Peter would pretend to do nothing. Oliver would start work again, Peter would creep closer. Peter always managed to ‘steal’ a watermelon without Oliver seeing him in the act. Peter would defiantly stand at a distance and lift the watermelon onto his shoulder. I think there was always laughter afterwards.  Peter was big and strong and could easily carry a bag containing three watermelons.

Paul used the dictionary to try to improve his English but decided that English was stupid.  There were a lot of problems with miscommunication. Paul would wait for me to return home from school and then get out the yellow book they had for English.  Pronunciation was mainly the problem. Paper and pepper sounded the same. He also had difficulty with tree and the.  They had trouble with slang like ‘give it a burl’. One morning dad and the Italians were doing some fencing.  It was time to go home for lunch so dad told them to leave the crowbar there.  The word leave was a problem and they thought dad wanted them to carry it away with them.  Dad would have raised his voice and they thought that he was angry with them.  Paul told the interpreter the next day, ‘boss got mad, I got mad’.  He thought that he would be taken away.  Things were sorted. Another time, the Fordson tractor wouldn’t start so dad went to get the draught horses.  The horses wouldn’t get into the yards and dad would have blown off steam and whatever he said, or it might have been the way he said it, Paul and Peter thought they had done something wrong.  They had a great deal of respect for dad and they didn’t want to get into trouble.  So the next time the interpreter came to the farm, they asked to find out ‘what they did wrong’.  They would explain what had happened and the interpreter would explain what had happened.  They would always refer to mum as ‘Madame’ and my grandmother lived with us and they called her ‘extra Madame’, very respectful.  Sometimes we would call grandma ‘extra Madame’ and she would get cranky with us.

Paul had a sister who had come out to Australia in the 1920’s. Somehow Dad made contact with her. She lived in Victoria and Dad visited her and her family.  She sent back a gift for Paul and dad brought it back on the TAA flight. ‘Olives’- they were a real treat for the men. I also remember Dad bringing back a tin of whitebait from a business trip to South Australia.  I am not sure if it was for Peter and Paul, but I remember that there was no way that us kids were going to try whitebait, not with all these little eyes staring out at us as the can lid was peeled back.

Another food story had to do with the chooks.  A chook had died and Peter asked if he could take it and use if for a meal.  Dad had a bit of trouble convincing Peter that he didn’t have to use the ‘dead’ chook and that dad was happy for him to catch a live chook and prepare it for a meal.  They did trap hares from time to time for meals as well.

Dad was going to paint the house and he asked Peter if he could paint.  “Yes sir,” was his answer.  Dad gave him the paint and brushes and Peter was making a mess of it.  Dad found out that the only painting he had done was painting a pipe line in India.  Dad had to teach him how to paint with even brush strokes, up and down, up and down.

Peter hated the pink coloured clothes they had to wear.  He would go down the creek and wash the clothes within an inch of their lives to fade away the colour.  Just when he had the clothes a decent colour, the canteen truck would come out and he would be given a new set of pink clothes.

Dad knew this was against the rules, but dad took Peter and Paul to Brisbane.  Dad had business in Brisbane so he found some civvies for them to wear.  Dad is of Irish descent so he had a respectable disdain for authority.  Once in Brisbane he had a meeting to go to, so he left Peter and Paul to go off and wander on their own.  He told them ‘don’t you go run away’ to which they replied ‘Italy, too far to swim’.  Dad said that there were a couple of ships in the Brisbane harbour and the sailors were Maltese, so that a couple of extra foreigners with stilted English would not draw extra attention to them.  Only problem was that when dad and the men where in Brisbane, the army captain came around home to do his visit.  The rules were that the POWs couldn’t leave the property. Mum had to think quickly on her feet.  Dad had a cattle property about 10 miles away up on a mountain and so mum told the captain that dad had taken the men to muster cattle.

Peter and Paul could turn their hand to most things.  They could ride horses and operated the farm machines.  Once when mum was in hospital, Peter became chief cook.  He made us spaghetti and these most delicious potato cakes.  There were five of us kids and as fast as he could make these potato cakes, they were eaten and we were asking for more.  Peter also made shoes.  We butchered our own meat, so he would take the hides and turn them into leather.  And then he would make shoes.  He was resourceful.

Dwyer Pietro

Pietro Romano

(from the collection of Carmel Peck (Dwyer))

On a Sunday, dad would take them to church.  There was a mission priest, Dr Dwyer who would hold services around the district.  He had spent some time in Rome and spoke fluent Italian.  We would all be taken off to church at Kalbar. I thought that I went to church too many times in those days. One of these times there was special lunch after church.  Tables were set up and the meal served. My sister Carmel thinks that it might have been a special ‘farewell’ lunch for the Italians.  Church was also a time for all the POWs in the area to get together.  On a Sunday afternoon, Paul and Peter with other Italian POWs would go sit up on the hill.  You would hear them laughing and talking and at times the conversations sounded quite volatile.

