International spotlight shines on Italian prisoners of war project

Italian prisoners of War - WWII project update  

State Library of Queensland is thrilled to share the latest news featuring the research and dedication of our 2020 John Oxley Library Award recipient, Joanne Tapiolas who continues to record and document her research on the Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War in Queensland.

Joanne received the 2020 John Oxley Library Award in recognition for her documented research and raising awareness of this aspect of Queensland’s history. A resident of Townsville in north Queensland, Joanne started the project in 2015 in the interests of learning more about the history of a hostel situated in Home Hill, 97kms south of Townsville which was used to house Italian prisoners of war in the 1940s.

In Joanne’s words the strength of the project is her passion to document a history which is almost a forgotten chapter in Australia’s history and more importantly, for this documentation to ensure the individual stories, camps and hostels are given a context within the big picture centred around the Second World War on Australian soil.

In her latest news, Joanne shares the correlation and impact her project is having on the families and descendants of Italian soldiers who were sent to Queensland as prisoners of war.  

Amelia Esposito, a journalist for Corriere della Sera, Italy’s most widely read national newspaper, enlisted my help to find the ‘lost years’ of her nonno. Nonno Titta, a barber from Oriolo [Cosenza] was captured at Tobruk on 21 January 1941 and returned to Italy in September 1945.

In a tribute to her nonno and a dedication to me, Esposito wrote an article:- L’australiana che ritrova i soldati italiani which was published in the daily edition of the Corriere della Sera newspaper with images on 17 March 2021.

Amelia was overwhelmed that after 80 yrs, her family could now begin to relate to the journey of her nonno during his war-time absence. In their words, the Esposito family expressed their joy at being able to ‘walk in the footsteps of nonno Titta’.

You can read the article published online. Source: Corriere della Sera, 17 March 2021.

It is understood the Esposito family is not the first Italian family to contact Joanne and they are unlikely to be the last. Her research has uncovered the vital role Italian prisoners of war provided as a workforce for farmers in different parts of the state, and in irrigation, forestry, railway, and woodcutting industries for the Commonwealth and various state projects. With many young Aussies being deployed to theatres of war in Europe, North Africa and Asia, Australia was experiencing a dire shortage of labour.

In 2017, Joanne launched her website ‘Footprints of Italian Prisoners of War in Australia’, [italianprisonersofwar.com] recording one story at a time. Operating as a virtual museum, the website contains letters, reminiscences, photographs, and evidence of hand-crafted artefacts made by Italian prisoners of war. The contributions sent to Joanne by Italian and Australian families from fifteen countries have created a comprehensive record of this chapter of Australia’s history.

Joanne shares the information freely with the international community and what makes it unique is the diversity of the different perspectives. She has also written several guides helping Italian families to locate documents held in the National Archives of Australian and photos from the Australian War Memorial.

Joanne says she is now attempting to ‘rescue’ 101-year-old Armando’s Second World War experience following his capture in Buq Buq, Libya to a British POW camp in India, eventually arriving in Western Australia to work on a farm.

This will be a collaborative effort. My friend Nino Amante, a recently retired journalist with RAI television Catania Sicily will interview nonno Armando. It will be challenging as much of Italy is in COVID-19 lockdown. Amante is the son of an Italian prisoner of war who worked on a Gympie district farm. His insight will be invaluable.

In the meantime, Joanne is also working with the families of sailors who were captured at Tobruk in January 1941 and the families of officers who were sent to Myrtleford in Victoria.

Read more about this and other stories posted on Joanne’s website.

More information:  

Walking in their boots : Italian prisoners of war in Queensland 1943-1946 / by Joanne Tapiolas, 2017

Costanzo Melino, son of Anzano : farmer, soldier, prisoner of war and 'new' Australian : "Chi campa vere" / Joanne Tapiolas, Rosa Melino, 2019

Online: 

Prigionieri di guerra Italiani in Australia - Italian prisoners of war in Australia / free online resource available on Facebook

Project queries

Contact Joanne through her online portal Italian prisoners of war in Australia or email her direct at joannetappy@gmail.com for Queensland content.

Anne Scheu, Collection Engagement, Queensland Memory 

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