Feelings in Australia were running high when war was declared on Germany by Britain September 1939 and immediate appeals made for help from the colonies as they prepared for Hitler’s invasion. Australian newspapers covered events overseas in shrill headlines and movie screens were deluged with black and white pictures of the progress of the war. Germans and their allies were demonized in headlines and Australians taught to hate the enemy. When Japan joined the war and began to make rapid gains in Asia and the Pacific paranoia gripped the nation and various media alternated between the demons of Europe and demons from the Land of the Rising Sun. Full page cartoons of the enemy depicted in a range of demon forms fed that paranoia not realizing general populations in those enemy nations were just as much victims of their leaders as those in Allied nations being bombed into hoped for submission.
In Australia from June 1940, German internees were joined by Italians and, in December 1941, by Japanese Australians in secure camps under guard. In September 1942 internment of enemy aliens reached its peak, with almost 7,000 people behind barbed wire in 18 camps around southern Australia, from Marrinup in the west to Brighton in Tasmania. Then the next year many of the camps intended for internees were used to house enemy prisoners of war. Internees were placed in camps at Cowra and Hay in New South Wales, Tatura in Victoria, and Loveday in South Australia. Because of a shortage of manpower with so many Australian men overseas fighting volunteer internees were allowed to work on Australian farms to help keep production going in the war interest.
Among those internees was Armando Favero. He’d been unfortunate enough to have fled Italy as turmoil gripped Europe prior commencement of war in Europe and hoped to find peace and safety in Australia which was as far away from Europe as he could visualize with his limited understanding of the globe. He’d heard there was already a sizable population of Italians in the United States who’d established themselves in relative prosperity. Argentina had a substantial population and he’d toyed with the idea of immigrating there but some in his village had indicated they were heading for Australia and told him of the exotic animals and wide-open spaces where it was reported hard work could make one prosperous over time and one could send back to Italy for a bride to commence a family.
So, Armando borrowed from his extended family and took a ship to this new country on the promise as he prospered, he’d sponsor family members one by one to share new-found opportunities. While he loved his village and culture it was plain to all turmoil in Europe would eventually engulf Italy and when that happened there’d be no escape and only widespread poverty would follow. The village recognized it was time for all who could escape to do so, and they hoped for Armando’s instant success so he in turn could help them escape too. It was a question of money, and that was in limited supply in his village where life was lived at a basic level.
Armando landed in Sydney in the mid-1930’s and sought refuge in the limited Italian population there where he worked for a pittance in restaurants, fruit shops and commercial vegetable gardens. It was just enough to provide him with food and shelter and each new day bought disappointments as savings showed such limited growth. He was beginning to become proficient enough to get by in English and reach out for work opportunities outside his community where wage opportunities were better when war was declared, and news media began a war of their own.
He watched in alarm as he saw his countrymen depicted in an unflattering way in the media and as a result encountered hostility he’d not experienced before. Friends either cut him off or retreated to a safe distance publicly and only made contacts discretely. Contacts with family in Italy had been shut down. Not long after June 1940 men in uniform found him at work and ordered him to come with them for processing. At the interrogation following he was continuously quizzed about his family and sympathies. Had it not been for government policy on enemy aliens his interrogators reasoned he could be released as he was apolitical, but orders had to be followed. Because he was deemed low risk, he was offered a choice of working on farms now devoid of manpower with men of the families conscripted to defend the nation.
So, under army guard he was transported north as regiments moved there to counter the advancing Japanese army and in South Queensland was handed over to local civilian authorities along with others who’d opted for that limited freedom in exchange for work. He was warned not to leave the property assigned where an aged couple had tried vainly to operate the farm helped by their daughter and small children. The men had been conscripted to fight and the daughter had bought her children to help parents in the absence of her brothers and husband.
This was work Armando understood from farming family property in Italy and he threw himself into the opportunity with all he had in gratitude he was not locked away behind barbed wire. He was satisfied sleeping in the loft of one of the barns with ample straw for a comfortable bed. He was satisfied with the meagre rations supplied as most was commandeered for the war effort and even remaining citizens found it hard to survive. He was happy the old couple granted him a fenced off area to grow his own crops and they watched with appreciation as he produced excellent vegetables for the home from his plot in addition to taking the major role managing animal stock and crops flourishing under his skilled management. The old couple began to look on him as a family member and treated him kindly. They could see he had no sympathies for his country’s involvement in the war and determined to help him when it was all over.
Armando was a favorite of the children who took every opportunity when not in school to learn farming techniques from him. He began cultivating an orchard of tropical fruits and nurtured trees lovingly and skillfully, and they responded to his touch. He slowly delegated tasks to the children, and they grew under his nurturing supervision. All on the Oliver farm grew to love Armando and delighted in stories he told at night as they sat around campfire evenings in his Italian accented English.
The Oliver’s daughter wept with her children when they learned her husband was killed on the front line and Armando cried with them which further endeared him with the senior Oliver’s.
With their father dead the children sought comfort from Armando as a father figure around the property. Of course, the children received support from grandparents as they’d always done but somehow the children needed more from someone younger.
Mable Henderson the Oliver’s daughter was furious at this development in grieving for her husband and tried to curtail time the children spent with Armando. He was not their father and never would be as he was the enemy responsible for her husband’s death even if not directly. The children were miserable with this change in routine and their input into their share of the farm work was now curtailed and impacted the overall efficiency of the farm. The Oliver’s were keen students of human nature and understood their daughter’s reaction after losing her husband, but they gently pointed out the need for the children’s help. They all needed to do what they could to produce for the war effort and production was being affected.
On 2 September 1945 Grandma Oliver paused her knitting as the radio announcer interrupted her favorite program to declare there was to be an important announcement from the government. Patriotic music blared through the speakers briefly then a moment of silence as grandma waited expectantly. Grandpa was out on the farm with Armando and the children attending to routines while daughter Mable prepared meals in the kitchen with occasional glances through the kitchen window to see her children were safe. Then an excited voice broke the radio silence. The war was over! That evening in town there was dancing in the streets as those who were left to mind the country while soldiers fought celebrated. The celebration lasted through the night and next day the nation’s media celebrated victory with pictures of soldiers on the front line cheering the end of the war. It was now time to pick up the pieces and commence rebuilding Europe and Asia.
When the euphoria of victory eventually settled after weeks of celebration people began to come to terms with the outcome of this tragic war. Millions had died. They were fathers and brothers and grieving and a simmering anger at the perpetrators began to boil over. Eventually those who’d been held in internment camps were released again to be shunned or persecuted in other ways for the sins of their respective races. Most had been peaceful contributors to Australian society for the duration of their stay and they had no sympathy for their countries of origin and the war inflicted but they paid a penalty for their country of origin involvement in the war unfairly.
Armando now free to move around again had made a trip to town with Grandpa Oliver and was treated so badly he begged to not take that trip to help with town chores in fear of his life for a while afterward.
Then the army began to slowly demobilize and first one brother returned and then after a year one more arrived home to recuperate. Having seen their fellow soldiers slaughtered they were in no mood to tolerate this Italian on the property and Grandpa Oliver and his sons fought over Armando’s continued presence. The brothers resented the children’s friendly relationship with their enemy and sought their sisters help in forming a solid block to force their parents to get rid of this enemy.
To be continued.
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