Archive number: 1359
Preferred name: Ralph
Date interviewed: 08 December, 2003
Civilian Internee- Member of the Civil Aliens Corps Australia
You are listening to the interview audio
Ralph, if we could start by you giving us a summary of your life, from the beginning, where you were born right to the present day?
Right, you want me to tell you
the town I was born in and all that or just where I come from?
Yeah, the town would be great but just a summary, so don’t go into detail. We’ll just get a summary and then we’ll go back and get some details from you?
When I first come out here, I come here by myself.
Well go right back to your childhood, so right back to day one, where you were born, where you went to school, so your time in Italy is important too?
Well I was born in Italy, the town of
Mongiana in Calabria, that’s the main one, Mongiana Calabria and at the age of 12, my father was already in Australia here. He come here 1927, and he called for me to come to Australia by myself because he never had enough money to bring the mother and the other two brothers
altogether so I come out here by myself on the boat by the name Romulo and it took 44 days to get here. And on the boat was about 375 kids, round about my age or a little bit younger, coming out on the boat so when we got to Sydney here, on
the other side of the boat was that high, I couldn’t even get my head above so I had to stand on other kids and sing out my father’s name because I didn’t know, I’d never seen my father for, where I was 8? 12, he left when my brother, was seven years, and I’d never seen my father. And I’m looking around and calling his name, you know, I didn’t know who my father was. Anyhow I finished up singing out that much that he waved at me so he waited till when we came out of the boat
and I met my father for the first time after seven years. Then, he had a shoe shop up in Elizabeth Street, Sydney and had a residential on top of the shop and I lived there for about the best part about seven or eight years above the shop. Then I started to learn about shoes, then my father was only just making his living, just make enough money to keep on
going and I said to my father, “Unless you make enough money for my mother and my brothers to come out,” I said, “I won’t stay here,” and when I seen him that he was working hard and he couldn’t make enough money so I finished up going out at night time, two or three nights a week and get odd jobs here and there where I could make a few bob and I used to get 15 shillings every night, 12 to 15 shillings at night so I finish up saving up round about
there was 160, 170 pounds until we got the fare for my mother and the two brothers to come out and they came out here about two years before the war started and then from then on I just finished up going out, when my mother and two brothers came out, finished up going out like getting odd jobs here and there at night time because I started to pick up, I used to do a lot of shop work, you know, picking up
groceries or packing up fruit or serving milkshakes and stuff like this so I got pretty good at it and I finished up getting pretty good money at night time. Then at the age of, I’d better tell you this before. That went on like during the wartime. Then when I got to the age of 18, they called us for the army medical service
so we went and passed our medical and we were waiting to get called up in the army. That didn’t succeed so the next call up we got was to the army labour corps. No-one knew what the army labour corps, we were treated as army people but no uniforms, nothing, so the first call then we had after that was to go to
Canberra Forestry Department and then when we got to the Forestry Department, was all these pine trees there. We’d never seen them before and they teach you what to do and how to do it and how to work on them and we started to work there. There was a chap there by the name of Pryor. Major Pryor he used to call himself and he said, “You’ll be working here. At Christmas time you’ll be getting your leave like the army do and we get army pay”
and lived under the camping tents and we had no fridges, no water supply, no toilet water, no showers, nothing there. We had to carry our own water into the shower. We had a big tub on the back with the holes and put our water in and have a shower and our toilets were in the holes. You know we used to, all that type of things so then when the time comes along that the Christmas holidays were due, he comes
a few weeks before and he said, “You’re not going on for your holidays.” “Well,” I said, “You promised us the holidays and the families are waiting.” I said, was about seven of us young ones. I said, “If we don’t get our holidays,” I said, “We just won’t work, will refuse to work.” So when the end of the week, before the Christmas week, he turned around and he said,
“You’re not going up for your holidays,” so he comes up there with a truck and he had about three soldiers in the truck with rifles and machine guns. He thought we were going to cause, God knows what sort of problems so they took us to Canberra Police Station where they had the little cell room behind the station which no-one ever been in there. When we got in there the damn fleas, they were about two inches long, and put us in there
and we started to kick up, bash the doors down and kick up a stink so they’d let us out in the yard because the cell was full of fleas and we stayed there till the Monday until the court come on. Then went to the court, like into the court house on Monday and this fellow said that we refused, and I said to the judge, “We didn’t refuse to work at all. He just broke his promises that he told us we were going to go for a holiday at Christmas time
and he waited till the last couple of weeks to tell us we’re not going to go and that’s where the problem started,” so the judge said, “Well,” he said, “Who am I to believe?” I said, “Well we’re telling you our story and he can tell you whatever he wants to,” so then he started to call people in and was about three or four of them that couldn’t understand or speak English so these people that couldn’t understand,
was a chap there by the name of Peter and I said, “When he calls you Peter, you tell them the reason why we were on strike because he didn’t give us leave for our holidays,” so the judge called this Peter up and the first thing he said, “No leave, no work,” so the judge called him the name and they all started to laugh, you know because he didn’t know what he was talking about, so I said to the judge, I said, “I’ll be his interpreter because he doesn’t understand.” I said, “You ask me the question and
I’ll tell you what it,” so he called me up and I told Peter. I said, “That’s what the judge said,” and we went on, there were 12 of us all told. We went on and we refused to work, go back to work unless we got our leave so the judge said, “I’m sorry,” he said, “I can’t do anything but I’ll have to put you to Goulburn Gaol.” That’s when we started with the job so the following day, there was about three or four of those hire cars,
you know. They picked us up in hire cars and took us to Goulburn Gaol. We had to do four and a half, well six months hard labour but four and a half months good behaviour. Well, we done the four and a half months and when we come out, we went back to Sydney, stayed home there for three or four weeks and after those three or four weeks, they come and picked us up again and they sent us to the Banana Growers’ Federation. Want me to keep on going, or?
great. Right to the end, right to the present day. You’re doing really well, just a nice summary?
So when I went up to the Banana Growers’ Federation, we knew nothing about bananas, so they took us around different plantations, the people that they knew all about it, and they showed us all different disease that the banana get because the problem was then, most of the people got called up in the army, that they owned the banana plantations
and no-one was looking after them so then the people who were right next door in the same sort of a valley or valleys where the bananas are, they were complaining that the disease from that plantation goes onto the other plantations so they had to destroy their banana disease that they had on, so we started to go around different districts and looking at all these bananas had the disease on and we had special materials like to chop them down,
poison them and make sure that, go over to the other plantations and we done that for the best part of eight months, then went home for Christmas then we come back, all told up there we spent about 14 or 15 months with the banana plantations. Then after we finished with that, we come back home but during those days up there with the banana plantations, over the weekend we were free to do what we wanted to do. You know, we weren’t tied up
like Canberra there. We were just like, in Canberra, just like slaves there, was no, you had to have a, ‘cause it was a long way from Canberra to travel and those days they had no cars, only horse and cart, stuff like you see if you owned one and that was the worst part in Canberra but up here, we used to live in a boarding house. They gave us boarding house and we just, over the weekend, we were free to do what we wanted to do. That’s why we stayed there all that time
and we made a damn good job of it too cause some, we used to travel all the way from Murwillumbah all the way down to Lismore, right down the coast because that’s all full of bananas, all the coast part of it there and some of the boys, that Mick Zappa there, he was a carpenter there and he got a job near Lismore to do banana boxes. Those days they used to do the boxes out of wood, you know that
you have, be a sawmill. He used to work in a sawmill and do stuff, do that type of work there and we cut those banana groves for all the time we stayed there, looking after diseases then destroy the ones that were, you know were causing problems and clean everything out.
And then you came back to Sydney?
Come back to Sydney, yeah but then we I come back to Sydney I started
into the shoes with Pop for about 14, 15 months and after I got a bit sick of it and I said to Pop, “I’m going to have a change,” and went and worked for a household supply in Double Bay.
And the war had finished by that stage?
Yeah the war had just finished, yep the war finished then and when I went to work for this household supply in Double Bay and this Anton Juliana, the fellow got interned
there, those people there, they were still, because they didn’t let them out soon the war finished, they were there you know and I went back to the Double Bay shop, household supply in Double Bay and another shop, so even when they were in the holiday, they shut up the shop and I looked after the shop for him while he was away on holidays and when he come back, he had three months, he gave me 750 pounds, you know, for looking after the shop, so I saved up a bit of money and I had about, must have had about
thousand four hundred, thousand five hundred pounds and I said to him “I’m going to open up a shop, the same as this one, at Randwick,” because was no other shops and Randwick those days was a place something like Double Bay because all the horse trainers, jockeys, horse owners, they used to live around Randwick so I opened up this shop here in Allison Road Randwick there and I was there for a while. I built this shop up from nothing and I paid
nearly 14, 15 hundred pounds, thousand and I finished, when I sold it I made about four or five thousand profit on it and then we went back to shoes then. Then we started making all the orthopaedic shoes, sports shoes. I brought a lot of different machines, you know, to make all this stuff here and we went on just making shoes with hospitals, sport people, dancing,
golfers, all this type of things.
Where was your shoe shop then?
The shoe shop used to be in Parramatta Road, Stanmore and we were there for, when the, ’48, so ’48, ’49 I first started up there. We were there till about 12 years 13 years ago and we had
the best name in Sydney. We used to be in the papers, magazines. They used to make a lot of, you probably don’t remember, Miss Australia quests. You know the Miss Australia quest? I used to make all the boots and shoes for all the Miss Australia quest there. Had a lot of these type of girls, fashion girls who used to come in and get special boots, you know, in the winter time, made up.
What was your shop called?
Panucci Brothers, that was the shop.
And then you, after you retired
Yeah after that we just retired. I’ve got three kids, a daughter and the two boys. The young one, he worked for the Department of Ethnic Affairs. He was in charge of the Ethnic Affairs there for a long time, then from there he changed over with the Australian Arts and he was managing the Australian Arts there for a long time. Then he
now he’s self, what’s a name? Consultant for most of the government jobs, he travels around all the time and the other boy’s down at Nowra. They’ve got a surveying engineering business down there, in a sort of a big way there. They’ve got about 15 or 16 people working for them so we didn’t do too bad.
You must be proud of them?
Of – because, you achieve something, you know.
As a kid, I always had something in mind that I want to never work for anybody, only casual work but I felt that I could do things, you know and I’ve done that all my life.
And helped a lot of the people. When, after the war broke out we had, I got in touch with the Italian Consul here, then when all the immigrations from Italy started to come out, they used to bring
you know, boats full of Italians. I don’t know how many thousands Italians come out to Australia, there must have millions probably and when the Italian Consul had shoe people, they used to ring me up and they used to find them jobs. They used to go and pick them out of the camps and find them a house to live and find them a job say with Robin shoes or all these different manufacturers that I knew, you know were making shoes and they used to try them a little bit for shoe making. Because they had no experience in factories, they used to try them and send, get them jobs in different
That’s great. Well we’ll definitely, when we talk about your post war life, we’ll talk about that in more detail. Alright that’s fantastic.
Would you like me to tell you something about the little town where?
Yeah, tell us about the town that you were born in?
The little town was about, what’s the population? Round about 2,500 this little town here and I,
the days that, let me think? You started at school at the age of six and you do six years of school and you got to the age of 12 because they had no high schools. 12 years, you finish your school and in the meantime, going to school, I used to go to a carpenter that was near the house we used to live, learning to do carpentry work and in the summertime we used to have races
you know, what’s a name? Cart, little cart races.
Billy cart, and they made a billy cart with a big wheel in the front and two big and we used to have races on the cliff side and someone pushed then and you go, so I finished up off the cliff with this billy cart, onto a creek and split my head in about five pieces. The chap that I used to go and do the carpentry, he came
up and seen me there and he called the doctor straight away. He put my head up in a rag here, close it up and he said, the doctor come up and he said, “You’ve got 24 hours to live.” In those days, you know, that’s the little towns, so he cleaned it all out and put a, and the whole kids around the little town, they were at my place because they thought I only had 24 hours to live. Anyhow I survived.
Then the wife here, she comes from the same town and we used to go to school together and her family and my family or, you know, my mother’s side and her mother’s side, they were sort of a really together, really good friends so I, after so many
years, like we used to go to school together but we never, ever met up to, say, boyfriend or girlfriend, nothing like that and after so many years that, after I come out here, her father used to be here in Australia too so they decided to bring his family out and I met my wife here. We come from the same town but I met my wife here. That’s one part but going back to the childhood there.
When I made this billy cart up, had this smash up in the creek and all that, then we used to have two different type of farms. We had a farm out from the town. It was about two and a half hours walk and we had another one near the town. Now this one was two and a half hours walk, was a lot of chestnut trees, walnut trees and, so we used to go there with my mother to pick these walnut trees up
and every time we got out I had this mania that I wanted to get up on the top of this walnut trees and as a young kid I got up to the top and the wind started and I couldn’t get down out of this damn tree so my mother down the bottom of the tree, you know, “Please be careful, hang on.” I was that damn frightened that I didn’t want to move and as soon the wind comes down, slowly I got down and my mother said, “You’re not to go back in that tree anymore.”
I said, “No,” so we got back because it was the chestnut trees and walnut trees so we got back about a week after so we can pick the walnuts and the chestnuts so my mother’s standing, picking up other stuff there and I climbed up another walnut and she started yelling and crying so I said, “Alright,” I said, “I’ll come down, there’s no wind there,” so this was, we used to do that every year, that season when walnut and chestnut trees come up and we used to take other kids
so we’d go up there to pick them, you know.
So you were a very adventurous child?
Don’t know about adventurous but had very dangerous ideas but we done that for a long time and then we used to get a lot of snow and then the snow season, we used to, you know, have all these fights with these snowballs. You know you make them by hand and there was a couple of teachers that we didn’t like
and at lunchtime, we used to go for lunch and the teachers go for lunch and we used to hide behind the building and when these teacher’s would come back to the class, we used to hit them with these snowballs and we used to get in a lot of problems with them but a nice little town. They had their own water there, come up from the mountain. We had a mountain
there, was about, pretty close to a thousand metres high and the snow was there 12 months of the year. They used to make a snow holes and preserve the snow in the holes and then they used to come out during the summertime, pick it up to make gelatos and ice cream, all this stuff here, come and pick them up from the snow mountains there and we used to climb up these mountain as kids, go up these snow mountains
and had drinking water come down from these mountains that they used to preserve it and send it to the United States. That was those days. They used to call it the Munjaterello Water [?], was a special name with a red label. I can still remember it, you know, where they used to bottle it and send it over, most to the States. They did that for a long time but when I went back
about 10 years ago, was nothing existed. Everything was gone and the place that we had, this farm that we had a long time, two or three hours from the town, wasn’t even a way you could go to this place. No roads, nothing, all bushed up.
You said you had two farms? What did you grow on the other farm?
Two, the other one was near the town. That was like a backyard garden, you know the mother and the
grandmother used to grow their own tomatoes, beans, all stuff that you use every day, cause we had water and everything there and my grandmother, she had what do they call it? A wholesale, a grocery idea and they used to supply most of the town with all the stuff that they need in groceries,
wheat cause you buy your own wheat and you grind, they got the grinding wheels we used to take, and you make your own flour, you make your own bread, you made everything yourself and my grandmother used to have two ovens where people used to come in and use it to make their own bread. She was pretty well, you know, pretty well-off in the town. Because those days, you know if you had anything like that, you live a little bit better than the other ones. Most of the other ones had farms.
They had pigs or cows, whatever the case and she happened to have the co-operative. That’s what the co-operative there supplying them with all this stuff here.
And your grandfather, was he around?
The grandfathers were all in the United States. One of my grandfather, he was in West Virginia. He used to be a lumberjack. He used to do timber, cut trees down in West Virginia
and when he used to come over every three years, see my grandmother, then when he come and in the end he stayed there and he reckoned, he used to say to me that it was the hardest life there he ever had, because in West Virginia there he used to have a lot of people working. He used to teach them how to lump, you know to square the trunks of the trees when they pull them out or pull them down. He used to be specialist in that type of work and he used to teach and a lot of people
working there. When they used to bring the pay to him to pay these people here, all the cooks knew that he had, were given the money up for pay and they followed the train up to a certain amount and then the train used to stop there and they’d have the what’s a name? What do they call them, the carts that you push by hand in the rails?
I can’t think of the name. Anyhow then they used to go up to him there and they had rifles, they had everything to keep these people away and “Sometimes,” he said, “You had to be really hard and sometime you finish up killing people because they come down and rob you. Take the one, well they want to rob you, want to take the money, the wages away from the other people and he said, “You really have to stand up to it.”
And so your father went to the States as well?
My father was in the States yeah.
My father was at the age of 12, like me. He went to the States because his other two brothers were there.
And his father was there as well?
My father was in Pennsylvania, Beevor Force with his brothers and he was there during the 1914-18 War, before that started and he had to, he was in the States the war. Then he went back to Italy after the 1920,
he went back to Italy and the army people in Italy got him and he had to do his army service in Italy because once you were an Italian then you never used to do your army service those days and you get back there, they just grab you and put you in the army so he had to do 18 months of Italian army service. So when he finished his 18 months there, the law changed within the United States that once you leave the States six months, you could not get back there
so he put in application to go back there and he had to wait 18 months or two years I think it was to wait and he didn’t want to wait. He wanted to go back so someone said to Pop, he said, “You go to Australia and from there, seize opportunity to go back to the States.” When he come here, was no chance of him going to the States at all so he finished up staying here. He come out here 1927.
So why did the men in your family
choose to go to the States, what was the reason behind that?
The reason cause there was no work in the town and most of them from generation, like even my father’s father, he went to the States. Their father did exactly the same thing.
Was the States seen by the people in your family as a place of opportunity?
Yes because, you know when my grandfather used
to go to the States. Every two or three years when he used to come home, he used to bring a lot of money there but he used to send money at the same time to grandmother or my mother, you know to keep on, they had money so they could buy things and do things and that was the idea. People go away and work and send money there.
Do you know if your mother ever missed your father being away for such long periods of time?
Say that question again?
Did your mother used to miss your father being away?
Of course, yes, the poor thing. Actually she got, when my young brother was born, my father never seen him because my mother got pregnant before my father left for Australia and my father didn’t know my young brother at all. When my young brother come out here, he was 10 year old and my father had never seen him
and then when my mother come out here during the wartime, when the war broke out, she got pregnant here cause after, how many years was it? 10, must have been round about 10 to 11 years that my father had never seen my mother. Anyhow she got pregnant in the meantime. She went up to Crown Street Hospital, having a baby and something went wrong and she
had a bit of a heart problem, worrying about my father, as you said, being away all this time without seeing him and she used to worry about him. Anyhow, having the baby there, she finished up dying at the age of 37 and she died on my birthday, something I never forget and when I went back, when I was in Double Bay this night, the lady next door to me, my father, she was an Australian lady. She met an Italian chap,
Mrs Masula [?], she come in and meet me and she said, “I want you to come to my place.” I said, “What reason?” she said, “I want you to come to my place,” and gradually she told me that my mother passed away.
And how old were you then?
I was still in Double Bay. That was during the war so I must have been round about 17.
What kind of woman was your mother,
how would you describe her?
My mother? I’ll show you a photo.
Yeah if you could describe her now, we’ll have a look later, that would be great?
Well my mother was tall, well figured woman. I took her, when she come out here, I wanted to get some photos done and the photographer down in George Street, after he took these photos, he said to me
“Would you mind if I get an extra photo? I want to put it in the window.” I said, “For what reason?” “You know the way she poses and looks in the photography.” She said, “I want to have something like that in the window,” and very, very sort of pleasant type of woman, you know and a lot of nice features from her and one of my granddaughters, she’s in England now, she looks like my mother. Every time I see her I just said to her
“You’re just like my mother.” When I think back, you know, all those times there, I only seen my mother for two years after we left.
Cause you came out here when you were 12 didn’t you?
Yeah. She just passed away at that age.
I could never believe it. Still that’s the way things happen but those days there, I met up with a lot of people like here. You know losing the parents or coming out here and something happens and some of them that were here for years, they’d never seen a mother, father relations and
something happened, they never seen them at all. See a lot of, not only Italians. I met up with a lot of Greeks, Yugoslav people like you see that they’ve been here the best part of say 14, 15 years without seeing their families and the kids were just grown up. They didn’t know the mothers, fathers or nobody and those days there, was one of those things here because they never used to make enough money for the fares for them to come out
and there was a lot of cases like that.