I remember we received a letter from Paul.  We took it to a Dutch priest who knew Italian. He translated the letter as best he could. It was written in dialect, which is different from Italian.

I remember that farmers who were of German descent weren’t allowed to have POW labour.  There were also farmers who tried to save money by keeping their POWs for a short period of time.  After POWs had been with a farmer for a time, the farmer had to pay more money for their wages. So these farmers would ask for a new roster of POWs.

There was a young POW on the Kelly’s farm. I remember that he returned after the war, and he would say, “I not work as a POW no more. I work as a free man”.  His name was Benedetto Ierna.

Laurie Dwyer

21 June 2017

Peter and Paul

I have a couple of wonderful photos of my family with Peter and Paul our Italians POWs. I would have been ten years old when they came to our farm to help dad with the farm work.  There was a shortage of farm labourers during the war and we grew potatoes.  Dad was involved with the Potato Board and would travel around Australia attending meetings and conferences.

We also had soldiers and Land Army girls help with the farm work and the harvest.  Some of the soldiers were USA soldiers. One Negro solider stayed on the farm and took over cooking for mum.  I think he was then sent to New Guinea.

Then came Peter and Paul who stayed with us for about 18 months. Language was a problem especially between dad and Peter and Paul.  It was more that dad would tell them to do something, they were eager to please and follow instructions but they would get the wrong idea and then voices were raised.  They called our grandmother Extra Madame, mum was Madame, but Grandma Kelly hated the reference. I think it was because she was a big lady. But I don’t think they meant anything other than being respectful. Sometimes we would call Grandma Kelly, Extra Madame and she would get very irate with us.

IMG_3304

Dwyer Family Photo 1945

Back: JJ Dwyer, Margaret Dwyer, Des Dwyer, Grandma Kelly

Front: Laurie Dwyer, Pietro Romano, Carmel Dwyer, Michael Dwyer, Paolo De Propertis

We loved Peter. He was outgoing and friendly.  Once when Mum and Dad were away, Peter came and slept in the house and looked after the family.  And 70 years later we still talk about Peter’s potato cakes.  We were introduced to rice and spaghetti by Peter and Paul.  They would teach us how to twirl the spaghetti with a fork and spoon. My first pair of sandals was given to me by Peter.  I used to get hand me downs from my sister Margaret, but Peter made me my very own sandals.  He used to cure the hides and make leather. They would have made us trinkets and toys, probably from pieces of wood or corn cobs. Another time, Mum, Grandma and Michael went to the coast for about two months for a holiday.  Peter would do everything and looked after the house.  My parents trusted the Italians.   I remember he would wash my hair on a Sunday afternoon and plait it.  For the first few days of school, my hair remained neat and tidy.  By the end of the week, the teacher would be telling me to ‘do something about my hair’.

Peter loved watermelons. The story goes that at night, Peter would cut a watermelon in half and then munch on it throughout the night.  He would also cut a small triangle into the watermelons to check to see if they were ripe.

Paul was much quieter than Peter.  He enjoyed milking the cows and doing the dairy farm work.  Reg and Molly were share farmers and neighbours.  There was some confusion with language and Paul tried to explain this by saying “I like Molly. But I don’t like a Molly”.

dwyer-paolo.jpg

Paolo De Propertis

On canteen truck day, we would race home from school because we knew that Peter and Paul would buy something for us.  We went to Tarome school and from school we would see the canteen truck  drive past on the road.  We would race across the paddocks, creek and a swamp to get home. It was mainly a lolly they would give us, but they were a real treat.

On a Sunday, the other POWs from around the area would congregate on our farm.  This was against the rules but because we lived out of town, they didn’t get noticed.  In those days you knew local cars and who owned them.  If there were any strange cars coming up the road, the Italians would disperse and take cover. Their meetings were often rowdy. Dad would be concerned that there was a fight happening and would go over to see what was going on.  One minute they were talking angry and the next they were laughing.  Dad said that they would mimic the mannerisms of their bosses.  They would walk and talk like their bosses and they found it hilarious.  Dad said they were very true with their interpretations.

My brothers had more to do with Peter and Paul than I did.  As was appropriate in those days, mum kept Margaret and I at a distance from the Italians.  She felt that the girls shouldn’t be around them.  We used to get letters from Peter and Paul but because of the language issue, this stopped. They couldn’t understand our letters and we couldn’t understand their letters.

