During World War II labour shortages led to Italian prisoners of war being employed on farms in rural Tasmania from November 1943. Many were engaged in general farm duties and growing large quantities of vegetables for the War Effort.
Farmers who applied for a POW were screened and their farms inspected. They were required to provide suitable lodgings, three meals a day, and any special working clothes, such as gum boots and water-proof coats. Farmers paid £1 per week for the services of each prisoner.
The Italians were to be employed for six days a week. Sunday was the preferred day of rest, when the men could travel freely between 10am and 4pm up to one mile from the property wearing their magenta uniforms. However, they were not permitted to go to any towns or enter shops or houses other than the house where they lived.
The rules forbade them from congregating with other prisoners, or fraternising with members of the public, particularly women. Under no circumstance were prisoners allowed to have alcohol in their possession, but employers could provide small quantities to consume with meals.
Interpreters were employed to liaise with the Italians and farmers. They visited each farm at least once a fortnight with free supplies of safety razor blades and cigarettes, clothing to exchange, and toiletries and food for purchase. Letters home were first handed on to Miss Hogg, the district censor in Launceston.
The first interpreter was Lance Sergeant Virgilio Cardenzana who was stationed at the Prisoner of War Control Centre at Burnie. The second centre was established in Launceston where Lieutenant Garth Napier was in charge.
Cardenzana kept a red note book with the names of 150 farmers and the Italians they employed covering Burnie and Launceston.
Initial nervousness and apprehension on both sides often led to some difficulties. Another language, different foods, culture and attitudes were introduced to small rural communities. Over time perceptions began to change.
Despite the rules that were laid down by the Director General of Security the farmers and prisoners sometimes connived to stretch them. The men drove cars, went to dances, met their countrymen at local football matches and made and drank grappa together.
About 950 Italians came to Tasmania, but those deemed not suitable for unguarded work were interned at the Brighton Military Camp where Major Edgar Briggs was commandant.
After the war some farmers sponsored their former workers to return to Tasmania and settle.
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