And what about your father, what was he like?
My father was, you know being in the States as a young kid, just got brought up with American ideas, you know. Then when he come out here, he changed a little bit but he still had those ideas, what the Yanks done and what he used to do, cause he used to play clarinet
in a band for the Yankee Doodle Dandies they used to call them and he used to play a bit of football there and played, what other sport? Baseball so, you know, he still had those ideas there.
What kind of jobs did he take in America?
In the States? His older brother, he was in charge of steelworks in Pennsylvania
so he got a job like with the steelworks company but another thing, his older brother was one of these, what do they call them those days there, the standover mobs?
The mafia, yeah mafia gang. Because he had this job as a boss in the steelworks, the big boys in the mafia game
said to him, “You do what we tell you to do, otherwise you won’t have anyone working here,” so he had to join them up and it was the life in the States in those days.
So that would have been the 1920’s or earlier?
Yeah, around about that yeah.
And so your father worked for your brother at the steelworks?
My father then, ’20, he was just left the States, cause he left
after the 1918 war finished, 1920. That’s when he got in Italy, 1920 and his brother was in this before him yep.
How was it for you growing up in the village in Italy without your father around most of the time? Did it matter to you?
Well growing up in the villages there, it’s, what should I say? My aunty, my uncles, you know you grow up even the
families are more together there and you’ve got cousins so you’re going to school. You know you don’t feel it much because you’ve always got relatives around and that makes a lot of difference.
Did you enjoy school?
Yeah I was pretty good at school.
What kind of subjects did they teach you?
We went through everything, history, maths. I used to be pretty good in maths. Most of my kids here, Frank
the surveyor down there, he’s pretty good in it so are the grandkids too but I used to like maths and history.
What kind of history did they teach you at school?
It was a lot of Italian histories. Actually when I come out here, I went to Cleveland Street School for six months because I had to stop going to school even here because my father wasn’t making enough money to bring my mother out
so I had to stay and work. Then I used to go to night school and started to read about the English history here and, you know, most of the history those days there, they never, ever mention about any other country in the world, through the British history, that any other country existed. They were only talking about the British Empire and it’s something, most of the kids at school here, they used to say to me, “Have you got any motor cars in Italy? Have you got
aeroplanes? Have you got any trains in Italy?” Because they knew nothing about it.
Did you learn about British history at school?
Yeah, all different countries in the world we used to learn. The Africans, all the countries, used to have maps with all different history but here, when I come out here, as I said, most of the kids, they knew nothing about other countries. Everything was under British Empire idea.
That must have made you feel like people here were a little bit perhaps backward or?
Make you feel that you want to know, you know what really goes on because then when I start to understand a little bit more how the British, another thing, when I come out on the boats the first thing that got into my head, going through the Suez Canal, they were just building it then
and they had these people up with chains digging and the British soldiers on horseback going up and down the canal and we had the boat. It was a big long black boat, this Romulo here. It was that damn long it never used to fit in the what’s-a-name, in the wharves and the captain used to cook rice specially for when we got through this here. He used to give it to us on the boat and
we make little balls and chuck them in the water so that all these fellers here would dive in for these balls, little rice balls and when we come out of the canal he used to cook this, I don’t know how many pots of this rice he had, and he put those rope steps on the side of and they used to climb up there and he used to feed them all up with this rice stuff.
What kind of impact did that have on you as a child? That must have been quite shocking?
It was, just imagine. As I said to you, the first thing that hit me
you know, when you see things like that there, what sort of treatment would I have when I get here?
Is that what you thought?
Yeah well just, if it would have been you or anyone else, what would you think when you saw those things?
Were they, what kind of people were in the chains? Were they local people or?
Yeah they were local people yeah, all coloured people chained up working yeah,
yep and then another thing, before you board the boats, like in Italy to come here, we, I don’t know how many medical checkouts that I had and the background. If your grandfather or any relation had done gaol terms or stuff like this here, you would never get a passport to come out here.
If they suffered any sickness, you would never get a passport.
Interviewee: Raffaele Panucci Archive ID 1359 Tape 02
Ralph, when you were over in Italy was it the idea that you were probably going to come and join your Dad, was that something that was discussed for a while before it actually happened?
Let me think. Well I’ll give you more or less an idea what happened. Most of it, as I said to you, my father went to the States at the age of 12
Most those people that travelled all the time, that was the way of life, that it was in their mind all the time cause once they started to go overseas and they find a job, residence there, then the family and friends or whatever they’ve got usually follows on, but my father, being in the States as a kid and he couldn’t get back there, so I mean he only stayed in Italy for the
what, when he finished the army? He’s married, people, about four years, then he wanted to get away from them because he could not leave there. He wanted to be somewhere where he can do something and that’s when he come out here and the idea of my mother and father coming out to Australia was already, you know spoken or talked about. The only reason, what stopped him, he never had the money for the fare for the family to come out here.
before you got on the ship, did you start to hear a bit about what Australia was like from your Dad, from letters and things like that?
Yeah my father used to write yeah, used to write to me because like having the trade. When he come out here the trade here was really poor because there was that many shoe makers and repairers that they used to do things for practically nothing so he finished up working for a chap at Merriwa. His name used to be Barrington.
He used to own about 100,000 acres of land and 100,000 head of sheep and what he’d done, he worked in that place as a jackeroo and the house, he used to look after the house for him and then, some of his friends, Italian friends that he had here, this Barrington feller was looking for labour to clean the what’s a name? Clean the paddocks
for them, take the lantana bush and all that and my father wrote to the people that he knew here and they all went up to Merriwa working in the station, and cleaning lantana bushes. So when he was there for two and a half years, he’d saved about 270 odd pounds and when he come back to Sydney he wanted to start a shoe shop so when he come back to Sydney, the banks were all closed and he couldn’t get the money out of the bank. So
he seen a shop in King Street, Sydney for sale that he wanted 160 pounds, 160, 170 pounds and my father said, “Look, I’ve got a bank book, but I haven’t got the money,” and he said, “The banks are closed and I can’t get the money out, but,” he said, “If you want to sell your business,” he said, “I’ll give you my bank book for 270 pounds and,” he said, “I’ll take the business over,” so that’s what he done. Then the bank opened up
about three days after he brought this damn shop, so he finished up losing his hundred pounds. In those days they were hard to make, a hundred pounds and then he finished up with the shoe shop in King Street. Once he got to that shop, he stayed there for two and a half years, like doing only repairs. He didn’t make shoes, only was sort of repair trade. Then they pulled the shops down and they build the pub on the corner, King George and then they had to get away from the place, so he finished up losing
the money that he paid for the business then. He had to start something else in, well he got Elizabeth Street and from then on, we went on that way.
So when you arrived, was he in Elizabeth Street then?
Elizabeth Street yeah, that’s where he was yeah.
So was there a long tradition in the family of shoemaking?
How far back did it go?
It goes back, not on my father’s side
goes back on his mother’s side, not my father like my grandfather, was his mother’s side. My two grandfathers, was my mother’s side and my father’s side, they were all in the States but they were all, what they call them? Tunnel, you know, those
days there to dig a mountain that make tunnels, that’s what they used to do. One of them died in the tunnel, dig the tunnel out and the whole thing collapsed. Another one used to be a water researcher. He used to find water in paddocks or people where they want water. He used to go round and find out where the water is and they used to be for that and they used to make all these tunnels exactly the same way. That’s what they specialised
on. They used to do that in the little town. They used to dig tunnels for miles out but no, not security those days. You used to come up, they start from this end and got to come out to the other end and they done that for years and my father said they were really successful about it. They had no schools, nothing but just their fathers done it before them, you know, the grandfathers and that’s how they got the knowledge
what they were doing.
So where did your Dad pick up his shoemaking skills?
From his mother’s side of the family. They were in the shoe trade. Then
So he did a bit of work with them?
Yeah done a bit of work with them then when, in the States, he was doing it in the States. While he was working at the steelworks at night, during the day he was doing his shoe trade.
Right, did you get any, did you know anything about shoe making before you got to Australia?
No. I used to go there, when I tell you about the billycart, I used to go there learning to be a carpenter and I done a lot of wood work.
So at that young age, did you have the idea that you’d like to continue to do the carpentering and that would be your career?
Well I did but when I come
out to Australia, my father had the shoe shop and he had like they had a lot of work to do so I started to do shoes instead of doing the carpentering job and once I started to pick that up, then I went to tech to learn about shoes, learnt about leathers and all these type of things see and that’s how I then started to get onto the shoe trade.
So when you were getting ready to get on the ship to come out to Australia
can you remember what you were feeling, what you were thinking about the big change coming up?
Well, yeah I can tell you now. I can just see them there now. When I got the, was a week, like the waiting before, my mother and she had a sister there, my aunty and my grandmothers, they start, “What do you want to go to Australia for? You’re only a little
kid. You’re by yourself. We’ll never see you again because once you go there you’re father’s been there for a few years, never send any money to your mother, never done this. You know you’ll get lost and we’ll never see you again,” so the day that I got on the car to go to Naples, cause that’s where we picked the boat up, in Naples, that car there, outside that car there, if you would have seen them. Crying their heads off
cause they didn’t want me to go and I’m until they pushed the car out. It took them about half an hour because they, “No, don’t go, don’t go,” to the last second, and just imagine how I felt. Being at that age and I finish up that I made it on the boat.
Did you feel like maybe you were making the wrong decision because of the big reaction they were making?
I don’t know if it’s something we had in the blood, you know that my father travelled, my grandfather used to travel to the States all the time, that I wanted to do something myself cause I used to talk to my grandfather as a kid, you know, the feller that was in Western Virginia there and at the same time, you know, “You’ve got to travel to see different things.” You know, “Staying here, you see nothing,” then it goes on and that really
something that sticks in your mind or head that you want to travel around. That’s what made me probably give me the encouragement to get in that car and just say, “I’m going to go,” cause the way they were saying, like my, mother, aunty, grandmothers, “Don’t go, don’t go.” Anyone else probably would have just say, “Right I won’t go,” and then when I got on the boat was a chap that had the, taking charge of you,
being under age, so someone else was coming to Australia from near our town and he signed that he’s going to look after me like on the boat but then on the boat, we had all, as I said there was about 370 odd kids with their mothers and fathers coming out so once I got on the boat I was just got friends with some of the kids and was just one of those things that you didn’t worry about nothing. The only time that I got worried, when I got to Sydney
looking for my father, didn’t know my father what he looked like or didn’t know, that was a problem but you know we discovered one another, then we were right.
Did you enjoy the journey on the ship?
Yes, just imagine being a kid on a boat. You get served at the table, you eat what you want, drink what you want. It, those days there, you go and get an ice cream and stuff like that.
You never used to pay on the boat. You get them free.
Were people talking about Australia and what they thought it was going to be like and?
Well most of them like the mothers with the kids there. As I said, there was a lot of kids with the mothers. Some of those poor women, they didn’t know what to expect and I could just imagine it. When they come out here if they would have been like my father, having a little shop and the house on the top, or being in the
farm most of them. They used to go up to Queensland. Most of them went up north, Queensland and most of them they went to, cause the main stop was Sydney those days there and whatever the street they had to go and a lot of them, the husbands would just wait on the boat and pick them up in the car or the train and just like going to Lismore where the banana plantations were and in north Queensland where they had the sugar
cane and all this other stuff there. Most of them got to these places. They had no idea what Australia would look like or what they’re going to discover, what they’re going to see until they really got here and those days there, when you come out here, it’s nothing like today, nothing. You had to, you got to
well you have to eat. The only thing there was a hamburger shop or fish shop and when most of the Italians, I had to laugh there, you know they had these big pots where they put the chips in there with all this fat but they weren’t used to fat. They were used to only oil cooking the things, you take them out this fat out and five minutes the thing’s all greased up or had,
you know, they can use this stuff again. You know, not being used to it see and anyhow they got used to it. After a while they had to get used to it because there was nothing else and you got the hamburger shop. Those days there the hamburger shops, they had a little restaurant behind there and the only thing you’d be getting there is mixed grills. You get a lamb chop with all the fat on it, boiled potato,
a couple of bits of carrots and a couple of beans there and a mutton chop. You know the mutton chop boiled up with a piece of steak and the sausage. That was a mixed grill, lamb chop, mutton chop and a sausage and it was a bit hard, or then you get a hamburger shop, a hamburger like, done up and it was all cooked in those plates there, which they weren’t used to it. You know cooking, you know, “Fancy
if they stop cooking the black stuff there,” and then I used to explain to them what really happens. It’s an electric appliance but it was really hard but they got out of it. They got over it and they’re still going.
A lot of adjusting to do? The ship itself, what nationality was the ship?
The ship? Italian, the name was Romulo. You remember the
Roman sign of the big lupus, the big wolf, where the two children sat? One was Ramo, the other one was Romulo. That’s why they call this the Romulo, was the Ramo and Romulo, was two boats.
And it was a big vessel?
Big, long, narrow boat. We’re coming across the, just before we got to the Red Sea and we had really crook weather there and they had to put covers because the water used to come up over the boat, right over the other side, you know when the wave come up.
None of them could stand up on a boat. Most of the women, you know, the poor women that come out with those kids there, they were all sick in bed and we used to go up to the kitchen and take them either coffee or tea drink or something to eat because they couldn’t have, the boat was rocking that much until we got out of that period there, that you couldn’t even stand up or walk. Us kids, we just grabbed here and there, go anywhere.
You didn’t get sick?
Did you get sick yourself?
No, used to look after all the, few older women there, I used to go to the cabin just open the cabin and take them like whatever they wanted to eat or drink and we done that for, we had about four or five days that bad weather coming across.
How long did the whole trip take?
44 days until we got to Sydney.
And it was a situation where Dad had finally saved up enough money to pay for your fare, is that the way it worked?
And did he have it in mind that it would be good to have you around the shop too, do you think?
Yeah, he had that idea but until, you know, you come out and see these things with your own eyes, you can’t believe it because he used to work hard but by the time he paid rent, he paid for his
material that he had to buy, he used to make those days there about three and a half to four pounds a week and he had to live on it, you know and when you run a business, you know you might get a lot of work one week and then the following week you get nothing and then the following, you know it’s up and down all the time. It’s not a standard type of thing.
So you arrived in Sydney. You finally found Dad. What were your first impressions of Sydney and
did it take long for you to settle in?
Well the first impression that I had, on the first Sunday morning that I got here, my father said, “I’ll take you around,” because we were in Elizabeth Street. I don’t know if you know Sydney too much? Elizabeth, you know when you come out of a subway through the central, from George Street? There’s a subway comes out then to Chalmers Street,
then you go straight Chalmers Street, then there’s Devonshire Street and then it’s Elizabeth Street right on the corner of Devonshire and Elizabeth Streets. We used to be, there’s a pub on the corner. The pub’s still there and we started to walk from there, come down through a subway into George Street. In those days there, everybody used to wear a hat and my father said, “I’ll have to get you a hat, you know so you can look like one of the Australian fellers,” because here they would all wear hats. I said
“I don’t want a damn hat,” cause those days, in Italy as a kid no-one used to wear a hat. “No, I don’t want to wear.” “No, you’ve got to wear.” He decided that much that he was going to buy me a little hat and wear one and we walked right down to the Circular Quay from the Central Railway in George Street right down the Quay in George Street. We had something to drink and eat there, then we come back through Pitt Street and we had, anyhow we done
the whole George Street, Pitt Street, Castlereagh Street, Elizabeth Street. We went up and down the whole, and by the time we finished I was worn out so, “We’ll go home.” Pop cooked and he never did like cooking. My mother said to me, she said, “He’s not much of a cook,” you know, before I left there so he cooked, forgot what he cooked but used to like all this dry
food, cheese, olives, salami stuff like this. He used to eat all that stuff so the next day, Monday he said, “What do you want to do?” He asked me. I said, “Well I’d do anything.” I said, “The only thing I want to do,” I had that in my mind all the time, I said, “I want you to make enough money or do something with me,” I said, “So we can make the fares for my mother and two brothers to come out.” He said, “I know all that.” He said
“Don’t stop.” I said, “That’s what I want to do” so when you come 12 years old, cause up to 14 those days you had to go to school so the lady next door, she was Australian married to an Italian there. Mrs Masula said, “You’ve got to take him to Cleveland Street and enrol him in the school,” so we went to Cleveland
Street and Pop knew some of the families living near the shop, going to Cleveland Street so those kids used to come in of a morning and pick me up and we used to go to school together. We started there. It only lasted about six months because he was never making any money. I said to Pop, I said, “I’ll help you out,” like during the day, “To do more work but,” I said, “I’ve got to get something so I can make money,” and I started to go out at night time to different spots where I can earn like 15
shillings, 10 shillings or 20 shillings and two or three days in the week I probably might earn about 30 shillings, go to a different spot until we make up, well we finish up making up the fare for my mother and two brothers to come out.
What was your English like when you first arrived?
English? Not too bad, because my uncles there, they used to speak English and my other cousins that were in the States, they come out here young
and they said to me, “If want to go” you know, “If you’re going to go to Australia,” said, “You’ve got to learn,” so bit rough, you know used to pick it up but most of the time I understood what they were saying, was very hard for like, talk back to them but I could understand most of the stuff they used to say to me so didn’t take me too long to pick that up.
So the English that you had when you arrived, you had gotten from family rather than
from school or anything like that?
And what sort of a boy were you at that stage? How would you describe yourself then? Were you confident? Were you a cheeky boy? How would you describe yourself?
No, I’d always had that confidence that I could do something and get somewhere and I used to like to meet up with different people that, well different people that they’d done something
or they were doing things and when I started to go out and do these odd jobs, you know, whatever I’ve done, I always took interest to find out exactly how you do this and how do you do that and I ask questions, “How do you want me to do it?” you know, “Is it right, is it wrong, is it,” all these ideas and once I started to pick up these ideas, I used to speak to it and I learned a lot and then beside,
then I got onto a chappie who lived two doors up from my father’s place and he used to be a window dresser on all these grocery shops those days there. You know they had windows and sardine tins, they’d be stacking a stack of sardine tins in the window or tomato sauce or, and every year they used to win a prize, who’s got the best window dresser, you know
which window looks the best and I used to go with this feller about two or three days in the fortnight when he used to do his window dressing and I picked up the idea of dressing these windows up and then after, when I started in Double Bay I used to do that at night time. I used to dress these windows up and I finished up winning a prize in Double Bay dressing one of these windows for the household supply and I used to do things like that all the time.
So lots of different odd jobs at that stage of your life?
Were you always doing days with your Dad in the shop?
Yes I made sure that I stayed there and helped him out with most of his work there because he used, that place that he had like coming up through the subway, in the
morning, along Devonshire Street, above where he had the shop there were all factories like David Jones, Grace Bros, all these big stores. They all had factories. They used to make all their own stuff those days and there would be the best part of about from half past six in the morning till nine o’clock, you’d get the best part of about five or six thousand people going up and down the street there and we used to get a lot of shoe repairs. They used to do ladies heels for
threepence a pair, cause they cut the prices down, was about five or six shoe repair shops. From a shilling they went to nine pence, then they went to sixpence then it went to threepence and just imagine. He used to get about a hundred and something pair of heels, lady heels a day and he’d get a hundred threepences so I used to get the work in for him, put the pegs on and he used to collect the money when the people used to come in so I made sure that I’d be there and he had to wrap them up and put the pegs on so you get a hundred threepences for ladies
heels and two and six for the half-sewn heels for the ladies and three and six for the men’s. Well just imagine. You had to do a lot of work you know to make a few bob.
So was that shop in Elizabeth just doing repairs or was he also making shoes?
No those days he was just doing repairs. Then when they started with three of them and they called themselves the Smart
Shoe, what’s the other S stand for? Smart Shoe Service and Repairs and that’s when they started to make the shoes. Once the three of them got together, they had three different type of shops in different spots and had the workshop so then they start to advertise for orthopaedic shoes and shoes made to measure.
How much later did they do that?
when my mother come out, yeah must have been about two years after I come out here.
So and that was at a time when the rest of the family were here?
Yeah and then that started like then we start to have shoe make people there, then I went to tech [Technical College] then and learnt about all shoes. The shoes, you’ve got to be able to draw them, make patterns, but them. There’s a lot involved with making shoes
not just, you’ve got to design them, you’ve got to make up the patterns, you’ve got to make the shape, the lasts then you make the pattern on the last and all that type of things.