They must have talked about their homes and families because I remember a couple of things about the differences between life in Australia and life in Italy.  They thought that Australian women were very lonely.  They lived on the farm, a long way from other women and the town.  In Italy, families lived in villages.  The men left the village to go to work during the day but the women had the company of the people in the village.  The other difference was to do with twilight.  When they first arrived, they had this idea that after dinner they would go walking.  Dad had to try to explain that our twilight in Queensland was short.  The sun would set and it would turn dark quickly.  It is different in southern states and also in Europe when it is still light close to 10pm in some places.

When Peter and Paul left our farm, we took them into town.  Upon our return home, we saw that they had painted their addresses on a wall of the house. I travelled to Italy and asked the tour guide if we went close to Tocco Cassauria and explained my memories.  Unfortunately, this was not on the tourist route.

Many people today, do not have a knowledge of this history.  I have told the story of Peter and Paul many times to people I meet and they always are puzzled by a scheme which placed Italian prisoners of war on farms to live with Queensland families.  While there were many benefits for the Italians to be on farm, the scheme had reciprocal benefits.

Peter and Paul enriched our lives.

Carmel Peck (nee Dwyer)

July 2017

 

His Name was George

Back in those days, we grew potatoes, vegetables and we had a dairy out at Moogerah about seven miles from town.  Besides the ploughing, seeding and harvesting of the crops we had the twice daily task of milking our herd of 60 Friesian dairy cows.  It would have been the beginning of milking machines back then, but they weren’t that good.  The Cream Cart would collect the milk and take it to the Butter Factory in Boonah.  The cream would be skimmed to make the butter and the by product, butter milk would then be turned into a powder.  The buttermilk powder was used to feed the calves and for cattle.

George was a good match for our farm because of the work he did back in Italy.  We were lucky because he had knowledge of animals.  In Italy, he had about 100 ewes which were milked every morning.  Then they would make cheese with the milk. He could ride a horse and was good with all jobs around the farm. George was a hard worker.

Giovanni Ragusa

‘George’ Giovanni Ragusa Boonah

(from the Collection of Antonio Ragusa)

I was about 25 years old and my wife was 20 years old when we welcomed George.  Mr Collins used to be our school teacher and he was in charge of the Prisoner of War Centre in Boonah.  It was located on Railway Street where Dover and Sons are now.  It used to be the aerated water and cordial factory.

George came to us after he had been at the Moffat’s farm and probably was with us about 6 months.  He was never any trouble.  He ate with us and slept in the house.  He missed spaghetti and he told my wife how to cook it up using his family recipe, the proper way.  It was a good cheap meal.  The spaghetti would come out on the canteen truck.

The canteen truck also brought out other things for the men to buy.  Things like chocolate, shaving sticks, cigarettes.  George was clean shaven and would shave every day.  I know not sure whether that was the regulation or not.

We used to call them the “Red Army”, because of the coloured uniforms they had to wear.  George taught me some Italian but he would say in stilted English, “no possible, Eric learn Italian.”  He had pretty good everyday English.

George told us that he was in the Horse Brigade and during a battle he was knocked from his horse and he made out he was dead.  He said that they did what they could to survive. He had no respect for Mussolini and it was like he would spit and stamp it into the ground and curse and huff if Mussolini was talked about.

We didn’t go out much in those days because of the petrol rationing, but on a Sunday we would go and visit my wife’s parents in John Street Boonah.  I don’t remember taking him to church, but if he asked, I would have taken him.

Giovanni Ragusa Eric Berhendorff

‘George’ Giovanni Ragusa with Eric Behendorff and family Boonah

(from the Collection of Antonio Ragusa)

My brother Amos had two Italians.  Frank was a beautiful man.  Tony was a bit ‘funny’, I think a bit irrational at times, or easy to get upset. Their names were Francesco Di Lucca and Antonio Di Renna.

George didn’t want to leave our place when they had to return to Gaythorne.  He said that he would sooner stay working on the farm rather than wait around at Gaythorne until he could go home.  He had one regret, and that was that he would have liked to have been with us, when our first baby was born.  I think he wanted to meet our baby and have that connection with us.  After they were sent to Gaythorne at Enoggera we made the trip to Brisbane to say goodbye to him.  He told us that he wanted me to go visit him in Italy and he would welcome me and give me a good time and show me around.  We corresponded with him and him with us.

I have never forgotten his name: Giovanni Ragusa. But we called him George.

Eric Behrendorff

boonah-ragusa

Prisoner of War/Internee: Ragusa, Giovanni

(National Archives of Australia MP1103/2, 64947)