If only old photos could talk...

12th August 2017 6:00 AM
HARD AT IT: Italian prisoners of war working on Beattie's Calico Creek farm, Queensland, 1940s. HARD AT IT: Italian prisoners of war working on Beattie's Calico Creek farm, Queensland, 1940s.

A 72-year-old photo tells us that Italian prisoners of war worked on Beattie's farm at Calico Creek.

But there is more to this photo and researcher Joanne Tapiolas is hoping Gympie residents can 'help' this photo tell its story.

While the records of the day can offer up facts and figures, only local knowledge can give history its true flavour.

The first Italian prisoners of war in the Gympie district were sent to work on farms at Calico Creek on March 4, 1944, with the Italians working in a number of areas - dairy, bananas, pines and vegetables.

Ms Tapiolas is piecing together the history of Italian prisoners of war in Queensland with assistance from Queenslanders in the 10 districts: Stanthorpe, Nambour, Gympie, Gayndah, Texas, Home Hill, Kenilworth, Kingaroy, Monto and Boonah.

"Every memory, story or letter from this period - 1943-1946 - is very important," she said.

"I am passionate about this research and ensuring that it is not forgotten. I would hate to think that old photos or letters are thrown out.

"I have been able to assist people in finding the correct spelling of names for their POWs or identifying the names for a 'George or Tommy or Jimmy'.

"Increasingly the internet also helps the family of Italian POWs to trace their dad or grandfather's journey in Australia, so this is not just about the family histories of Queenslanders but also the family histories of Italians."

Ms Tapiolas said another side to the history was providing the details as to how the POW scheme operated.

She said Q3 Prisoner of War Control Centre: Without Guard Gympie was the administrative centre for the scheme and had a number of operational functions.

"The AMF staff were in charge of receiving and placing Italians with farmers, signing up and approving farmers and sleeping quarters for the Italians, visiting farms to distribute mail and allow the POWs to purchase items from the canteen truck, and following up with any complaints from farmers or breaches in discipline and transporting the Italians to hospitals," she said.

"Locals mention that this centre - Q3 PWCC Gympie - was in and around the area of the Drill Hall (in Duke St) and the Department of Lands building (Channon St).

"In some centres, the AMF staff were drawn from local volunteers and World War 1 veterans and maybe families have these stories to share as well."

Ms Tapiolas said it was believed up to 10% of Italian POWs returned after the war under the assisted migration scheme.

"In all likelihood, some of the Gympie Italian prisoners of war returned to the district sponsored by their farmers and in time brought out their families and settled in the district," she said.

"There are many perspectives to this history and details on the research can be found at the project's website italianprisonersofwar.com."

If you would like to help write Queensland history or have information to share on the Italian POWs in the photo, Joanne Tapiolas can be contacted at joannetappy@gmail.com.