So you started doing the tech at that stage when they got the SSS shop going?
Yeah you had to do it because unless you could do that, you could never make the shoes.
Did you find that you took to the work well and that you enjoyed that work?
Yeah because as I said
I always had an ambition like inventing things or doing things, you know. That was in my mind all the time.
You felt like you were good at doing things with your hands?
Yeah I’d always
What do you think your dream was back then as far as what you wanted to do with your life and your career?
Well back then the dream that I had, that I want to get somewhere
and to get somewhere I said to myself, “You’ve got to stick to whatever you do and do it properly,” because I even say today to the boys when they’re, “If you want to get somewhere, whenever you do something, you’ve got to do it so you get a name for yourself. Once you get a name for yourself,” I said, “You’ve got it made because you haven’t got to chase anything because they’ll be looking for you,” and that’s what happened to me and my brother when we went up the shop. We never had
an ad in the paper, TV or nothing. It’s just mouth to mouth business that we built up the business and we had people come from everywhere, just for the way we used to do things and the way we used to treat people.
Did you find that it didn’t take long for you to adjust to Australia, to feel like you were at home?
No it didn’t take me long because I didn’t
have any sort of a feeling that I was never one of them. I had that feeling that if anything went wrong, I could stand up to them so I found out what the Australians, if you give up to whatever they want to do with you, you’ve had it. You’ve got to be able to stand up with them and fight for it and once you get there, you’re on the top.
It works that way and it did work that way with me and some of my friends and mates that I knew.
In those early days, was it a priority for you to do whatever you could to be Australian, to blend in, to do things that Australians were meant to do?
Yeah I did. I’ve always done the, what should I say? I’d always done what
the Australian boy done. If, you know he go in the water for a swim, I’d go in the water. You go and play football, I used to play football. Play cricket, I’d be playing cricket. Whatever they, I just got blend in with them then do exactly the same as what the kids done and it wasn’t very hard to do because if you, as I said, if you give back, you never get into that sort of a situation where you’re in with the boys.
You miss all that and once you miss it, it’s hard, like you know this feller doesn’t like me, that feller, it’s not the case. You’ve got to be in it with them so you can do whatever you want to do and once you’re there, they won’t stop you because you get the idea and then they get involved with you exactly the same. Most of those boys I used to, like going to school or playing football or cricket or stuff like that,
they used to take them home with me. We’d have dinner. We’d head out. We had all those things here together and they didn’t know if it was an Italian or Australian. It didn’t make any difference but you had to be involved, be in it with them.
So you made friends with the locals quite quickly?
Yes no problem, I didn’t.
And did you also pick up some Italian friends?
Yes there were some Italian friends that they used to live in Devonshire Street, Elizabeth Street that their father had business or shops exactly the same way
but they seemed to have that mind that I had, you know because if they never had it that way, I used to have nothing to do with them much because, you know I’d just say, “Right,” because a lot of them, they more or less, what should I say? “Don’t go here because it costs you money, don’t spend that because you,” see that feeling which I never had because where if I had sixpence in my pocket and we want to go to the Quay, well we go there.
We want to buy an ice cream, we just go out and do that type of things there and I’ve been that way all the time. Even when my kids grow up, I never stop them. I encourage them to do those things there because I knew what it felt like those days there and to be in it, you, well to be in it, you’ve got to do most of the stuff otherwise you get left out
Did you ever miss home?
Yes I missed my grandmother mostly because I grew up with my grandmother. I used to sleep with her. We had a two storey house and I used to sleep with my grandmother, as a young kid. She used to cook me breakfast, do everything for me and after my mother come out here, I wanted to bring
her out here because then I had the shop, making money, wasting money here and there, could have done, and when my mother died, then I just left, you know, “What’s the use of bringing my grandmother here?” My mother isn’t here. We had no women because we had all boys and they just, and I lost all and when I was 14, she heard that my mother passed away the poor thing, she only lasted about six, seven months after
and that was pretty hard task to take, you know and well things that happens in life and after you, you know you got through as a kid, life went, your grandmother especially and your mother and stuff like that and then that happens, that really puts you back a bit, you know and
that’s the way I took life in a different way because it probably, if my mother would have been alive when I opened up that business in Randwick and all that there, I could have probably been sitting on the top of the world but being the younger, my other two brothers for them to grow up and they stay in the business with me there, we’re only thinking about having good times, go out here and there doing this type of things.
So you think if Mum was still around you would have been a bit more responsible?
it would have made all the difference. Instead of spending a hundred pound a week, I could have said to my mother, “Here’s 50 pound, you save it, I’ll spend 50,” but with your father, you know you agree to a lot of stuff and half the other stuff, it’s different. Your father, “Don’t do this, don’t do that.” You know, you either go against it or you do it.
So when you did
stop going to school in Australia?
Six months after I come out.
Was that, did that feel alright? You weren’t upset that you were leaving school?
I was upset, my word I was upset but what could you do? It’s one of those, either stop going to school and go and get like make the fare for my mother and brothers to come out or I would have probably went back because I said to my father straight out. I said, “If my mother doesn’t come out” I said, “I’ll go back,”
and so my father started, you know to tighten up a bit and work a bit harder so we worked it out till we like made the fare up but it didn’t, you know didn’t, that age was a very hard situation to make up your mind and know exactly what to do but then when my mother come out and we opened up that shop, well actually my mother was dead
even before I opened the shop up because she, in those days there I used to make in that shop, we used to make around the best part of about a hundred to 200, 150, 200 pounds of profit a week and because I was upset and losing my mother and, you know I was up the air a bit, didn’t matter if I made 200 pounds of profit a week. I’d go out and spend them.
I brought a car, brought, you know things that you should never do, when you’re young but you do silly things until you start to realise it. Then when I stopped and started realising I was wasting all this money and getting nowhere. That’s when the young brother and I, we started to, we brought this shop in Parramatta Road, where we were there all these years, and we started building it up. We had up
to about seven, eight people working in the shop all the time and then we used to make, we started to produce little children’s shoes, the Italian style children’s shoes. When the first, after the war finished, because you couldn’t buy little Italian, mostly Italians come out here then and they wanted these little pointed shoes made up and so we started to make them here and we made them for a long time.
We’ll go into that part of your life in a while. During that time that the two years after you got here and up until Mum and the rest of the family got here, what were some of the other jobs that you would do? I believe one of them, you were working at Central Station?
Can you tell us about that job?
Yeah at the Central Station,
that’s when I was working in this milk bar at the Central Station. The milk bar that was, his name was Weaver. It was an Italian chap that owned it and then he got sick and he got me to manage the shop there for him until he got better and that’s when I started to get most of the experience in working in these shops so when he got back up,
he cured himself up and got back to the shop and he seen that I was doing as good in the shop than what he was doing and probably might have been a bit better because I used to work a bit harder and work long time than what he did so I, every week and I used to fill out a book for him how much I’d made and what I spend and all this type of things. When he come back, all the profit that I made, he gave me all the profit that I made, to keep.
That’s when I started to put this money away and brought, when we brought the shop at [UNCLEAR] when we started that shop there so this work see then I went to Double Bay afterwards from that shop, having the experience there and I started there. Then with the experience I had there, the household supply shop, he got me in charge. Well I was in charge when he went away for a holiday. I was only young and
he said to me, he said, “I can’t trust anybody,” he said, “but I’ll trust you. Come up and live with my wife and the kids and,” he said, “You can open up the shop in the morning,” and then I made a good bit of money there.
How old were you then?
It was just, not even 18, cause the war wasn’t finished so in between then, then that’s when I got called up.
That was there.
OK before we go into that, so Mum and the rest of the family arrived after two years?
Then how long was it till Mum passed away?
The year after they were here cause she got pregnant. That’s the time. A year after so actually I only seen my mother might have been 12
And you were how old?
Then? 16 when my mother come out, 17.
And did it take a long time for Dad to get over Mum passing away?
He never got over it, the poor fellow never got over it. When my mother passed away, my younger brother there and the other brother, they used to look after the shop and the poor feller.
He used to stand on the entrance of the door, you know with his shoulder lying there, always looking really downhearted. He would never, he never used to be like that that but when she passed, and he never remarried. He just, I said to him, “Why don’t you get married?” “Oh no,” he said, “I’ve got three kids,” he said, “If I get another woman, you three young kids like you boys,” he said, “I’ll probably never got on with her because you’d be having arguments all the time,”
so the poor old feller never got married.
Did that put a lot of extra responsibility on you to look after your brothers?
Of course, yes it did, until they got a bit older and they started to understand. I used to talk to them all the time and used to talk to them and tell them exactly what goes on and what happens and they used to stick with my father, because sometimes they’d go out to work outside at night. They used to be home all the time and
they stuck working with him and looked after him, then they
Interviewee: Raffaele Panucci Archive ID 1359 Tape 03
Ralph can you tell us what it was like when your mother came out with your brothers, how did life change for you?
Well I’m going to, when my mother come out, the poor thing. She could not speak much at all. She used to understand the little bits when we used to muck around with her but you couldn’t go to a shop and do her shopping or go to a butcher shop
and buy meat or buy fruit or whatever she wanted to do. She couldn’t go out and buy a frock so any stuff and I had to go with her, you know cause my brothers. They were exactly the same. They could just understand a little bit, being young, but they didn’t take too long to pick it up and that was a little bit hard. For the first 12 months, was really hard and they liked the country. They
didn’t say, “I don’t like Australia.” No, they seen me, what I’d done while in the short period that I was here and then I used to take them out to different places and show what, you know goes on and what’s, you know how these people live, what they do and what they don’t do and they really took onto it.
Where would you take them?
Say the first I used I take them to
picture show, circus or different places, La Perouse or down the Circular Quay or Manly or places like this here, you know where they could see future things that really goes on and what this country’s got. They were happy.
What was Sydney like back then?
I used to go to a place in, down at Woolloomooloo
near the wharf there, used to be the wharf that the edge of Hyde Park right down the bottom there and my father had friends where they used to play bocce. You know the bocce, they used to have ground we used to play. We used to love to play bocce and he used to stay there late at night so I’d go down with some of my mates. We used to go to Hyde Park playing football then
I’d go and pick him up and we’d walk home from there through Hyde Park and if I say to you going through Hyde Park at night time, was no lights in there, people used to sleep in the park, wrapped up in newspaper, asleep on the seats and you had to be careful where you were going. Getting out of the Hyde Park would take you about half an hour to walk through, you can’t see a damn thing.
And this is in the 1930’s in the Depression years?
Then coming out Hyde Park, all the buildings that you see there now, wasn’t even one tall building there, all the old type of buildings. This happened after the war when all the Italians started to come out and Yugoslavs. They’re the people that put most of those buildings up.
The tall buildings, which?
All those tall buildings yeah, that’s when they started and most of the roads they were all rough.
When my father first come out here, they used to put all these, all the drains right along George Street, right along. There were I don’t know how many feet down, they’d have been 10 or 12 feet underground and they used to call them the ditch work and unless you were strong enough with the shovel to push the dirt up on the streets from down there, you’d never got a job because a lot of people used to
and then there’s a lot of like Italians and people like this started to do this type of work, all that ditch work there and it was really hard but you couldn’t, those days was just, Sydney was just like a big town, with trams in them. The trams were going up Devonshire Street, come up Elizabeth Street, up to Devonshire Street and then
up past Elizabeth Street again and then it was trams like George Street, Pitt Street, going out to different suburbs and really trams were really rough, you know and as kids we used to scale the trams. We used to get on the other side. We used to go down the Quay so we would not pay any fares because most of the kids used to do that type of things. You get caught you get into trouble so you’d be jumping the trams up and down until you get,
bit of fun doing it but we used to do it.
How did your Mum find the food out here because she would have been used to cooking Italian food?
The food wasn’t too bad, because to get continental food was pretty hard but was a lot of, two or three Italian shops that had been here for donkey’s years and the Greek shops and they used to import most this continental stuff like
pastas, any cheeses from there, salami, all these, any like the continental idea. There was a few shops where you could buy it.
Whereabouts in Sydney were those shops?
There used to be one in Campbell Street. It was the Colossi, Colossi Shops. They were there for a long time then there was a Greek shop down in
Riley Street at Woolloomooloo. He was there for a long time bringing all this stuff out and there was another shop near the markets, Ricardo’s. They were bringing all this stuff here so there wasn’t that much problem like getting stuff like that there. Then my mother used to, she was pretty good on making like tomato sauces. She used to make like tomato,
they used to make their own tomato sauces. The only thing that was hard to get was olive oil but they used to bring it in drums and buy it by the gallons, you know but as far as vegetables, there was plenty of fruit and vegetables here, which most of the Italians eat fruit and vegies. There was a lot of, no broccoli those days. They didn’t know what broccoli looked like. When they used to sell them in Double Bay when I was in Double Bay, we had all this continental stuff there, when I used to work
for this Giuliano. A lot of people used to pick them up and think they were flowers, you know, broccoli. “No,” I said, “You cook them,” and little zucchinis, you know the little fine marrows, they didn’t even know what you do with those zucchini there. What else did we have? All these continental things that, most of the people didn’t know it because they never seen it before.
Did the Australians, British descendant Australians
did they buy those kind of vegetables?
No, once you teach them, most of the people in Double Bay, those days there, most of the consulate like Italian Consul, South American Consul, German Consul, they all used to live in Double Bay for some reason or another, then mostly Jewish people used to live around Double Bay for years and years because
something I want to tell you. Before the war broke out, as I said to you, I was in Double Bay doing the household supplying work and for this Giuliano feller at night time, all of a sudden, for some reason or another, the estate agents there, Dibbs Brothers I think the name of the estate agent, they started to put all these, like they call them units now. Those days they call them flats, four or five storey flats and no-one in them and six months before the war broke
you couldn’t get a unit or flat. They were all packed. It was about three months before the war broke out. They come here and most of them were Jewish related people. Then I got to know them because then they used to come into the shop and start to buy stuff and what they’d done, they want all the people that Hitler that time there used to hate the Jews
and they’re trying, they had a lot of money, they had a lot of gold and silver and they couldn’t get money so they used to buy gold and silver and when they come out they were packed with jewellery and all this stuff and they were trying to sell them here in the meantime. You know to, after you get to know them and they tell you, “Do you know anybody wants to buy this?” You know. They used to have vests full of them stuff. That went on until I got picked up for the army, until I got called up. I got to know most of these people here and, as I said,
I don’t know how many thousands of people must have come out because all those units that they built, they all got packed up in about three months before the war started.
So the real estate agents who were, who was actually building these houses for?
The estate agents, these people here. I think they were under, somehow related with the Jewish people.
So it wasn’t a government, it wasn’t organised by the government?
No not at all. Private, all privately done yeah.
And the Jewish people that you made friends with, were they mainly from Austria and Germany or?
No a lot of them come out from England because what they done, they got there to England to begin with and then because they come to Australia, they had to be under the English law to come out to Australia otherwise they weren’t allowed, so they come direct from England here.
So they would live in England for a little while before they came out here?
Yeah, you know, they had a lot of contacts. Those days, as I said, it’s who you
knew and how to do it. That’s how you got away from a lot of these things here.
Did you have many Australian or British descendant friends, British, Scottish or Anglo-Saxon friends when you were growing up here before the war, or were they mainly Italians and things from Europe?
No I had a lot of English friends yeah. When we used to go out dancing and stuff like this here, I had all these
people that, Peacock, the Hancock, the Smith, a lot of people, kids that I started school with there that we used to go and play football or cricket and stuff like this here when I had time. No I met up with a lot of, no, because it wasn’t that many Italians where we used to, in Elizabeth Street where we were. There must have been three or families round there but most of them were Australian, English
and when I started to go, got older and we started to go and do this, go down to the Trocadero and dance and stuff, that’s the time I met up with a lot of Italians and Greeks and people like this here.
Can you tell us a little bit about the Trocadero?
Well I used to go to, you know I used to go and get private lessons for ballroom dancing
and I used to go to a place in Pitt Street. What was the name? Ron Doyle’s in Pitt Street. We used to go to this place at night and do a couple of hours of lessons until, you know you got to the idea of doing the quickstep, foxtrot, all these type of dances until, you know we really got to know and then all this jitterbugging come in
and then we learned about that and we used to go to all these competitions.
The Trocadero was a club was it?
No it was a big dance. They had a revolving stage where they had two bands and they used to go on all the time. You know where the Trocadero used to be? You know where Regent Theatre is up the corner of George Street, before you get to the Town Hall. The Trocadero was in there, used to be right out the back, really big joint.
Then they used to have a competition dance on the Saturday afternoons or ballroom dancing. That’s where I met up with most of these people I used to make the ballroom shoes.
And you were going to the Trocadero before the war started?
No, after the war.
OK well we’ll take you back to just before the war. How was your father when your mother arrived? Did that,
was he a different man perhaps having his wife with him again?
Well, when my mother come out, because he hadn’t seen my mother for nearly 10 years, it was a bit strange, poor fellow. He didn’t know, you know how my mother takes it because, as I said, my mother was one of these type of woman that would never do anything wrong and she was a very pleasant type of woman and she understood more or less what my father
went through, all the work that he’d done and he could never make enough money for her to come out and it’s only because he didn’t want her to come out. It’s only because he never, well he would never make up to that point where he saved up the money they can come out, the whole family see. Then someone said to him, “Why don’t you bring your son out first and then try to bring another one at a time,” stuff like this, here you see and that’s how he started but when
my mother come out she was really confused. She said to me, said, “You know, if it wasn’t for you being here,” she said, “I would never come out.” That’s how she felt. Only because I used to write to her and tell her exactly what went on and how Pop was doing and what he was trying to do and, you know, she started to get a bit of confidence because back in Italy there,
my grandmother, she was pretty well off and really didn’t suffer anything. You know, they had everything that they wanted and she used to live with my grandmother and the two brothers. As I said, we had a two storey house and my grandmother lived downstairs and my mother used to live upstairs.
That must have been a big weight on your shoulders to have your mother come out here and to know that she was going to be happy or?
Just imagine, after, well I missed her for two years
and having her coming out, I was just jumping out of my skin. Just think yourself, you know that after so many years, after 10 years that my father never seen my mother and me for two years and having her to come out with the two brothers. It was a shock to the system and, you know when she arrived
the poor thing, she would never let, she just hugged me and that went on for half an hour, until she, you know got herself together. It was really a shock for her and after that
she come on, you know pretty good and then she got pregnant and poor thing, she lost her life and there’s not much, what can you do? I’d done my best. Then the brothers were young, then they come on and the two things in a different world than what I did because
you know, when you’re young you don’t think much about what happen to the past, like I did, since I was four years older than the first one and six years older than my second one and they were pretty good, like we grew up together the whole three of us. With the young one we had the shop together for many
years but the second one, he didn’t want to be in the shoe trade. He worked more or less in a different type of business, like fruit, having grocery shops, mixed business shops. He done all that type of things but with the young one, we stuck more together because he liked the shoes, and we had the shoes. Then when I had the shop at Randwick I had the two of them with me there. We sort of got into sort of a group.
With what we’d done, we’d done it together and we knew what we wanted to do see.
So how was it that you came to be naturalised? Do you remember when that happened?
Yes that happened just after the war finished.
After the war finished?
So before the war actually started, when did you actually go to enlist?
Well I would have been naturalised with no problem
as I said to you before, cause when you come here under age those days there, you become under 12 I think it was, 12 was the, you become an Australian citizen cause you’re under age.
But that didn’t happen to you automatically?
That didn’t happen no. They had to put in application to become naturalised.
When the war finished you had to do that?
So leading up to the war, can you tell us
how you, the events that led to you being called up for national service?
When I got called up? Well the war broke, you know and I wasn’t 18 then. I was just under 18. You could only get called up after you finish 18 years of age
and then I was doing, still with my father helping my father. Then, as I said to you, at night time they opened up this glasswork place where we used to do 24 hours work a day and they used to, I got a job there from seven in the night till seven in the morning.
What were you doing there?
