Replacement labour: Some 18,000 Italian POWs were sent to Australia during World War II. 10,000 became farm workers some on IlParran. This, the eleventh in a series on growing up on the Northern or New England Tablelands, continues the story of writer Judith Wallace.
For many of us, childhood memories are especially intense. Time seems to stretch, to last for ever.
Then as we grow older, as more events and responsibilities crowd into our lives, things begin to blur. We have to put aside memories as our brains become more crowded. Yet childhood memories remain because they have a continuing and indeed increasing emotional intensity.
This was true of writer Judith Wallace. Some of the most intense and lyrical pieces in her memoir Memories of a Country Child-hood relate to her early childhood growing up on Ilparran, a large station to the west of Glen Innes. .
Ilparran is only 18 miles (29k) from Glen Innes. Today one would pop into the car without thinking. But even in the 1930s when Judith was a child, visits to town were rare.
The old stations were self-contained worlds, villages. There was the inside (life in the big house or homestead) and then the outside (life on the property outside the big house). Beyond that was the rest of the world.
Up to the Second World War, most stations retained domestic staff - cooks, maids, nannies - who looked after the inside. This was a more formal world with marked class distinctions.
The first part of Judith’s book records this life from the viewpoint of the child. Initially the focus is on life in the house and immediate surrounds, but progressively widens as the growing child is able to explore the property around the house.
A turning point comes when she and her sister are given ponies. Now they can explore still more widely.
The Second World War brings major changes as staff are drawn away by the War. Outside staff are partially replaced by Italian POWs, inside staff by the family.
Judith’s English mother takes over the cooking, using skills originally learned at Finishing School. Meals acquire a distinct French flavour as plain mutton and vegetables are replaced by food encrusted in rich cream based sauces.
The young Judith takes responsibility for the necessary milking, rising at 5.30 to tramp across the sometimes black-frost ground to gather the
The girl enjoyed it, resting her head against the warm side of the patient cows for protection from the cold. Then, milking done, she carries the pails back to the warm kitchen where bacon is cooking.
While I knew that Italian POWs had worked on the farms, I did not know that they were in New England until researching this column, nor did I know the numbers involved. Something else I have to investigate!
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 19 September 2018. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017, here 2018.