They had all these machines where, those days you couldn’t get cups or glasses so and they used to cut teacups. They used to make them out of glass and we
used to do that. I used to make, they had the moulds with these machines and there was a young chap that I knew there, that he used to do this work at night time. He said, “Why don’t you come over?” He said, “I’ll get you a job at the glassworks.” I said, “You sure?” “Yeah, come over,” and he spoke to the chap in charge and I got a job and used to go together with this feller, used to be, used to call him Baby Face, used to live at Bondi. He was an Australian feller and I stayed there for a while
until I got, you know was thinking about getting a fare made up for get my mother out and all that type of thing. This was just before the war broke out and then when the war started I was, that night that started, I said to you, when we had that Japanese submarine under the bridge, was just going on for a while there, and then when we come out of the glassworks, everyone,
everything was quiet in Sydney, no noise or nothing and we heard the news that they found a one man submarine under the bridge and he let, don’t know if he let a bomb out or whatever he’d done.
This was after the war had actually started in 1939 though?
Yeah, after yeah. That was after but during that time the submarine, it was during the war, it wasn’t during the wartime
when the sub, because the submarine come in before the Japanese, that started before that, the war started. That’s when they come in but that time there was working with this chappie at the glassworks there and at night time, blackout. You’re not allowed to have any lights anywhere. If you driven a car you had to have what they call the
flicker lights, just a little light like a candlelight to face the ground, not so you can so no lights outside. What else? And household, you had to have all your curtains down and you were only allowed to, because electricity was on, you were only allowed to have one light at a time in the house. That was just about it and
we had food ration.
This is how Sydney changed when war started in 1939?
Yes food ration and you get little tags, you know to go and buy so much sugar, so much tea, so much stuff like this. That was on all the time, butter, milk and so much allowance for all these type of things here
so what else you want to know, tell me?
Did the mood of Sydney change, did you notice a big change in the mood of the city of Sydney after the war started? Was it a very different place to live in?
Yes, everything changed because people, they didn’t know what really war meant
and when things started to happen, everything like everybody in a sort of a way, they changed to be more friendly, to be more together, to do that type of things cause until then, you know, “Who’s going to worry about it? Who’s going to come here? Who’s going to do this?” Nobody, but when things started to, you know get heated up that’s when everybody started to be different too
and we never had too much trouble during that war period.
Was it, for you was it, coming from Europe, were you a little bit more used to big changes like this or I mean was this all new to you as well, having rations and having to turn off the lights and?
No I knew it because when these people come over before the war started, in Double Bay, they come out from England
there, they used to come in the shop when I was in this household supply and the first thing they’d turn around and say, “Can we buy whatever they want to buy?” I said, “Well, yeah, you can buy it.” I said, “What for?” They said, “In England, everything’s rationed. We had to have coupons.” I said, “Here, you can buy anything.” Until then, but then once the war started here, that we started to send then because they used to
most of stuff, foodstuff from here used to go to England and then they started to ration the stuff here because England had to, they had to send so much there and then they started to ration here, but up until then, until the war really broke out, we had all this rhythm here and as I said, as you said, I was used to this rationing. Talking to these people here, coming out from England, I already knew that they had ration there about all this stuff here.
How did work in the grocery store in Double Bay change when the war started?
Like that you lost a friend and we had no freedom anymore. You couldn’t buy what you wanted to do. You could never done all the things that we used to do.
Can you give us some examples?
Yeah an example, it’s like you come in to me. The Fairfax people [owners of the Sydney Morning Herald] would ring up.
They used to live in Fairfax Road and they give you an order, might be a 40 or 50 pound order, you know those days was a big order and they ring up and want, “No, you can’t have this, you can’t have that, you can’t have the other because it’s rationed. You’ve got to have your card. The only stuff you can buy is this, that and that,” and that’s how it all begun.
So it didn’t matter if you were rich or poor?
No it didn’t matter no, money there didn’t come into it unless they seen someone on the side and buy the stuff
crook, you know like buy on the black market, but when it come to the shop, they had to have a ration card because then we had control how much stuff we get in, how much coupon we had and that’s what we can buy. It’s all done up legalised, you know all through the system with the coupons.
Who was controlling that?
Here, the State Government.
The State Government?
And did some of these people that were used to getting what they wanted and buying what they wanted,
did they give you trouble?
Yeah like doesn’t make any difference how much you paid for it. You just can’t get it. They offer you more money, you know cause they said, “It cost more to get it, does it?” I said, “No.” That’s one I escaped because you had to, as I said, until the stock that we had lasted, then you give it to these people here because they were good customers, but once that stock finished that you had account for everything that you get and everything
that you sold, then you had to stop it and they didn’t like it too much.
Was there much of a black market going on at the time?
Yes if you, a lot of smart people made a lot of money with the black market, petrol, food. You had to be a crook so if you were a crook, you know you buy stuff, put it on the side or even people
can get stuff. They could have said, “I sold it,” and they never used to sell it in the shop. They sell it somewhere else.
But your boss was a cleanskin?
No well they were in business for too long so they couldn’t lose their reputations or their names because those businesses, they were worth a fortune those days yep and then that war started, once the war started here
that most of the, as I said to you, those people through jealousy they got put in internment camp, they shut them up and they lost most the stuff that they had, you know all those people there. After they worked their life out, getting up to that position, then they lose, they say, “You come with me, shut your shop up,” and that happened to a lot of people.
We’ll talk about that
later. I just wanted to know how you went when you heard the news that Australia was at war, what, how did that actually make you feel?
Well just imagine it. Like when you hear this type of news and the war broke out and you don’t know where you’re going to finish up. That really tenses you up and so, “What am I to do,” you know and when my father
had the shop there and my two young brothers were there and called me up for the army and they never come up with the army idea and they put us in this labour corps, the Australian Labour Corps there, the Australian army labour corps, I said to myself, “I go here and they’ll probably finish up interning my father,” because, you know that used to happen every minute of the day.
So that was happening as soon as the war
started, they were interning Europeans?
Yeah so my father was lucky enough. He was friends with all the people and he never got interned and never got put in anywhere. He was free.
So how were you to get interned, only if someone, your neighbour dobbed you in?
Only people, that once they really got interned, if you belonged to any parties like the Fascist, Nazis,
Communist, any party like belong to a certain, the Italian or Germans where they were come to against England and America there, if you belonged to anything like that, then they’d just come and pick you up and put you in. Then the other way was people that didn’t like you much and they say, “You belong to whatever party it might have been,” Mussolini’s, Hitler’s or whatever case
it could be, so they just come, no question asked. “You so and so? Right, pack your bags and we’ll take you.”
They didn’t need to provide proof?
No proof, nothing no. They just come and take you. That’s what happened to most of them that they got interned.
So the Government didn’t go and pick everyone up, only the people that had been reported?
That’s it. If you belonged to any of those societies well they’d put you in because they used to go through the ledgers, the books, the members that were belonging to this
people here and they used to come in and pick you up but then most of them, they got put in through other jealousy. People report them, put them in that, “They belong to here, they belong there, they do this, they do that,” which, as I said to you, they had no proof but they never used to check it. See once you put me in, they’d just come. You must have a reason so that’s all they believed in, come and pick me up and out I go.
So your boss at the grocery store in Double Bay, Anthony Giuliano was it?
He was interned?
Yeah he was a German descent.
And how was he interned? Did someone, did his neighbours dob him in?
Well they must because he didn’t know it till when he come out but someone there, even in Double Bay, they were jealous because, as I said, he had a business, would have been worth a fortune, selling
all the liquors, all the continental food, he had the place, one of these places was just like say David Jones in grocery idea. Those days there, had a really big name there and the same as this Anthony Giuliano with the fruit there. He was the leading fruitologist in Double Bay and the poor bludger. He just got put in for that reason because a doctor didn’t like him. He never, cause he had five kids and he never used to go to the doctor.
This doctor used to live three doors out from him and this doctor that he used to go to ever since his kids were born was about another street away and because he didn’t used to go to him, he dobbed him in. He belonged to the Fascismo Club.
The what club?
Fascist and that, he belonged to the Mussolini Youth Club. They had a few different type of clubs there and he didn’t know the meaning of these places there because he come out
when he was a young feller.
What happened to his grocery store when he left, when he was taken away?
They all got closed up.
Got closed up?
Yeah and this feller, Anthony Giuliano, “Pack your bags,” and then some smarty people open them up again or brought them out. The feller from Giuliano, the grocer’s wife said to me, “Why don’t you keep it going?” I said, “I can’t keep it going” I said, “Because they’re calling me up in the army when this labour corps started,” I said, “I won’t be here,” and I said,
“I know a few people,” there’s another Italian fellow, that they were born here and they were a few cooks in the markets there. They finished up buying that shop for 750 pounds and the shop, he had a fridge and what else he had there? Freezers there. They would have cost him those days about two or three thousand pounds, brand new and she had to give the whole thing
away for 750 pounds, heartbreaking and she had five kids, the poor thing.
So they lost their fortune?
Yeah they lost everything and he was in there until he put in applications but as I said to you, no-one used to listen to it. He had to stay there until the war finished.
Where was he taken to?
Where is that?
Hay it’s up near in between Victoria and New South Wales. They had two or three different camps. I just can’t think but he was in the Hay one.
Tell us how you came to be in the Australian Labour Corps? Can you tell us how all that happened, how you actually came to be there?
The Australian Labour Corps? Well we really didn’t know that they’d started for some reason or another. I think what happened there,
when they called us for the medical to go and join, for us to be called up in the army, they must have checked back or whatever they done checking and because these people was missing in this mine, like the pine plantations and the Banana Growers’ Federation had all these people missing there and they worked it out. They said, “Instead of putting these people in the army, we’ll put them to do labour work,” but we never, ever got an explanation.
So you were only put with young Italian people?
Yeah Italian people and then there, once we went there then they brought about six or seven people who were married here, with families. They come with us in Canberra but first was all the young ones. We went up there and then the week after we found these other married people come there at the same camp.
So how many of you was there altogether?
So when you found out that this was what was going to happen, you were going to the Australian Labour Corps, how did you go and tell your family that? What did you tell them? Where did you tell them you were going to go?
Nowhere because what they’d done, they’d come home where we were living there and they give you this notice that you are now Australian Labour Corps so we had to just, and then when they said, “You’ve got to wait until we
find out the destination where you’ve got to go,” and they tell us to go to Central Railway Station at such and such a time, that we’re going to Canberra.
So what happened to your jobs that you had at the time?
Lose them. There’s nothing, they didn’t worry about nothing. Once they said, “You’ve got to go,” you’ve got to go otherwise if you refuse, they put you in gaol.
When you were called up for national service, did you think you were going to be called up to go and fight over in Singapore or in?
Yes I did
and actually that’s a time I was in two minds, if I had to go there or not.
Yeah because the reason why because they were interning, when the, you know when I was there they interned this fellow that had the shop, then took the fellow had the grocery shop. I said, “This could happen to my own father, too, and I’ve got to be out there fighting someone who I don’t know and my father’s in interment camp.” That really got you upset and thinking about it.
If they’d asked you to be in the army, what would you have done?
Well it didn’t happen like to be in the army. If I did happen to be in the army, I really wouldn’t know, to tell you the truth, what I would have done. I probably would have refused to go overseas to fight.
Cause you didn’t want to fight a war for people who were?
No actually no. I would have turned around and changed
the religion and been a Jehovah’s Witness because those days there, all the Jehovah’s Witnesses, none of them went to war. They all went to gaol. They all went to gaol because I met a few when I was in Goulburn Gaol and they used to refuse even a blood transfusion from anyone else. They used to say to the people there, “we’d rather die than have a blood transfusion.” That was, they believed in their religion
but, and the reason that I didn’t want to fight against anybody, didn’t want to hurt anybody, didn’t want to go to war.
How did the other Italians that you went to the labour corps with in Canberra, did they feel the same way as you?
Probably a lot worse than what I did, exactly the same reasons. They were all young kids. They were all, some of them come here at the age of three or four, six.
So when you were taken, you went to
Central Railway, what happened next?
From Central, we went up and caught the train. The fellers there waiting for us to go there, right, they had all the tickets booked out for Canberra. They put us in the special train and we all went to Canberra.
Did they tell you what was going to happen to you?
Did they tell you why you were there?
No we knew nothing about it.
Did you know anything about Canberra?
No only that Canberra was
there but I didn’t know what was going on in Canberra. When we got there, there was only a main street where the railway station is and a few little shops here and there.
And who was in charge of you?
From here, the what’s a name? The security authorities. Either police force or from the, one, done by Darling Police Station. They had the special security men
dressed up in plain clothes and they used to come and pick you up, then when we got to Canberra we met up with these what’s his name? Major Pryor there and he took us, was a truck waiting there. We got onto this tabletop truck and took us to the camp, to the pine forestry. There the tents already put up there with stretchers, we just
camped. We knew nothing about this area, were never told we were going to go in a camp or anything and then we had no water there. We had to go and pick up our own water out of the holes, water holes behind it. No showers, no toilets, nothing. Something we didn’t know and until we got used to it, it took us a few weeks to get used to that idea.
Interviewee: Raffaele Panucci Archive ID 1359 Tape 04
So we’ve just started to talk about your experience on the army labour corps, Ralph. You were about 18 at that stage were you?
So we’re talking 1941 is that correct?
Yep that’s it.
So you were aware at that stage that you were probably going to end up being involved the war somehow. You were assuming it was probably going to be the army?
When you finally did get this letter telling you that it was going to be the labour corps, did you also find out that other blokes you knew got a similar letter? Did you end up going along with people you already knew or they were all strangers?
These two particular chaps that I’ve known, like we used to go out here and there together, we the three of us
got called up for the army checkout [medical examination], you know so when we all got these notices that we got to go to the army labour corps, we just got in touch with one another, “You hear about this?” and we really didn’t know what this army labour corps meant. We knew that we had to work somewhere under the army system so a week after we got the notice, we
got another notice that we got to be at the Central Railway such and such a time because we finished up going to the Forestry Commission in Canberra. That’s when we found out what we, it was all about.
And what did you find out?
Well we find out what we had to do, that we had to work and we had to go to the pine forestry and if we refused, we finish up going in gaol because we’re breaking the law.
So they told you that?
Yeah it was under the army
And prior to that, had you tried to get more information about what the labour corps was all about?
No because we got a shock because we were waiting to get called up in the army.
Had you ever heard of the labour corps before?
No, never, never, no. Never heard nothing about it. I think it was something that they just started.
Did they give you an idea of what you should pack to take away?
No they said, “Take your bag with your clothes because you got to go to a pine forestry and you’re going to do forestry work,” and
Did they give you a time period?
They didn’t tell us we were going to camp there with, they just, “We’re going to be there as a army, as a soldier there. We’re going to be there working as an army,” I’ve forgotten what they used to call them there and the wages will be army
wages, treated like an army and all that type of thing.
So you were thinking that when you did get off the train at Canberra, that they’d probably be giving you uniforms and all that sort of stuff?
They give us nothing.
But you thought that that probably?
Yeah we thought were going to get everything like an army. We got nothing. We had to take all our own stuff, our own clothes, our own boots and every damn thing and just get an army pay.
So when you arrived in Canberra
what was the treatment you got when you first came in contact with the people who were there to coordinate what you were doing?
So when we got to Canberra the night, the morning because we left here at night. We got there in the morning those days. When we got there, they had a truck waiting. We got on the truck and this truck took our bags, everything, heavy
on top of the truck and we finished up in these what’s a name camp, pine forestry camp. When we got there, the chap that come out, “That’s your tent, that’s your tent.” They had all the tents lined up with the stretchers in there and that’s it. Unload your clothes, tomorrow morning you start to work.
This was Major Pryor?
Yeah Major Pryor yeah and they had the gangs there in charge. He left, when they took us there, he just left there. Then the gang, the fellow that looked after the
workers at the forestry, he took us on from there.
So you had one boss?
Yeah one boss yeah.
And he was from the forestry department was he, rather than the army?
No it wasn’t, it had nothing to do with the army. This feller, he was just like, we used to call him the ganger.
Yeah, he was in charge of us, yeah.
Do you remember what his name was?
Yep Tom Tugeneillo [?]. I think it was an Italian
Did he look Italian?
No not quite, no.
He didn’t make any mention of the fact that he had Italian heritage and you blokes were all Italians?
No never, never. We used to have a bit of a joke with him, you know.
Tease him that he was Italian?
How did he respond to that?
He used to take it. He was a bit of a, sort of a
smarty type of feller, you know, take it as a joke all the time, you know but he never used to say much because any complaint and things that we might have, he’d have to see Sergeant Pryor, “Before I can do anything or say anything.” When we tell him about the, when we found out about the strike, he had nothing to do, “I’ve got nothing to do with it. It’s up to
them. I’m only here to just show you what to do, where to go and how to do it. That’s my job. Anything else it’s got to do with your pay, your work, your uniform or your boots and shoes,” because we complain about grass and all that, “It’s got to do with them, not us.”
What was the name of the forest area that you were in?
They changed the name that many times. The Blue Range Huts, yeah. The Blue Range Huts.
How far out of Canberra would that have been?
It would be
the best part of, in the truck would be the best part of about, or car, three quarters of an hour and those days there was no way we could go to Canberra unless we had a what’s a name, a truck or car or a horse cart and stuff like this here cause it was all mountains and bush. We could go up there with a truck you’re up and down hills and
mud and if it rained, you’d never make it cause it was all sliding and red clay type of thing, you know.
So it was still a very remote, undeveloped area at that stage, Canberra?
Yes and now, you know they’ve made roads so you can go up there now because there after so many years they had it as a, they had a of lot of picnic grounds and camping grounds and stuff like this here so
then it was nothing like it.
When you were travelling there on the train with the other guys, what sort of things were you talking about on the way there?
Well what we spoke about it, because it was few of us, you know when we got beside the young fellers then was, I think when we first started was seven, 12 of us altogether, beside the young ones,
just talked about that we didn’t know where we were going or what we were going to do, no-one knew. Only when we got up to the what’s a name, to the Canberra part, when we got onto the site and this guy said, “We’re going up to the pine forestry.”
What was the mood of the blokes on the train?
Not very good.
They weren’t all, sort of what should I say? Tensed up for reason because we didn’t know where we were going or what we were going to do.
And you felt the same way?
Yeah. Well just imagine, I mean you don’t get any satisfaction, what if I tell you, “We’re going to take you there so you can do this, you can do that and that’s what the place looks like,” and we knew nothing about it.
What was the age range of the boys on the train?
Round about my age and just a little bit older and then there was other people that got onto them, not knowing, nothing to do with internees, was only people leaving here in Sydney that have got picked up with families and stuff like that, they send them up there. Some of them they had families. Some of them, they were older people and not married, around about 30, 40
and they’d pick them up and send them up there. All told we finished up round about 27.
So the group that you arrived with was a smaller group of about 12?
Yeah was only, we were the first lot there, was seven young ones and five a bit older, so 12.
So seven young as in 18 year olds you mean?
Yeah ,18 to 19, something like that.
And they were all of Italian background?
Yeah all the ones we were there with, all had Italian backgrounds.
So the ones that eventually
came later, they were older but they were still Italians?
Yeah. We had a cook there. The cook was a Yugoslav but he was of German background. That’s why he got picked up and put there.
But still as a member of the labour corps?
As a member of the labour corps, yeah he was doing the cooking.
So when you finally arrived at the forest area and you looked
around and you realised that you were going to have to camp, what reaction did that provoke in the boys?
Well the first reaction. We had no toilets, no showers, no water, no fridge to keep the food. We had to make our own fridge, a wire netting shed with these chaff bags over the top and we used to go to the waterhole
and wet them every day or couple of times a day so it keeps the stuff cooler so it doesn’t pass out.
Did they show you how to do that or you just did that yourselves?
The old feller showed, Tom. He’d been there all the time. He showed us what to do.
Were you assigned to a tent by yourself or you were sharing a tent?
Two in each tent, was all ex-army tents that they put there.
Were you the first group that had done work
in that area?
Yeah we were the first ones there.
And on arrived, did they give you any idea of how long you were going to be there doing the work?
Said nothing. The only thing he promised us he said, “You’re under army rules and the only holiday you get,” cause, as I said to you, you couldn’t go to Canberra anywhere. We were there all the time, weekends and all. He said, “The only time that you get is the Christmas holiday.” So you’ve been locked up in the whole there for seven
months, six months or whatever time we stayed there, never got anywhere, never done anything, over the weekend we made ourself little sports, hand made bocce or playing cricket or playing stuff that we made up, our own games or playing cards.
Did you have the full weekend off?
Yeah, Saturday morning we used to work, then Saturday afternoon and Sunday and sometimes if there was anything to do that the
ganger said has got to be done there. We used to do it on Saturday afternoons, but no extra pay or anything because we’re on the army rules. I think the army rule come in because they didn’t want to give you any money, wages money.
Did the major give you any opportunity to ask any questions?
No he called us in and every time he come in, when we refused to work, the youngest ones were the hardest ones out of the whole lot of them
so what he done, he got himself a pen and he used to call them in one by one to find out what the older people are going to do cause the older people that they had families, they didn’t want to cause any problems or go to gaol or anything like that so when he called them in he said to us, he said, “You know all you young fellers, you’re going to get into a lot of problems. You know, under army rules you could even get shot,” so I said, “If we get shot
you’ll be the first one to get shot,” because, you know you really got your, steamed up and upset about it.
So this was at the time where you found out that you weren’t going to get that Christmas break?
Before we go further into that time, did he tell you on the very first day that he spoke to you, that you would get a Christmas break?
Yes, oh yes.
Did he give you an idea how long that break might be?
Like the holidays, two weeks, yeah
during all the holidays we were going to get, yep.
And did he tell you how much your army wage was going to be?
No just five dollars a week, whatever the army were getting or five dollars, I can’t think of it but whatever army amount, I can’t even think but of because we never, ever got any money cause we were going to get the money when we finished or when the leave was come on but we
So you didn’t know exactly
how much money they were giving you?
No actually I don’t think we got any army at all. Going to gaol we finish up, we got nothing.
So before the gaol episode came along, when you first got set up there, what sort of work were you assigned to do?
Have you ever seen a pine tree growing in the forestry? You know all the little suckers come on around the tree
there, all the individual trees, trees that you come out, you don’t want them so you’ve got to clean the suckers out and leave so many around the tree. Then all the dead trees, the individual trees that don’t belong to the pine forestry, you get rid of and if there’s any along the way, you know where they have fire breaks and all that, if there’s any trees coming up there, big trees, you just dig them out and just
roll them over so that you’ve got to clean the whole forestry out.
So you were controlling the growth of the pine forest?
Yeah, well they showed, this Tom feller showed us what to do and how to do it.
How long did that part of it take? How long did it take for him to show you the process?
It took us I reckon about two to three weeks cause then you’ve got to find out which is the best sucker to leave there, which is the one that
got to leave and all that, so every time you do, he used to come around and explain to you which works and which doesn’t work and that went on for about three weeks. After we were there three weeks then we found out, you know you never used to worry. “Righto, that’s our, today we do this side. Tomorrow we do that side,” and sometimes we’d be walking for two or three hours before we started to work. That’s how far from the camp we used to go.
Was Tom a good teacher?
Yeah he was pretty good. He knew what he was doing because he worked, he had gangs there before doing that type of work.
And was he good to you guys?
Yes, no problem with us, no. He used to muck around with us. We used to play around with him, doing this and doing that. He’d show us what to do and all that type of thing but it wasn’t his fault for us not going.
He wanted to go, where actually he went for his holidays at Christmas time see.
When you arrived there and saw what the set up was, was there any feeling amongst the blokes that maybe they might try and run away, try and escape the situation?
Even say that was in our mind, you would never have made it anywhere because you could only walk and by walking, if
you’d done that, they would have reported it straight away, because he had the phone there. “Such and such is going or missing or gone away.” They would have come out and find you with no problem so even if that, many times we thought about doing this here, but you think about it. Where can you go? We had nothing and sometimes the truck that used to bring the food up, if we had bad weather, couldn’t get there and someone would have to go and look
for stuff to eat ourselves.
Was the food army rations?
Killing birds or killing animals or whatever, you know edible stuff.
Was the food army food that they would bring out?
No they used to buy it in the shops. No they used to buy the stuff in the shops.
What sort of food would they bring out for you?
Stuff that they used to ask us, what do we want to eat, like, meats, vegetables, potatoes, all this stuff here. The cook used to
cook it there.
Did they feed you well?
Yeah, but nothing extraordinary. We all used to eat in a big mess. I’ve got the photos of the shed there where we used to eat there, all in a big sort of table, with the wooden seats and wooden, you know the proper camp, pine cut in half. You know the pine trunks, we had all
that stuff there.
So it would be quite a regular event that the truck wouldn’t make it up? Was it quite often that the truck didn’t get up there and then you had to find food for yourselves up there, was that a regular event?
Yeah every time we had bad weather, we had to go out and look for something.
So what were, tell me about some of the other things that you would find in the area to eat?
In, well the funny
thing that happened. There was a lot of possums in some of the trees there and some of the old Italians had never seen a possum before because, they used to say, “That makes a good feed.” I said, “No don’t kill that because they stink, they smell,” so we more or less go for birds. A lot of birds there, a lot of quails, cockatoos and all these things and kill the birds. We used to trap them
and this Tom had a shot, a pea, like a shotgun and I used to get on pretty well with him so I said to Tom, “Can I have your shotgun, kill a couple of birds?” He give it to me because he used to trust me so go out and shoot a few of the birds up and funny, I’ve got to tell you this. We had this young, he would have been round about 25, 30, this Peter. I shot one of these big
cockatoos in the wing and it fell so I said, “Pete,” I said, “Go behind these pine trees and get it,” and the thing was still alive so he put his hand and the cockatoo grabbed his finger and he used to call me ‘Scutpardel’. Scutpardel in English it means ‘shoemaker’, and he used to say to me “Scutpardel, quick,” he said, “the bird has got my finger and won’t let go.” He had grabbed hold of his finger so I had to grab him by
the wings to open his mouth up and take the bird out of his finger but we done that, used to do that pretty often and sometime we’d go out a long way like, as I said to you, walking about a couple of hours before we got to the job, the place where we had to work and it started raining and we had nowhere we can shelter or do anything and we get under these pine trees
and we couldn’t eat or even drink because the waterhole, we used to have waterbags, when you finish your waterbags, we had two chaps going with the waterbags and they’d fill them up in the waterholes and sometimes he used to get lost because water was only in special parts where we were and that was a bit of fun and we done that all the time we were there.
So was there any
fresh running water around the place?
No, we had a creek. Where we were camping we had a creek running down there and we made a waterhole with rocks around so we used to dive in in the hole on a hot day and come out.
That’s where you’d get most of your water from?
From that creek?
How clean was that water? Was it clean water?
Yeah wasn’t too bad. We used to make little pots here and there. We used to pick up the water from there
and to have a shower we’d do exactly the same, get a bucket full of water there and bring it up to the shower recess. We had a big drum with holes in, with a plug in and we used to tip the water in there, get underneath and pull the plug out and have a wash underneath there. Then the toilets were exactly the same but the toilets were, a few of the boys, a few of the older people that they, you know they weren’t used to those type of things so we used to
dress up when this, the older ones used to go on the toilets, we used to put a white sheet all over our head and our body and go behind the toilet doors. Soon as they come in the toilet, we’d get out and frighten them. They used to run for their lives until we’d make out that we were behind. They thought it was a ghost behind. It wasn’t a bloody
ghost. See some of those people they’ve never been to places like this here. As kids we used to go out camping and get used to these ideas but what some of these older people, they’d never been to places like this here and they really, they found it hard to get used to the idea.
How old were some of those older people?
40, 50. Between 35 to 50 even might have been 50 some of them.
How did the older blokes cope with
the hard work?
As I said to you, they’ve never been there before. They’re used to shop life. You know stuff like this here, nothing up and down hills and all this. It was really too much for them. They could never, ever make it if they had been there by themselves. It’s only because they had company and we had joking and mucking around all the time and that’s really, you know got into the idea.
So you younger blokes went out of your way to help them?
Encourage them yep, then we had about four or five ladies’ hairdressers, just imagine ladies’ hairdressers all their life, come and do bloody, was a joke and we had a tailor. We had two tailors and they had a couple of cooks I think too. They were doing these type of things here.
But they were all male?
Yep but to them it doesn’t make any difference. You know, so long as they get the people to do the work for them. That’s all they wanted.
Did Tom show you how to make the toilets or did he have the toilets there already?
No the toilets were there already. They’d already dug then the hole in the ground and toilet over the top and all that type of things that stuff there.
Then you had to be careful because there was a lot of snakes around in hot weather up there too and near the creek because they were looking for water. There was snakes around there all the time and some of those people they’d never seen a snake and the poor cows. They were too frightened even to go anywhere near it unless they had company with them.
What sort of snakes were around there?
We had a lot of black with the red belly.
We had what’s a name, the popular one? Tiger snakes and there’s another one. They used to call it the baby eyed, big head with the little pokey eyes. They’re really short and a really short, thick snake.
And did you ever have any problems with those snakes?
No not problems cause was too many of us and, you know you frighten them away but if you’re there by yourself
and then you frightened a bit, you know, you have problem and if you go sometimes to the toilet and the snakes are near there, you know you don’t feel like going to the toilets. Just imagine, you know the older people felt it a bit hard not to do those type of things.
You mentioned the fact that you would sometimes trap birds to eat?
What sort of traps would you make?
There’s a little trap
that we used to make, we used to have a lot of cages where the food used to come in the way there. What we used to do, we close the end up and lift to make a door there with a spring, with a wire attached with the food at the end so you pick the food out and the door shuts and we used to trap them out that way. Live birds we used to get in the trap.
Was there any plants, any greenery in the area that you could also eat for vegetables?
Nothing, nothing at all there, nothing. The only thing, if we did go to the waterholes which one was a few miles away there from, was a big sort of a lake underneath of it and you could go there and do a bit of freshwater fishing like freshwater mullet, catfish
that type of things, nothing extraordinary.
But you had a bit of success catching fish every now and then?
Yeah but it was a long way from our camp. You know when we used to go there, wasn’t too bad. You’d be walking for a couple of hours to get to this joint here, yep.
So Ralph, what would a typical day when you were doing that sort of work, how would that run, from the time that you woke up in the
morning, what would you do?
You wake up in the morning, you have your breakfast. The cook used to cook the breakfast. We had our breakfast. The people would do the packing for the lunch because used to cut the lunch there and each one used to carry whatever the case might be and we keep on walking until we get to the job. Once we got to the job, Tom say, “Will you start here, we go across there. When we get there, you wait for me and then I’ll show you
which area,” because there was millions of pine trees and you could only go through the firebreaks. Once you get in the pine forest, you couldn’t even see and that was the days. Well then, beside that, then they used to have the inspectors coming around to check up to see what sort of work you were doing because Tom was only one feller so they used to get on top of the hills with the horseback, you know they used to be on horses there and
we had to pull the cuts on these trees out in the back part. You know trees that could have been a wattle tree or gum tree or really, and we found out that they had these people coming along so what we used to do, we used to dig the root of the tree and never pull it down. We used to leave it up so when we used to see these people come down, gradually you know we let the tree down to
make out, cause it takes you a damn day. You’ve got to dig right round this, then, so after we pull it down, we used to wave to them, you know see, the work we do. We pull all this down but we had to do so many miles of these suckers, try and clear so many miles a day, like clean all the suckers, clean all the trees out and keep on moving.
Was it easy to get lost in a forest?
Well I reckon yeah. If you would have been two or three of you and you go different ways, there’s no problem getting lost.
Did that ever happen?
No, this Tom he’d been there for years. He knew the forest upside down, was him and another feller. This other feller used to come over if Tom was sick or he had to go somewhere, he used to take over but the two of them, they’d been working around the forest there for years and years.
Did they use maps
or they just knew their way around?
No they just knew the roads, yep. They knew it by marks. You know they had, put a mark here. They used to go to so and so mark, from there you go to so and so mark, that’s how they had the whole thing prescribed.
Did Tom camp with you at night time? Was he always living with you?
No he had this special hut.
But he was always in the area, he didn’t go back to Canberra
to sleep or anything like that?
No, unless something happened, he went but over the weekend, he used to go home.
So you were left by yourselves over the weekend?
What was Tom’s hut like?
It was just one room with a bed, a stove, everything that he could use for himself, you know. He had everything at his
convenience but he had no water or shower. He had to use our stuff. He had like he had his own shower in the hut and his own toilet but on the same system the ones that we had, nothing better.
So what month was it when you first started there?
The beginning of the spring because we finished up there
until Christmas so we were there about seven months. You could say when the end of autumn cause no, winter, autumn? Well we started there round about spring time because we used to wear shorts after a couple of months there, then we wore shorts until
we finished, so it must have been spring, summer, even before that because in Canberra, it’s a funny type of weather. If it doesn’t rain, you get a bit of sun, it’s really hot and another thing I forgot to tell you. We could not sit down and have our meal at lunch time unless we have a mosquito net right down to your knees, because
if you did you’d have hundreds of mozzies around your net there and if you didn’t get your hand underneath, you’d have a mouth full of, well flies and you’re walking around and you’ve got this thing on the front of you all the time because the flies would just, and I don’t know if it was an attraction of the pine trees, but the flies were just one of those things that you could not
put up with it and when we used to eat in the mess hall there, outside we had all these smoky things so the flies don’t come in, otherwise you’d never be able to, inside you’d never be able to stay in the camp for flies.
Were the mosquitos bad at night?
Mosquitos, yeah not too bad but all these sort of ordinary flies, annoying you all the time, you know and they just get there, doesn’t matter what you do, you can throw out your hand and you don’t even touch them because you
touch them and they get everywhere, so what we used to do, we used to leave them there until we sit down. Once you sit down and you start to touch them they fly around like a cloud, then they settle down. As soon as they come out and you get your hand underneath slowly and you just feed yourself up.
And just imagine if you’ve never done that before, it take you a long time to get used to it.
So it was
very traumatic for a lot of people there?
I used to feel sorry for the poor old people there. Sometimes they probably think or worry about themselves, never used to having to feed themselves. They wait until night time when we get there because there’d be, you know, once they disturbed them and they started wiping their hands that was the finish of them because they never get them settled and you could never work that system of getting your arm up and feed yourself.
Was it cold at night time? Did you have enough blankets?
Yeah it was a bit cold at night yeah but we had, you know they used to bring a lot of those potatoes in the potato bag. You know if you ever saw the big ones there? We used to wash them down and put that over the top when we used to be cold, use them as a blanket
bloody things. The things that, you know, that you had to do but what can you do? The other people were at war and if you say anything, “Oh the other people are fighting to keep you alive here.” That was his saying. “Well they’re not keeping us alive here. We’ve done nothing wrong. We’re doing exactly what you are telling us to do now.”
Did they issue you with any clothes at all or you just had to make do with the
clothes that you had?
No we took all our clothes up, nothing at all.
Did some people end up in a situation where they really didn’t have the right clothes to do the sort of things that you had to do?
I’d say nine out of the 10, they did and it was a bit hard for them because most of them had clothes like this here and they come in there, use them for work. The only thing they knew
that they have to go and work for and most of them had brought their working clothes and working boots but ones, I said were without, they had to buy them.
So you could buy more clothes if you needed them?
Yeah more clothes. We had to tell Tom or we had people come up or they’d probably take you up there to find out exactly what you needed and used to bring those up.
So did most people have boots to work in?
Yeah, well we had to,
had to have boots. If you complained about it, they used to get all the army second hand boots. You know old type of boots they had lying for years God knows where and even old army uniforms and they used to bring that junk up so when we went to Goulburn Gaol they had all these old army uniforms that we had to wear in gaol.
There was no clothes, only this army uniforms those days there and this little poor, little Peter was only not even five foot tall there and the feller, when we got in Goulburn, he said, “You get in charge of the store room to dress them up,” and this Peter here was only, I couldn’t find anything small enough for him so I had to roll his sleeves up and all his pants up and pair of boots.
He took a size four or five and the smallest boots I could find was only about eight or nine, something like that and there’s about five steps going into the street and then we got to the yard where the wire, and the other guys are all waiting up the other side of the wire and when this poor Peter come out, the way I had him dressed up with the rolled sleeves there, rolled pants and this bloody hat. He couldn’t see anything of him. They all started giggling and laughing and the guard came
out and said, “What’s going on here?” you know. They said, “We’re just watching one of mates coming out dressed up with a gaol uniform, all army stuff, you know and he turned around and had a look and he started laughing and he said, “What’s going on?” I said, “I can’t find anything small enough. I said, “If you get something smaller,” I said, “I’ll put them on him. But,” I said, “That’s the stuff they’ve got, you know the smallest stuff they could get,” so he said, “Mate,” he said, “I don’t know what’s in
there but he said, “I’ll find out tomorrow. See if we’ve got anything smaller there.” Tomorrow never come. He wore those clothes there all the time he was there.
Ralph, you were telling us about a typical day, how long would you normally have for your lunch break, at that stage, before the gaol, when you were in the forest?
Actually we used,
Tom used to allow us half an hour, half an hour break but what we used to do, if we took an hour he said nothing because we used to do the work and whenever it was really hot, we used to rest under the tree and even if we were an hour or a bit more, he used to saying nothing because he knew what we were doing, cause he had other people working there before and what we used to do sometimes, we used to work quicker so we can back to the camp
quicker and I told him from the beginning. I said, “Tell us how much we’ve got to do and where we’ve got to go,” and then he used to say, “Well get up to that point,” so we got up here and once we get there we used to go back to the camp.
So you would start working in the morning at about what time round about?
We used to leave home about seven o’clock.
And you’d have your lunch break round about what time?
Lunch break would be at 12 then used to have morning tea. We had a break at morning
How long was morning tea?
Just enough time, I think it was
Interviewee: Raffaele Panucci Archive ID 1359 Tape 05
Ralph although you were called, they actually called you
How did you feel about being called aliens after having worked in Australia and lived here?
Well to begin with, I didn’t really know the meaning of an alien because, you know something that I had read, then I tried to work it out, why we should be aliens, after you come out here at the age, school age, work there all
these years see and you become an alien, so no-one could give you an explanation, not even the Minister there, because I asked him and he said, “During the wartime, all these things happen,” and no-one knows why.
Which minister did you ask?
What’s his name? John Stackpot [?Southcott]?
That’s OK, that doesn’t matter if you can’t, yeah?
The Minister for the Environment.
This is recently?
Do you feel like you were treated like a prisoner of war or do you think that your treatment overall, working in Canberra, was a little better than that?
Well to begin with, when they called us as, army labour corps, we thought we were treated exactly, he said, “You get treated like a soldier, like an army, like being in an army camp.”
He said, “That’s how you’ll be getting treated,” then that’s what we understood and only this alien and prisoners of war, I only heard this lately when we went up there for these interviews cause until then I didn’t know anything about this here, being an alien or, you know nothing like this here cause we were never told. The only thing we knew, well the whole lot of us we were there, that
we were under the army labour corps.
Did you feel like you were being treated, being punished or did?
Well in a way, yes cause we didn’t know the truth, only found this out lately about all this stuff here.
So what did you and the other Italians there, what did you believe you were doing there, why?
As I said, we were called up as an army service. Then they put us into
the army labour corps. We were thinking that we were doing something for the country, to help the country out. That was our opinion and our ideas and then when I got up there, well some of the forestry people that I met up with, “you know, you’re prisoners of war, you done this.” I said, “No,” I said, “we were never prisoners of war. We were never internees, we were never anything like this here.” I said
“That’s what we were. We were a member of the army labour corps.” I said, “We got called up in the army and that’s just what happened,” and no-one knew. They didn’t know anything about when we went up there as an army labour corps system, only that Major Pryor, he knew all about it. Then after we left there, they got the internees, they got
what’s a names? Aliens, as they call them, there to do this work here because then when we left there, they done charcoal, they done a lot of different stuff there.
Yeah charcoal up there, yeah.
So when you were actually working there, in that time, you thought you were working for the good of Australia?
Of course, for the good of Australia, yes that was the reason and that’s how we went up there with. We were treated as army
soldier. We were treated as an ordinary soldier, as an army camp. Because when he said, “You go up there and you get treated like being in the army and you get your, all the rights that the army people have,” and then when we got there and this Sergeant Pryor said, “The only time that you get your holidays at Christmas time.”
So you really embraced the work while you were doing it?
You did it with
With everything that we had, the whole spirit, the whole idea that we were doing something good for the country because these people that were doing this type of work, they weren’t there anymore and they got us to replace them and do their jobs they were doing and something that the country needed at that time because there was this, they had priority for this timber there and priority for when we left the timber, to go up the north.
Do you know what the timber
that you cut up was being used for?
We didn’t cut any timber up. The only thing we were doing, looking after the trees, so they were ready, like for the following year, to be cut.
So when they were eventually cut, do you know where that wood was destined to go?
Well I got a funny idea that that timber was never used for timber here. It was sent all these islands then cut and
dressed up and we got it back here after that idea and which at the present time, you know what they’re doing now, all those trees that they’ve got burned up? They’ve been chopped off, cut up, loaded and sent to the Philippines to be dressed and cleaned and everything, then we buy, we get the timber back here.
So what about medical treatment? If someone was sick in the camp, were you able to access a
We had nobody there. They had to ring for emergencies up from Canberra to come up and pick them up.
But they would come and pick them up?
Well it happened that no-one got sick, like the time we were there but we had a First Aid kit there, but no-one with any sort of a responsibilities of, if you had a broken arm or broken leg or you cut yourself
to do, they’d do anything. We had to go for, well we had to wait until emergency arrives from Canberra.
So you were doing this work with great spirit, because you thought you were doing something for the country?
Then things started to turn a bit sour when you realised that you weren’t going to get the holidays you were promised?
That’s it, that’s what just happened.
Can you tell us all about that?
we heard like he come up, as I say, about four weeks before the holidays were due and he said, “We weren’t getting any holidays for Christmas.”
And you’d been working six days a week?
Yeah and we said, “For what reason?” “Well,” he said, “It’s army rules.” “Well,” I said, “The army rules, they were there when we first come
here and the promise was that we were getting a holiday at Christmas time because we can’t go anywhere, looks like we are camped here with nowhere to go. We’ve got no transport. No-one comes up here to see if we want to go to Canberra. We’re just like prisoners here.”
And you hadn’t received any pay at that time?
So that’s when you realised that perhaps you hadn’t been sent there to help the country?
That’s it. That’s when it all started so
what’s the use staying in a place like that where you get no satisfaction and beside the satisfaction, not knowing what we are really doing or what, who we’re working for. We knew nothing about it. All this army labour stuff, that’s all gone to the wind because no-one knew anything about it.
So tell us about the events that led you actually going to court?
the time come up when we didn’t want to work anymore so Mr Pryor come up to this army truck. He had three soldiers there with rifles, on the truck, so we abide the orders, whatever they tell us to do. We got onto the truck and took us down to Canberra Police Station. From the Canberra Police Station, we got there pretty late in the afternoon, he opened the cell up. We got in the cell and
they’d probably had no-one in there for months or years and the place was full of fleas, about an inch long. They just jumped everywhere. You couldn’t stand it so we bashed the door, knocked the door down. He opened the door up. He said, “What’s wrong?” I said, “You come and stay here for a minute and then you’ll see what’s wrong.” So the police guy come over “Oh shit,” he said. “It’s just like being in,” I’ve forgot the word that he mentioned,
some silly, funny word. “No,” I said, “We get out of here,” so we got out and he had a courtyard and we stayed behind the courtyard. They had a cover over the top and we stayed there during the night under this he had here. That was on Friday night until Monday morning, until we went to court. Then on Monday morning he come and picked us up. We went to
court. When we went to court, he come over and he told the judge exactly what we’d done.
So you’d had an argument with the major before you’d actually gone and spent the night in the prison cell?
Can you tell us about the argument and what was said?
Well the argument before we got into the truck, he’d got us one by one in the tent there, to see if we can make us change our minds and
he really come out with some really hard stuff, to the people that were older and married, that if they didn’t go back to work, they’d probably never see their wives again, that God knows where they’re going to finish up and they finish up in gaol and probably they’d never see anybody again. So that was the, when he come to us, he knew that we were hard, just we’d tell him from the beginning,
if we don’t get leave, we won’t go back to work.
That was all the young blokes?
Yeah and “Well,” he said, he come out of the tent. He said, “It’s no good talking to you fellers, because your mind’s already made up and,” he said, “You making it a lot worse for the older people that probably won’t see their wives or children or anybody anymore,” so that was the argument that we had.
How many of
you were there, how many young blokes were there?
Was seven young ones and five not married, but older and the other ones, there was 22 or 24 of us and so the ones we all went down and all the married ones had all agreed to go back to work in the court there and some of the older ones but the 12 of us, we refused.
and they’re the ones that we got, the judge penalised us, six months of hard labour or four and a half months of good behaviour.
Tell us about the court case, how did that pan out?
Well the court case turned out that some of the people, as I said to you before, they never understood what the judge was saying so I said to the judge, “Lot of these people here they can’t speak English. They don’t understand what you’re
telling them. It’s best for me if I can explain to them what you want to tell them,” and the judge turned around and said, “How do I know if you are telling the truth what you, you know what I’m telling you to tell them?” “Well,” I said, “If you think that I’m not telling the truth,” I said, “It’s no use me interpreting to them what you are telling me.” I said, “You try and explain to them,” and then this Pryor came up. “Oh,” he said, “I think he’s
going to tell them whatever you tell them,” you know so he went along and turned around so this Peter, this young Peter feller there, he never understood nothing at all cause he was only here for a few months before the war started and he called him by the name to appear. “Tell the truth, nothing but the truth.” “No leave, no work.” That’s what he said to the judge. I said, “see, he did know exactly what you told him and
they never understood anything that you told him.” I said, “I’ll tell him in Italian and then he’ll give you an answer,” so when I spoke to him like that he said, “right, the ones that do not understand,” he said, “You put them on the side and we’ll ask them the question, you can interpret to them,” and that’s how we finished up like with the court case. There was about five of them that didn’t understand much, didn’t know what
the judge was saying so I told them exactly what went on and three of them, they went back and the other five stayed with us.
So three of them told the judge that they would go back to work?
Yeah because they’ve got wives you see. They were told, “God knows where they’re going to finish up,” so the other five, they all come with us. We all went to Goulburn.
Were you frightened?
No, you know you get that upset and emotional that
things like that happen and you don’t, well what’s the use of staying up there? We’re seeing nothing. We didn’t know how long we were going to stay there and no-one would give you any satisfaction. We never had anything from anybody, all the time we were there. No-one ever wrote or send messages to say, you know, “You’re doing a good job. You’re doing this,” you know no-one. We heard from nobody.
Did you hear from your family?
Yeah we used to get a letter every now and then
and what’s the use of it? My father said, “Do you want any money? Do you need this, and,” I said, “What are we going to do with it?” I say, “We don’t go anywhere. We don’t see anybody and we can’t buy nothing,” so it’s even worse than being a prisoner of the war in a gaol or in an army camp.
Was your father coping without you there, because you seemed to be the mainstay of the family, the breadwinner?
And how did he cope?
Just imagine the poor old feller there. He got a hundred percent worse than what he was from the beginning.
Because your mother had already passed away then?
Yes she’d already passed away then yes and this happened on the top of it.
So what happened to him while you were away?
Well he had a nervous breakdown the poor feller and he didn’t know if he was standing up or sitting down. Lucky that my young two brothers were there
and you know they put up with him and in a way he was happy because he had the two brothers there. At least he could see someone.
And how old were your brothers at the time?
One was, what, about four years difference between us. Two years younger, two years. One was two years younger than me and the other one was four years younger.
So one was about 16 years old, the second oldest brother?
second oldest. The other one was about 14 then or something like that.
So he was working in the shop at the time?
Yeah the two of them, yeah and so the poor old feller finished up with a nervous breakdown and then he finished up getting a stroke, just worrying about.
And what happened after he got the stroke?
Well he done nothing. Before he used to go and
pass his time with the brothers doing bits and pieces around. He finished up doing nothing at all.
This all happened while you were away?
Yeah, then when I got back, when we got out of Goulburn Gaol, when I went there for three weeks, I took him over to a doctor that I knew, what’s a name? I think it was Hungarian Jew something and he specialised in
strokes and nerve disorder and all that, so I took him there. On the Sunday I rang him up when I got back on the Sunday. “Yeah,” he said, “Bring him down,” and he took x-rays there everything. He used to be in Bellevue Hill, in Colotto Road, Bellevue Hill. He done everything for him. He said, “The only thing, he needs rest,” and he gave him about four different type of tablets and
he went, poor old fellow went down for nothing, lost a lot of weight and was just like very weak cause his nerves just give away on him. Anyway it took him about the best part of about 14, 16 months until he started to recover.
So you must have felt really upset that you weren’t around?
Just imagine when I got back and I seen him that way cause it’s one of those things that he worked hard
all his life, enough to get his family there and do what he wanted to do and then this happened on the top of it and there’s many cases like this here. It’s not just me and my father because I know a lot of cases like that and some of them, actually two or three cases that I knew, the mother, one, the mother passed away and one, the old feller passed away just having things happen like this here,
upside down. They can never recover, get themselves together, doing things that they’d done nothing wrong. It’s only just happening like putting the kids away, putting their families away, leave them at home by themselves and some of them were older than my father. They were round about 60, 70.
Were the families left with any kind of pension from the government, like the war brides were given?
No nothing, nothing
Nothing at all?
Nothing at all and some of these people that I’ve known that lost, one lost the mother and the other one, the father there, they’re old, like 60 odd and the old man was about 65 there, just through shock that they got, you know things that, taking all the kids home, away from them, by themselves
and they could hardly speak English. You know they just sort of understood a bit and they didn’t know what to go or do because as I said to you that time there they tied you up. If you lived in Haberfield and you want to go to Leichhardt, you got to go to Haberfield Police Station and get a permit so you can travel there, otherwise if they pick you up without a permit
they either fine you or put you in gaol for a week or whatever the case might have been.
This is what happened to you?
It didn’t happen to me no because I was legally called up in the army and they didn’t treat me, as they call an alien or foreigner or one of those type of things but then any of the ones that they want register with anything like this here, they had to get permits to travel around.
So this happened to your father and brothers, did they have to have permits to get around?
No, my brothers, no
because they were a lot younger too those days.
And your father, did he need a permit?
My father yeah, he was naturalised but being naturalised didn’t make any difference. They still put you in the camp, internment camp.
If you were Italian or German or?
It didn’t make any difference cause if they received reports from other people to say that you’d done something wrong against the country or your belonged to any of those party members as a fascist or
whatever politics you belonged to, was against the rules of the country here, they just put you in an internment camp. That didn’t make any difference.
But would they do that to people of British descent?
Well they would. If someone put them in, tell them that they belong to a party where the government not agreed with, they pick you up and put you, well if they didn’t put you in interment camp, they put you in gaol, like they done with the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
So what was your time in gaol like? You spent four months there?
Four and a half months.
Four and a half months and can you describe what that was like?
Yeah I’ll tell you. When we got there, the whole group of us there, they were short in laundry part of it and the kitchen so I finished up, then they had men in the laundry. We used to go round all the cells and pick up all the clothes,
then take them to the laundry and tell them which one they belong, to the lifers, they had to be done first or the bakery and all that type of thing, wash them up. Then they used to, after they were finished, we used to take them back to this department where they belong to and then most of them that worked in the kitchen cleaning all, doing all the washing up and cleaned the barracks where they used to bring the food in and the other ones used to work in the bakery doing the
cleaning at the same time. Then Saturday afternoon, we’d have Saturday afternoon off and they used to give us half ounce of tobacco and half a box of matches so what we used to do, we used to have a game of cards and we used to gamble for the tobacco or the matches there and to make the matches last the tobacco
we used to cut those matches in four pieces. You know we used to have like a razor blade and we split the match up in four and if we’d never had enough matches, we used to make our own ashes out of paper, put it in the matchbox and we used to make a spindle out of the shirt buttons, out of steel there with two strings. You hold them in your mouth. You spin them and make the sparks on the matchbox so you can light the damn cigarette up and we did that for a long time
and then on Sunday, we used to have nuns come to the church to visit us there and the nuns they wanted to start a singing competition between us, so we had a chorus going, singing some of the Italian songs. They used to bring the music in and the words and they taught us to sing.
What kind of songs? Could you sing one of them?
Solo Mia, Sung Talagea [?], all this old type of songs, you know. We used to do that every Sunday.
Were there other men at the church?
We had the audience outside. They used to sit up in the stall there and sing and the other people sitting outside, listen to us sing and the nuns used to play the piano or the organ. They had an old organ there.
Did the men listening, like your singing,
did they clap?
Yeah. They were there every Sunday. This went on for a while until we, took us about a month to get it going and then after a month, we knew, you know we used to practise all the songs we want to sing and the music, the chappie used to play the piano, used to be with us
there and he had a pretty good voice too so we really, you know got going and we had Sunday afternoons we used to have, we probably had about 50 or 60 sitting there just listening to us.
Of the prisoners?
Yeah the prisoners yeah.
How did you blokes get on with the prisoners?
Some of them, you done the right thing. Some of them they treated you like
you know scum, all these type of things because, you know, “You come here and you should take orders. You should be doing this. You should be doing that.” Most of the ones there understood. They said, “You done the right thing.” All those Jehovah’s Witnesses, they were exactly the same as us. They refused to go to war and they treat them exactly the same.
So there was quite a few Jehovah’s Witnesses in Goulburn
Gaol with you?
Yeah they were there, yeah. As I said, they refused to go to war and what they done, they put them in Gaol exactly the same as what they did with us.
Who else was in Goulburn Gaol who refused to go to war? What other groups of people?
Most of them were all these people, you know robberies, manslaughterers, few, there was a lot of life people, doing life’s there and they put us together with this type of people.
eating in the same place. In the morning we used to line up, you know to clean the, had tubs there in the cells to take them out, all of us together.
Were you ever afraid for your own safety being there with men who had been put in Gaol for murdering people perhaps or manslaughter?
Yeah there was a lot of them there. As I said to you, they were murderers, they were robbers, they were
all different type, all, most of the ones there were doing long time terms. They were either in the bakery, in the, they had a what’s a name? Where they do the horseshoes? Blacksmith. They had tailors, all different types because those days there in gaol, they used to make the boots for the army. They used to make
the clothes for the army. They used to make most of this stuff and they had all these people working this type of thing and they were all people doing life or 20 years, 10 years, 15, all long time period.
What about other people who actually objected going to war? You mentioned that there was the Jehovah’s Witnesses were put there, was there any other men that had objected?
Yeah anyone that objected to go to the army service or the war, they all got put in gaol exactly the same
as the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Was there many of them there?
Was here in Goulburn, yeah cause they didn’t want to keep them in Sydney here in Long Bay Gaol. They sent them out of the town in Goulburn in case anything happened.
What do you mean in case anything happened?
In case war broke out and they got out and they’d go against the people here see. They done that for safety reasons, send you up there.
Did you know anyone who had refused to go to war?
Yeah met up with a few people in there and when you’re meeting up with these people here, if they see you talking to them, you know the guards around, they just, you can’t do that so we used to go for morning walks in the morning and you had to walk up and down by yourself. You could not meet up with, have a chat with other people. They were very strict about that.
Do you remember any conversations
with any of the men who had objected to going to war?
I had a few conversations with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, cause they used to be in the same department with us. You know with laundry or the kitchen and all that type of thing but most of them, they just didn’t believe in killing or blood transfusions or using a shotgun or rifle anything like that. That was their belief
and lot of nice people, these people here. They just didn’t want to harm anybody or do any harm to themselves. They still got put in there.
How did your experience in Goulburn Gaol compare to your experience in the forest in Canberra?
Was the gaol experience much, much worse for you?
No actually we were better off there because we met up with different people and you have a game of cards or you’d have a game of something else or Saturday afternoon or Sunday afternoon, you met up and you all the kinds of things they had going in there because they had a lot of things like the music, playing the piano with the nuns and going to church and
then in the afternoon, you can have the afternoon to yourself with all the fellers hanging around because they all played different, they had cricket, they had tennis, they had, in the yards, that you play one with another. Where up in Canberra, we see nobody there, only between ourselves and we had no grounds where you can play even a football game or nothing because
it was really rough. Everything was amongst the tree stumps and well there was nothing there and we had no water to drink. We had to go and get our own water, bags full of water there out of the creek and no shower. At least we had a shower in the gaol, so you can clean up and we had toilets outside. In the night time we had little buckets there where you do whatever you want to do and then take it out in the morning, but we never had anything like that in Canberra.
Did you hear much news about the war while you were in Goulburn Gaol, how the war was progressing?
Yeah we used to get newspapers, yeah. The only piece I used to cut out of the newspaper was the criminal acts and people getting to gaol or something like that but the war news, we used to read them all the time.
Did you have the wireless in gaol?
No. Over the weekend we did. We could sit outside and listen to it.
So was the talk in gaol mainly about the war?
Yeah some of them, you know about, some of them were pretty keen to find out what went on or what didn’t go on and all that type of thing but I say, far better to (UNCLEAR) I never worried about it. All the criminal parts, they didn’t worry about the war. They used to make plans for when they get out, how to break into some place or, I had to laugh there.
They used to drawings, you know different places of where they’re going to go and how to get in. They had all these plans already made, with drawings and everything.
So they weren’t really being reformed in that gaol?
No and the people that you met up and you tell them exactly what happened, they were all against it. You know “they should never have treated you like that
to begin with.”
Who used to say that to you?
In gaol, the people that were in gaol. The ones that understood, you know what really went on. They were just, they used to call them by names that you never want to talk about it, no and the ones that were just against it, would never even come in contact with them because they started
“you bloody so and so. You should be in gaol. You should be at war. You should be here. You should be there. You shouldn’t be in here,” all these type of things.
What was your feeling about the government at that time, how were you feeling about the government, about being in Australia at that time, when you were in Goulburn Gaol? Were your feelings towards the country changing?
Well the only thing that we had the feeling that we really had, was that no-one had any control of it because we
never got any satisfaction from nobody and we applied for different ideas, different laws of the feelings and all that but no-one ever took any notice.
Sorry can you explain what you mean by that, you applied for, for release?
Well we applied the States and the local, where we were living, the way we got put in here, for what reason, what we done wrong and why
we should like do all these things here without any reason. They never, ever explained to us, the army labour corps, why we had to do until we went to Canberra and we want to find out and they won’t give us any satisfaction about it.
So you wrote to, was it the local council?
Yeah we wrote to all the local councils.
To the State government?
The State yeah and when we got to Canberra, don’t know how many letters we write there, don’t know whoever
got them because I don’t think anybody, they would never send them out because we had to give them to the fellow that was in charge of the gang and they used to, I think once a week or once a fortnight, they used to come in. He had like a letterbox where he used to leave all the notes and he used to bring them in and pick them up but we never, ever, nothing, not even a phone call, nothing.
And how many letters would you have written and sent away?
All the time we were at Canberra, I reckon once we found out about this what’s a name, about the leave there, we probably must have wrote the best part of 40, 50 letters to different people to find out but we never got one answer.
Not one response?
No, nothing. That’s what we got more upset for not getting, having a reason to see what we’d done wrong or what we had to do.
So it made you feel like no-one had any,
was not making any decisions?
Of course, made you feel that no-one want to know anything about it and you know you get uptight and that was the finish of it. Once you get up that way, you don’t listen to nothing anymore because they just treated, get treated like an animal there. No-one ever listened to anything.
Do you think this was an experience of you and other men in the Italian
civil court, or do you think that was the experience of a lot of Australians at the time? Did you think you were singled out for this treatment?
I don’t think so, no. There was just, as I said, those Jehovah’s Witnesses, I was talking to them. They got treated exactly the same way. They just got taken away and put in gaol. Their court case was different to us because we were working in at, but wherever they come from, like Sydney or
around the State where they used to pick them up. They just pick them up, took them to court, they refused to go and they’d just give them a sentence and what they done, say they were doing four months or whatever, six months, four months, when the time was up, they took them out, they give them so much freedom, say such and such a date. “You get called up again. If you refuse the same thing’s going to happen,” and they used to put them back in there.
The judge that tried your case
do you feel that he was, did you feel like he wanted to put you in gaol, like he had no other option?
Actually no I didn’t feel that way because he said to me, “Your side of the story, being promised that you’re going to get your holidays, it sounds that you’re right,” then listened to Pryor’s story
“That you, under the army treatment, you’re going to be treated like the army, that’s his opinion and he’s right in his way. “But,” I said, “That’s not what he told us when he first picked us up and took us to the forestry. He said our first leave from there, it’s the Christmas time. Then,” I said, “Coming up with the excuses that we’re
under army rules. We’ve got to be treated like the army people do,” so we finished up being treated worse than the army people.
How long were you in Goulburn Gaol altogether?
Four and a half months.
So you were let off on a good behaviour bond?
Yeah good behaviour bond, yeah we did.
So there was no trouble?
No, no problem no. Then from then
once we got out of gaol, we come back home in Sydney. How long were we there? Three to four weeks at home, then they called us up again to go up to this Banana Growers’ Federation.
What did you do when you came back to Sydney?
Just stayed home, had a bit of a holiday break. You know stayed at home with Pop and my brothers and go out here and do, you know
place that we never, we missed all that time and those three or four weeks just flew away, you know after we come out of there and they called us back up again and we finished up at Murwillumbah.
Interviewee: Raffaele Panucci Archive ID 1359 Tape 06
Ralph just before we move onto the Murwillumbah part of the story, I was just wondering if you recall how you guys ended up spending Christmas Day in gaol?
Well you want me to tell you the truth? We spent Christmas day in gaol. They put a special dinner on Christmas day so the special dinner was
baked potatoes, onions, carrots, peas, beans and leg of what’s a name? Lamb, or mutton, you know big mutton, with all the fat trims, no fat taken out of it. You could, that was the special dinner we had and then there what did we have? We had
all these ribbons. They give us ribbons and balloons, you know to make it Christmas and they just let us out in the yard, like different yards we used to be in it, to play around and do what we want to do for the day.
Do you recall it being a happy day?
Well happy day in the camp,
say we had to be in Canberra, would have been better being in Goulburn than Canberra, because there we’d have never seen a thing. At least here we have a lot of people to see and church and the nuns. They all come out so we passed the day out like sort of a human type of thing. Up there in Canberra you only see the pine trees and just between ourselves. You know after you forget it was so many months, you know you just get a bit sick of living,
having a conversation with one another and talking with one another. The other thing we used to day, as I said, we made a set of bocce bowls so we used to play bit of touch football or cricket and stuff like that but after a while, you know doing the same thing weekends after weekends you just, it’s monotony.
Could you sing any Christmas carols?
Yes in church there with the nuns, we sang in
three different languages, was a lot of Germans there too.
Were they Catholic nuns?
Yeah Catholic nuns yeah. The Germans that were in Goulburn, they got put in because they refused, you know to whatever the case might be. They weren’t working like us in our army labour corps. I spoke to a couple and
they refused to obey orders so they just put them in gaol. The ones that didn’t go to the prison camps, you know the coppers go and get them and, “No, don’t come to,” so they put them in, brought them direct to gaol.
In that time that you had off in between gaol and then going to Murwillumbah, what was the atmosphere like in Sydney then?
Actually it never changed much. When we come back from Goulburn and stayed home for the three or four weeks there, there still was that same feeling, you know as far as we were concerned because we had no freedom and we were still under this army labour corps, to do what they want to do and after the way that we got treated in Canberra, you know you just didn’t feel like that you want to do exactly
the same that you done up there. We went there full of life, full of spirit to try and do our best to do something for the country and when you get treated like that, you know you said to yourself, “What’s the use of it?”
Was your perspective on Australia changing?
Yes and then once we got up to Murwillumbah there, I said to the chap there,
James Fitzpatrick. He was in charge and I told him exactly what happened in Canberra. I said, “If We’re going to get treated like Canberra,” I said, “You can forget about doing the work because we won’t do any work.” He said, “Here mate, you do your work. You finish on Friday night. Saturday and Sunday you got it free,” so
they paid the board. They give us money for the boarding house we were living in because we had no camp. We used to live in a house and during the week when we used to go out to different plantations, we had the camping gear so we used to camp out because some of the plantations were far away from Murwillumbah, so we used to leave on Monday morning. We used to travel probably, don’t know, four or five hours, two or three hours. All depends and some of these plantations they had houses on or packing sheds where
they used to pack the bananas on and we used to put the tents in this packing shed or place and they had tank water. They had facilities there where we could have a shower, wash and all this type of thing, was nothing like Canberra.
Were you with any of the same blokes that you were with in Canberra or you had a whole?
Yeah, the same. We were seven of us there exactly the same.
The seven who had
been in gaol?
In gaol yeah and was plus another 10 or 12 more. They were just cooks.
New blokes who you hadn’t met before?
Yeah so we had a pretty big sort of a –
About 20 of you?
– group there. And of because we had a lot of ground to cover there. We used to cover from Murwillumbah right down to Lismore, all those
mountains, valleys. You know where they have bananas on them. We used to go right round the whole lot of them.
Were you all in the same boarding house or you were in different boarding houses?
No, different places. We were at the Murwillumbah boarding house. We were the main ones there.
How many were in that one?
Four of us there and then three in another house and three, see I was the first one to go there and learn about
all these diseases, leaf grub, bunchy top grub, stool grub. They were with the bananas. You know, the stool there full of [UNCLEAR] and all that and they get inside if it, then the bunchy top gets on top of the banana stool and the leaf grub gets on the side so we used to check all that stuff out.
Where did they take you to teach you that stuff?
In Murwillumbah, not far from where the Association, they had all these
parts not far from the station. They had
Did you do that in a classroom or on a plantation?
No, out in the plantation. That’s where you saw most of it.
So they trained you all as a group?
The part that they used teach you in the classroom was mostly chemicals, how to use them and what to do and not to do and the mixtures you had to do, then you had to work it out for yourself. You know how bad the diseases are and you make them stronger like or just something that
likely you put it on so they don’t transfer from one plantation to another, all that type of things.
So it was quite complicated?
You had to learn quite a lot of information?
And you really had to be able to understand it and know what we had to do there. We had a set of binoculars there. We go up to the top of the hill, like where the bananas they’re in ramps. You know, you get up to the top and then
you come down and we’d get up the top and check out with the binoculars, we check out where we see all these diseases on banana stalks. We get down then and check them out and get rid of them cause them, you know you go around and most of these places, they always had the older people living
in these plantations. You know, the young ones had left them but the older people still living there.
So the young ones had gone off to war?
War yeah and the older people still living there so what we used to do, go and knock on the doors to check them out and I say, “Listen, we come out to such and such a place because the chap here’s got disease and the other feller,” so we come out to destroy the ones that are no good so your plantation doesn’t get them and all that and we used to
make friends with the, could have been women. Sometimes you find two or three women on a plantation. They had no men and they had always a few cows, these people here with the pigs that they used to bring up for their own meat and stuff like this here so was a different life altogether because you get to know these people here and you get free milk, you get eggs. They used to
you know, I used to help them out, especially when they were women there, to separate the milk and all this stuff here and I used to get the boys to go and help them out to cart the milk up, take it up the right way and they used to look after us, different type of life altogether.
So you were usually quite friendly with those people?
Yes really friendly with them. Then we had, at Coolangatta there, they had a
dance there every Saturday night, so then we started to go dancing to this Coolangatta place and that was the time of the year that when the Yanks [Americans] were here when Pearl Harbor and all that started, they used to come there on leave and the first place they used to go was Coolangatta, the Queensland border and they used to be there by the hundreds. Then going to this dance, we got mixed up with some of these Yanks there
and they used to bring them down to this lady, used to run the boarding house, when we used to go down on a Friday night or Saturday night and I say, “You want something?” “Yeah.” I used to bring them down and then we finish up with the Yankee clothes, the Yank shoes, Yank shirt all these type of things here and we really passed good, we had a good time up there.
So the Americans were friendly?
Yes well see what the Yanks have different ideas. I reckon
in this dance hall that we used to go on a Saturday night, 50 percent would have been Italian descent and South Americans. You hear all different type of languages in there and they were all in that environment that they were all close together and they had a lot of money to begin with too. They come on leave and they used to come there with thousands of,
not dollars. They were pounds those days, they had a pocket full and they used to spend them all and they used to spend it on anything and when we used to go and have a few drinks, they’d pay for them. We’d go and have a meal outside then we used to get them to come down to Murwillumbah, was a little restaurant down there so took them out to introduce them to some of the people. We sat down, they never let you pay. They’d pay for the meal.
Were you finding
that other locals around that area were treating you in a suspicious way still because of the whole Italian stigma?
Yeah the local Murwillumbah people because there was a lot of Italians around those, Murwillumbah, Mullumbimby, Lismore especially. They’re the ones that they first come out here many years ago, say 40, 50 years before then that they give them all this land
to, mountains they were full of trees, to clean them out and they started their own plantations there. They never got interned, only the ones that caused a lot of problems, but most of them started in the plantations and, you know you become friendly with them and you just went along but you were still, say you went in a pub and had a few drinks
by yourself or with a few of the mates and they see you two or three together there, you always get the odd one who started, “You bloody so and so. You should be here. You should be interned or you should be out in the camp. You should be at the war,” all this type of thing, always get that.
How would you react to that?
Well don’t take any notice. We got used to it. That way we used wipe them out and they finish with them. If they started a fight, then we’d have a fight with them. That’s the only way to, as I said
you never let them to get on the top of you, cause you once get them on the top, you had it, you’re finished so, you know you, after a few years, you just build yourself up that way where you hear someone talking or calling you names, you just ignore them and we done that for a long time.
But every now and then you did end up having a bit of a fight?
Yeah we were at Mullumbimby there once and
this young chap, he used to be in the shoe trade. His father was in the shoe trade. As a matter of fact, together with my Dad and Bep Calabro, don’t know if you ever seen those Calabro tourist busses? They were there for a long time. They just got rid of them. Anyhow one of these, the older brother this Bep Calabro, he was probably lightweight. He used to,
he was New South Wales flyweight champion in boxing and we’re in Mullumbimby there and after we’d finished we come into Mullumbimby. We called the pub and the pub was very helpful. We had a couple of beers and this half caste Aboriginal fellow come over and starting arguing the toss and he picked the wrong feller. He picked this Bap up and he was a really hot temper this feller here and he said, “Listen mate, I’ll shout you a drink,
whatever you want, but get away because if you get me upset I’m going to flatten you.” Anyhow this feller said, “Don’t do that.” Anyhow this Bap started and he flattened him on the ground so the chap that owned the pub, we knew him and he said, “you’d better get upstairs because in about half an hour there’ll be about 400 Aborigines here,” so he called the police and there was only one policeman in the town. He called the police and
we got upstairs and he had to close the doors up and I thought that was the best bit of fun we ever had because I would never dreamed or imagined, there would have been that many Aboriginals there and they were there alright so we had to wait till the next morning to get out of the joint so that was an episode that we didn’t realise would happen but it did and after that we used to be very careful
with the Aboriginal boys because, well they used to look after them in Murwillumbah, you know buy them a drink so they think you’re helping them, he just got a bit hot under the collar this fellow here and he thought that we were doing our work and we were taking their money and he started, you know, then I said, “You started with this wrong feller here,” going crook on Bap and he told him a few times. He said, “Listen mate, I’ll shout you a drink but just go,” and he started to shape up. When things started to shape up he just, he let him have it see.
So you did mix a bit with the Aboriginals in the area here and there?
Yeah as I said to you, when we used to go round, they used to live under these houses, the plantation houses where people weren’t, no-one there and they used to go around and pick the fruit up and take it in sort of little bags and sell them to different people and I used to help them out because once we got to these plantations we
were in charge of it until we stayed there so was any good fruit or anything like that and they were leaving there, used to say, “Right you go and pick it up before we go and you can do whatever you like with it.” A few of them around but for some reason or other they were damn lazy. They didn’t like working. Most of them they got offered another plantation if they were going to look after them but they just, they
weren’t interested. If they had someone staying with them and guarding what they do, they’d probably be different but to do it themselves, they wouldn’t be in it and another thing they probably, they didn’t know what to do much. You know they had someone there. Well they wanted someone to guide them, to watch them to tell them exactly what goes on but they never
had that instinct, you know to say, “I want to do,” you know, “How we going to do it and what we going to do?” and that never happened.
So would they be just blokes by themselves sort of living there?
or would you find families?
No not families, no, only fellers. One or two fellers together some time. Most of them were one where they had a little hessian bag on the back with clothes or whatever the little stuff so they can lie down
and sleep anywhere and the ones that I found most, people so that they want to do something and they were round about the 20, 30 mark, that they want to earn a few dollars so they can be in town or buy a few drinks and dress themselves up a bit but the older ones, they didn’t worry about dress and all. The only thing they want, something to eat or drink.
That’s all they worried about.
That place that you were talking about that you went to dance you said there was about 50 percent?
The Danceland at –
Was it Coolangatta?
Would you be dancing with Italian girls there?
No, Australian girls. Those days we used to go to dances, I think I told you
before like we used to go to a different type of dance a lot there and we used to teach these girls how to jitterbug, how to do this fast dance. They were just coming out then you know.
So were you a good dancer?
Yeah I always, well I started to dance when I was very young, yeah.
So did you manage to get a sweetheart while you were working up in that neck of the woods?
Yeah in Murwillumbah.
We had this Bap, me and another chap, Mick there. I reckon we had a few girls there between the three of us. We stayed there eight months,
eight months yeah. We had a few girls from different families. We used to go up to the houses with the family cause once I got to know them, I used to get a lot of fruit and I used to get a lot of vegetables and stuff that was around the plantations. I used to take them over to them over the weekend when we used to come home. I used to help most of those people there because unless, in those days there, people in Murwillumbah, if you never had a job, you just live on the dole or government money, whatever you get and when
the Yanks come out, when they started to bring these Yanks out, this place, this boarding house, this Mrs Ford there. She used to run the boarding house. I said to her, “Do you want me to bring a few Yank officers down because they’re looking for a place to stay over the weekend?” They used to come down there and leave everything they had there, every weekend. Extra clothes, shoes, Scotch. They used to buy, because hard drink was hard to get and they used to pay anything to get it so then they get themselves
half shot and then on the Monday morning when they had to go back, they leave everything in the house and they go and the ones who finish the leave, they didn’t want to take anything back with them, so they’d be leaving more stuff with them. A lot of those people up there, they made money with the Yanks there, then when this found out, a lot of people from Kings Cross here, they used to come up through Murwillumbah, catch the bus and
go up to Coolangatta cause then the Yanks started to come there for a holiday and they were there for the best part of a couple of years and as I said, they used to come on leave there. That was the first leave that they had ever since they got flown there and they had a lot of money on them, yeah and they didn’t watch how to spend it and in Murwillumbah, then they started to find out where Murwillumbah was, then they come down to Murwillumbah cause they had trucks and those
four wheel drives like a Jeep and all that and they started to drive down there so we had them in Murwillumbah.
So Murwillumbah became a popular area for the Americans?
Why do you think they liked Murwillumbah?
Well I’ll tell you. Because we had, let me see, about along Murwillumbah the main road, we had about 10 or 12 Greek restaurants. You know the old fashioned
restaurant, right along there with the seats on each table and you sit and they were the funniest eaters that I ever seen. I never seen a Yank using a fork and knife to eat T-bone steaks. They grabbed them with their hands, eat one side to the other side. Most of them, you know up there you took a bit of a joke with them. They said, “What’s the matter?” I said, “Never seen a T-bone steak in the States?” They said, “What’s?” I said, “You never use knives.”
They said, “That’s how we eat,” and didn’t matter, soldiers or officers, they all grab it the same way.
Did you make any friends with the Americans?
Did you stay in contact with any of them?
Yeah I was in contact for a long time, especially the ones from what’s a name, where my Dad used to be.
Beaver Force in Pennsylvania, was a lot of them that I met from Pennsylvania there and they knew some because we had, don’t know how many cousins I had, about 20, 30 cousins in Pennsylvania there and some of them, they knew them. They come in contact with them. When I went back there, when we come back here and I said to my father, you know,
“I met up with so and so.” He said, “That’s right.” My father still remembered because he stayed there for don’t know how many years, eight or 10 years he stayed there and then he wrote to them and these people got in touch with him but there was just as good as a holiday, spending all the time there and we used to work a lot harder. We used to go around and
check all the banana plantations up and as I said, we used to go from the top end of Tweed Heads right at the border, right down to Lismore and we cleaned most of the stuff out.
How long did the actual training take before you understood all the things that you had to look at and do?
It took me about six weeks
to find out exactly how to pick them, how to get results out of them and how to do the mixtures. Then after that I used to, as I said, we used to go up. I used to pick out where the diseases are with this really strong pair of binoculars and they used to say to the boys, I used to mix the stuff up and send them out to where they were and we used to do
really good job and the people around, they used to like us because we get rid of those plantations. Their plantations are all clear of disease.
So how many boys would you be working with on a plantation?
I had about four with me and there were five altogether and we had a four wheel drive jeep, you know army type of thing and we used to carry everything on there, our camping stuff, our working stuff, all this stuff like this here. We had it all in there.
Did they give you any work clothes this time or you
still had to wear your own clothes?
No, our own clothes, no work clothes. We had to buy our own, used everything ourselves.
And did you enjoy the work?
Yes because we had freedom. We worked a lot harder and we done what we want but we used to enjoy ourselves and then at least at night we used to go out Saturday and Sunday, if nothing else and when we used to be during the week, like we come back. Say we finish something early and
we come back on the Thursday or Friday, we might have an extra day off in the workshop in the office there on the Friday and then start, go away on Monday and we used to like share our gear and stuff like this that we had to take with us but different life than Canberra there. That Pryor feller in Canberra, he was just
I don’t know what you call him, cause everything’s got to be done the way he said and the way he want it.
So you were a lot happier up there?
No not in those conditions.
No but I mean you were a lot happier in Murwillumbah?
A lot happier in Murwillumbah? Yes, that made all the difference in the world there.
And did you start to feel a little bit better about being in Australia again or were you still?
Resenting the way you’d been treated?
No, actually when we started up there and you met up with different type of people, because more or less they were family ideas. They had young children and husband got called up or he joined up because most of them that joined up they weren’t doing, you know having a banana plantation those days, you really had to work hard to make
a living and if you had a family with three or four kids, I tell you, you’d be struggling so what they used to do, they used to join up in the army so having three or four kids, they get army pays, they get army preferences, they get this, they get that. The children were, the family here and the wife they were living like kings because everything was practically half the price and free and that’s why they used to live on the plantations.
Did the government or the army also organise other workers to go into the plantations at different times to do different jobs, say to do picking or was there other activities being carried out by groups like you?
No, we only used to check all the diseases in the bananas. Being the picking, like say we went to a plantation, your plantation and you had a lot of bananas in your plantation there
I used to report it to the Banana Growers’ Federation and tell them, you know if they can get someone to go and pick the bananas. It might be a couple of hundred cases full of bananas they can pick so they used to get the, put a note around the local people, if they want to come and do work, pick the bananas so they can sell them themselves or send them to the Banana Growers’ Federation and they give them so much a case. That went on for a long time.
So was your work being coordinated by the Banana’s
Yeah Banana Growers’ Federation, yeah. It had nothing to do with the army stuff, nothing like that, no. The army stuff would just send us up there to help them out. Where this feller in Canberra, he thought he was running us and running the plantation at the same time. It had nothing to do with him the Forestry Department there because the forestry had their own forestry workers.
So the army stayed out of your way this time?
Were you given any idea of how long you were going to have to do that work when you started doing it?
No the only, what we had in our minds that soon the war finished, we’d be stopped but until the war lasted, they still had control of us, being under this army labour corps.
So you would have started working there in the middle of ’42, is that right?
Yes, just about then yeah.
And how long did you end up doing that work for?
The bananas? Until the war finished, stayed there until they finished.
Quite a long time?
Yeah quite a long time.
Did you stay in the same boarding house the whole time?
Yeah cause we only used to be there weekends and sometimes when we worked far away we used to miss the weekends. We’d be still camping out or go to the nearest town
so we were in Mullumbimby, well we stay in Mullumbimby there. We were in Coffs Harbour or Lismore places like this here, we used to stay in these places here and as I said to you, we always used to meet up with different families there and those little towns sometimes, instead of the big towns, they had little church turnouts. They go there and play piano, sing a song. They have suppers and stuff like that
and we used to get mixed up with these ideas.
So you must have become very much a part of the community?
Over that time?
Yeah, after say there months that we used to go around to these different places, most of the people knew we go around there and if they had a place where we could sleep, they give us space where we can put the tent or even if they had beds, we used to sleep in their rooms, in the spare rooms
Were you able to save money during that time?
No because we weren’t getting enough money.
So you weren’t able to send any back to your Dad or anything like that?
No as a matter of fact I wrote to my father there to send us money in Murwillumbah cause there were times, you know you had to buy your own clothes and if you want something
extra to eat or drink, you had to pay out of your own pocket and that army pay didn’t last too long and you know you’re young and free and you run around everywhere.
What other things would you do when you were running around?
Most of the time when we had freedom there
we used to go to, in Murwillumbah they had an oval that we used to play football and we, seven of us there and we got some people from the Banana Growers’ Federation used to work in there and we made a team up and we used to go in there, sometimes have a game of cricket. All depends on what we felt like doing but round Murwillumbah was always
pretty good sort of weather. You might get couple of weeks of heavy rain or storms, you know tropical storm but most of the other time was really good, the weather over the weekends and when we were there and then we had this James Fitzpatrick. He was in charge of the Banana Growers’ Federation. He used to go out shooting every
now and then so there was me and this Bap. We used to go out with him when it was a long weekend or holiday weekend and stuff like this. We done that for a long time too.
What sort of shooting would you do?
This guy, rabbits, wild ducks cause there was a lot of rivers there. Then he had a fishing boat, big trawler there and when it was a long weekend
or a holiday weekend we used to go in the fishing trawler and his fishing nets there, we used to catch enough fish to last us for a couple of months. I used to take them down to the old lady at the boarding house there. She used to freeze them up.
And what would you do with the rabbits that you got?
The rabbits? We used to take them home. We used to skin them out where we used to shoot them there. We’d take a little
icebox, you know like an esky. We’d stick them in there and bring them home and this Mrs Ford, the old lady I used to say to her, “Give it to someone who needs it,” and she used – well she’d been there for years. You know she used to live near the park there and she had most of those kids or families that she knew and she used to give it to them cause some of those kids never used to get a feed there. They were really poor type of, those country towns
you get some families that they used to struggle.
She sounds like she was a very nice lady?
She was cause being, her husband was the foreman of the, in charge of the Banana Growers’ Federation and they always used to get people come from everywhere trying to get a job there and they had nowhere to go so she used to put them up until they settle themselves down, earn a bit of money and then she
used to charge them the board.
Did you end up staying in contact with her?
Yeah, after I got married, I went up and see her, yeah.
Round about how old would she have been?
When we went up with the wife there, she would have been the best part of 80.
So during the war how old round about was she?
She would have been round about I’d say 50 to the 60 mark, something like that.
Did you ever cook the rabbits up yourself?
Did you have a special way of cooking them?
Well what we used to do with the rabbit, we used to put a spindle right through the rabbit and when we were camping, make the fire and we used put salt and pepper on and a bit of butter on until the rabbit was cooked. Then we used to do it
South American way, you know you dig a hole, put the fire in there, burn them up and cook them in there.
You must have been getting used to eating more the Australian way at that stage?
Were you able to have a good Italian style meal every now and then, was that possible or was that impossible?
No, never because up there, even that I’ve known all these Greek restaurants
in Murwillumbah, knew every one of them because I used to go out with these Yanks to take them to different and beside they used to have, on top of the shops they had like spare rooms, like bedrooms and stuff like this here and when these Yanks want to stay here, they used to sleep in these rooms here but I could never, ever get one of them to cook an Italian meal cause there’d been here for years themselves and the reason
their excuse was that they never had the ingredients and materials so they can cook the meal up and in a way I didn’t blame them because unless you’ve got the right stuff to cook it, it’s no good trying and imitate stuff.
You were seeing a lot of American soldiers in the area. Were you seeing many Australian soldiers on leave around there at the time?
Not many, very few.
Did you ever
end up in social situations where there might be American soldiers and Australian soldiers?
They finish up in the situation where English and Australian soldiers, well most of them English and Australian sailors. There was always a blue on. The Poms and the Australians and another thing and the Poms were very bad pay compared to the Australians too. They were given lot less money than what the Australians were given and that’s how the brawl used to
start, you know.
So plenty of fighting going on?
Did you detect any tension between the American soldiers and the Australian soldiers?
Yes they were a bit jealous the Australian soldiers because the Americans used to take the girls away, and that was a big problem.
Did that bother you that the Americans were running around grabbing all the girls?
No we had just, we were just
in between but see with the Americans they had say come on leave, they had a thousand pounds in their pocket where the poor Australian soldier, like if he had a couple of pounds in his pocket so he can spend it. Buy a drink but he’d never be able to shout a girl out for a meal or stuff like this here. That was really hard so these Yanks used to come out all these restaurants and they buy the best
for the girls. Sometimes they want clothes, they buy clothes. Then another thing in Murwillumbah they had, people they all had horses and some of these Yanks come from the country towns, they used to like horse rides so couple of smart people there, they got all these horses in the street and hired them out to the Yanks to have horse rides in them and some of those Yanks, once had a few drinks, they were no-hopers,
in horse riding, in
Interviewee: Raffaele Panucci Archive ID 1359 Tape 07
You were talking about the soldiers, once they got a bit of drink the Yankee soldiers, once they got a bit of drink into them and went horse riding or motorbike riding, you call them, you said some of them were no-hopers?
Come down to the boarding house like to live with this Mrs Ford there over the weekend, she used to put mattresses on the floor
and everywhere so they’d always, for some reason or another, they were always after to buy either buy Scotch, brandy or wines. In those days they were hard to get so they used to pay anything for them so this old Mrs Ford. They used to say, “See if you can buy this stuff during the week and keep it over the weekend.” Because when they come in they buy it so they’d be drinking themselves to going to sleep, so they’d be sleeping on these mattresses on the floor whatever shared room
and the next morning they get up. They didn’t know what they had the night before, so she used to finish up with most of the stuff that these people used to have. Leave there. They’d go back to what’s a name, to the place where fighting, say Pearl Harbor or one of the islands there and on the plane the following day and they leave everything behind. They leave sometimes
they never even used to take the bags but whatever they had in the bag they leave it there and they just catch the plane and off they go.
Why did they, just because they forgot it or cause they wanted to leave their stuff for the other, like?
No they just leave it there. They go without taking it with them cause they didn’t know, the whole idea they used to say, “They didn’t know if they were going to get back or not,” and that was their attitude that they had of going back after they have their leave.
Is there any other stories you can tell us
about your time up in Murwillumbah, anything that really comes to memory?
Yeah let me see. I was up in the place in Murwillumbah away about half an hour in the truck. It used to be called Doon Doon, and we went to this place here and there was about five families
in the little town there that they all had these banana plantations there and no-one ever used to go to this place here because they didn’t want anyone from the outside world knowing what they were doing. They were five families, so the Bananas Growers’ Federation mob, they said, “That we had to go and check the plantations on account of all this disease,” and anyhow they forced them that much that we finished up going.
When we got there there’s a Maltese man that he owned two of the plantations and I had his name there so I’ve got to see him on account of plantation and I said, “I’ve got to check it all out,” and he said to me, he said, “If you check it all out and I’ve got disease on or something wrong, what happens?” I said, “We’ve got to destroy them, not the plantations. Destroy the
banana stools,” they used to call them. It’s like a, have you seen a banana stool? So chop them down, chop them up, put the poison on, burn them or whatever the case got to be done. Anyhow he said, “No other damages?” I said, “I’ll promise you that,” so we started to go round, check them up. It got pretty dark at night and he had a packing shed there. I said, “We’re going to stay here until we’re finished. Might be two or three nights we’ll
be staying here,” and he had five daughters so the first night we stayed there, kept in the shed. Well we had those kerosene what’s a name lamps, where you put a grate over the top and you put a pan and you’ve got a pot to cook on, you know so we lit this up, so soon as we lit this up he come flying over. He said, “Don’t do
that in the shed, everything catch on fire.” “No,” I said, “We done this every day of the week.” I said, “We’re aware of that. Don’t worry about the fire.” We had those rubber mats on the bottom so the following day, morning when we got up, he called me over. He said, “Tonight,” he said, “You can come home and we have dinner at our place.” I thought, “That’s a bit strange,” you know, a little bit. “Alright,” I said, “You sure?” I said, “Yep,” so when we come back,
he called in and he said, “Come in I’ll introduce you to my family,” so this five daughters, they’d never, ever been out of that place ever since they were born. 22, 20, 18 so
I was, that Mick, we were all round about 20 so they had the piano in the, the girls used to play the piano so after we stayed there for a little while, this Mick, the one who used to sing, he said, “Who plays the piano?” He said, “Play the piano and we’ll sing a couple of songs,” so then they go and start and we stayed there till about midnight that night.
The next night we kept going there and we done the same thing so I said, “What religion are you?” She said, “We’re Catholics.” I said, “Have you been going to church anywhere?” “No.” I said, “On the Friday night,” I said, “They’re having a big turnout at the church.” I said, “Why don’t you come over and I’ll introduce you to the priest and the brothers because they had the schools there,” and
the mother looked at me and she smiled. Her father said, “No they can’t go to.” I said, “Have they been to the church?” He said, “No.” I said, “Why don’t you come over and,” I said, “I’ll make the arrangements so you can stop in one of the Greek restaurants place upstairs with the whole family and then,” I said, “They can come over to the dance like at night plus the church service,” and the wife agreed and he was stubborn. I said
“Nothing’s going to happen to your girls. Don’t worry about that.” I said, “I’ll promise you that I’ll look after them if they come to the dance or the church, wherever they want to go,” and he said, “You sure?” I said, “Yeah, I’ll shake your hands,” and he said, “I don’t know,” he said, “I’m still not quite sure if I’m going to do it or not.” “Well,” I said, “You talk to your wife,” so this wife, I could see she wanted to come out. She wanted to go and
she said, “Yes they can go and we go too,” so these girls, they’re jumping up and down so we took them down on the Friday night. The mother and father, they’re sitting on the side. I had them amongst all the church crowd and the young fellers there. They had the time of their life, so I said to the oldest one, I said, “How many times you been?” She said, “We
never been out of the house ever since we been there,” and he was too frightened like to get them out of the house because he thought something was going to happen to them so I got the priest inside, in charge of the church, to go and talk to the mother and father so they finished up going every Sunday to the church so I finish up, talking about girls,
that with this oldest girl there, I said, “When you come in on Sunday,” I said, “You come down to Mrs Ford’s place, teach you how to take there and,” I said, “You can come and have dinner with me there, you and the whole family. I’ll get Mrs Ford to cook up.” She was too frightened to tell her father see. I said, “You going to?” “No,” she said, “You’d better tell him,” so I said to her, “You stop here and I’ll go see your father.” I said, “listen, on Sunday when you come down to church,
come over to Mrs Ford’s place at the corner near the park and,” I said, “You can have dinner there with us.” “Oh,” he said, “We’ve never done this before.” I said, “I know.” I said, “You’ve got those girls like prisoners.” I said, “They’ve never been out of the house ever since you’ve been there,” and he said, “Who told you that?” I said, “Your daughters.” He felt, you know that he strike himself down to nothing. He said, “I’ve got to ask the wife and the daughters.” I knew as soon as he asked the wife and the daughters, they’ll want to come down.
Anyhow I finished up going with this girl here most of the time that I stayed there in Murwillumbah. I’d forgotten about this to tell you about this and when we finished up coming home in Murwillumbah, she wanted to come down to Sydney and the father said, “No I won’t let you go there,” and she rang me up and she wrote me letters. Then I said, “I’d better let them go because if I don’t, something happen to them,”
and he was sort of a wild type of man. You know does his lolly [becomes angry], and he used to call those girls whatever name under the sun and even goes mad on his wife. Then I wrote a nice letter and explained to, I said, “With your father,” I said, “You can’t do much cause you can’t reason with him, nothing,” so she said, she write me back and she said, “I think we better leave it like that,” and then I finished with it but for nearly, what was it, nearly four or five
months that I met up with this family, they used to come down every Sunday.
Did the father mind you seeing his daughter while you were in Murwillumbah or did the father know that you were seeing each other?
Yeah, he used to trust me. For some reason or another, he used to trust me so I said to him there many times. I said, “If you don’t be careful, you’ll finish up losing these girls here because they’ve never been anywhere, you
never take them anywhere. You never do anything with them and once they find out they can do things for themselves,” I said, “You won’t see them,” so he, you know he looked at me and he give me a bit of a smile. He must have realised it so that’s when they started to come down every Sunday and come down and have dinner with us there. Then I used to take her out, we used to go out. I used to go up to Tweed Heads because I had the Jeep, the car there, Tweed Heads to Coolangatta and then come, like for the day. We used to go out for a day.
She must have had the time of her life? What kind of girl was she?
Round about your size and nearly, darky sort of a feature. Something like you there but very pleasant. They used to do anything. She used to play the piano, cooking, sewing, embroidery work. They done every, and the way they learnt, they used to get books
and study books because the school they used to go, was a little school that they had in Doon Doon and the teacher there, one teacher used to teach four or five classes and that’s how they learnt.
Was there many families living like that in isolation up there?
I’ve seen families out from Doon Doon, a bit further out that the school kids put them on horseback, tied them on the horse, kick the horse on the backside. They send their kids to school on a horse and then the horse used to
take them to school and the teacher used to do exactly the same. That was not unusual thing. In those kinds of towns they used to do, most of the stuff used to be done like that. They had no other transport.
How did you find the people? Were they fairly well educated or were they very simple people?
Some of them had no education at all, cause they lived in these places all their life
and then all depends, the father and mother what they had. When, in those country towns there, they get very touchy if they see someone strange there and they’ve got women in the place. They wouldn’t want a man to hang around or do anything there like that.
Did you get that kind of treatment?
Yeah, many times yeah. Sometimes they never, when we used to call to these places here, they never used to give us any
confidence whatsoever. We had to set up a camp outside the house, not even anywhere near their houses, outside in the shed somewhere or out in the open.
Because they didn’t want any of us around, especially when they seen us four young ones there. They thought, you know we were going to do something to the women or something to hurt them or whatever the case, whatever they thought about.
You must have developed very close relationships with the men that you
were working with in Murwillumbah, the other Italian men because you’ve been with them in Canberra, then Goulburn Gaol. Did you make very good friends out of these men?
Yes, no problem, yeah and I’ve noticed that you got on better with the women that had no men in the place to help them out and they used to do anything for you. They used to cook. Sometimes we’d
be staying there for a week. Some, they used to wash my clothes, iron my clothes and do anything like that because I used to help them out. As I said they had these dairy farmers, like banana with a few cows. They used to milk the cows. They used to have the hand separator machine to separate the cream and they used to give the skim milk to the pigs and the head chooks and all that and like we used to do all these little odd jobs while we were there and those women they thought the world of us
but you get others that they had the men and they would be getting jealous about us being there. They wouldn’t even give the smell of, nothing. They just didn’t want to have nothing to do with us.
Did you find Australians at that time less generous than how you remembered the Italian families to be when you were growing up in Italy? Did you find the hospitality different?
Yeah, in Australia at the time compared to what you remember Italy to be like?
In the war years
especially in the country town, really hard type of people. They didn’t trust anybody. The only thing that they had in my mind was, well talking about, say they had banana plantations. They’d only talk about bananas. “They’d never done any good this year. Something went on that,” all this. If they had pigs, if they had cattle, whatever they had. That’s all they ever
talked about and with the families, really jealous, one with another even if they lived next door to one another. If they had men there, you couldn’t have a, you couldn’t go in the house if his wife was there by herself cause they started, you know getting jealous about the men being in the house while she was there by herself and this used to go on for a long time. I’ve seen a family never used to talk there for months
for that reason.
When did you find out that Italy had entered the war?
I think it was about the second day or the third day once the war broke out that that come out. Italy fighting against England, against the British Empire
and against the Americans because the Americans come in later to the war before the European, English started and once that started, that was another big, all the Italians were all enemies. No-one wanted anything to do with the Italians anymore here and that’s when this idea of jealousy started, putting Italians in. Once this
internment idea started, that was the finish of it because if I lived here and you lived three houses up and we had a bit of an argument or done something in between of us, you’d be the first one to put me in to say, “Ralph Panucci he belongs to that society, belongs to that party, belongs to the other party,” and once they get those letters, they didn’t check out to see what I done or nothing.
Once they got that letter, they pick you up and take you in.
Did you have any personal experience of that happening to you?
Could you talk about that, a friend or family that were once your friends that stopped being your friend?
Well, the personal experience that I had was when I said to you when I was in Double Bay, the people get picked up, owning those shops and get picked up
and when they picked them up they never asked the question, “If they had a family, if they had a business, if whatever they had.” They just didn’t worry about it. They just come in and pick them up and take them away.
Did you have any friends that you were very friendly with who suddenly said nasty things to you after they found out that Italy had entered the war?
No, most of the Australian friends that I had, we used to
knock about together and nothing like that ever happened, no. Not even with my Dad. My Dad was there for 20 odd years. He started there, when did he get over here? He come out ’36. He went to, he was in 418C Elizabeth Street. That was the number, the shop number. He was there for the best part of,
when he come out from Merriwa. He would have been there best part of about eight or 10 years there and he knew a lot of people around there but no-one ever said anything to him against or spoke, as I said to you, I was frightened that he might get put in an internment camp on account of people being jealous or done, some people didn’t like him, they’d put him in for some reason or another but no,
it didn’t, nothing affected him. You know what time he was working as the usual as he worked all these years.
Do you think it helped that he’d already been in Australia for a long, long time already?
Yes and another thing. He was really friendly too with people. He, all those no-hopers, he used to be a heavy smoker and what he used to do
he had on the top of the bench on the side of the shop, get a tin like this here. He used to half smoke his cigarettes and put them in that tin. Then those no-hopers would go in and ask him for a smoke, “Ernie have you got a smoke?” He used to get the tin out and hand it over to them so that they could take two or three of those half smoked cigarettes and they were as happy as a Larry. They’d go in and ask him for a drink. “No, I’ll give you a feed, but no drink. If you want a feed, go and see George down the road.
Tell him I send you down and I’ll pay for your feed.” He was that type of feller.
What kind of people would come, when you say, ‘no-hopers’, what kind of people would they be?
People out in the street, sitting out on the pub steps all day or drinking half the time when they got a few pounds in the pocket and they sleep out in the park or sleep out, people like this. This type of people and there was a lot in those days.
A lot of them.
As I said to you when we used to walk across Hyde Park from the war memorial across to Hyde Park, you had to be careful because people used to sleep in wrapped up newspaper out on the ground. That was one of the sort of a daily thing.
Can you tell, where were you when the Japanese came into Sydney Harbour? Can you tell us about the night that happened and where you were and?
Yeah that’s the time I was in the
glassworks and they used to be at night time, working night shift there and this happened that night we were doing nightshift, early morning. As we get out to go home the news come over that the U-boats, they used to call them the little U-boat, was in Darling Harbour blowing the bridge up or letting a bomb out but the boat sank and something happened to it. Then they got him out.
How did that make you feel? Did you feel that war was close to you?
Everybody here in Sydney they thought, you know, “It’s the end of Sydney.” Everybody was frightened. Everything, they cut, as I said to you, no lights were allowed out windows. You had to have a black curtain so something where you don’t see the day, all these type of things. That went on for a long time.
How long were those rules in force?
The blackouts at night, how long were those rules in force?
They lasted all during the war, until the war finished. We had that thing there going on all the time.
And where were you on the day the war finished? Were you in Murwillumbah on the day war ended?
No we come back before then. When the war ended, we’d all finished up in Hyde Park opposite Elizabeth Street.
You know the park opposite Elizabeth Street? Then when you got down, they were all celebrating cause the war finished.
So before you got there, how did you get from Murwillumbah back to Sydney? Were you released from your duties?
Yeah, once we knew, because we knew beforehand that the war was going to finish.
How did you know that?
Well the news, we used to listen to the news and newspapers
then the Italians surrendered beforehand and that’s when we started to, you know get easy and things started to get more what should I say, more free, more freedom. They never used to worry about too much.
So what year was that, when did that happen? How long were you in Murwillumbah?
Well we were there for nearly eight months in Murwillumbah.
And then you heard that the Italians had
And then the authorities let you have a free reign up there?
What they just didn’t check on you at all?
No, no more no because even the chap in charge up in Murwillumbah, this young Fitzpatrick there, I told him what we were going to do. He said, “Don’t worry about it. You want to go, you go.”
So you went as soon as you could or did you stay in Murwillumbah a bit longer?
No we stayed. I told him beforehand. I said, “Look things are getting a lot easier. The Italians have surrendered.”
They were there with the British. They surrendered to the British in North Africa but they surrendered themselves in Italy too because then the Germans took over Italy and they were fighting against the Germans. That’s when they come in with the Americans and the English, the Italians, frightened they’d get to Germany and Italy see and then things got a lot easier and then that sort of time we come home.
Did many Australians know the Italians had surrendered or?
they did, yeah cause it was, used to be coverage on the radio. Those days was no TV those days either, radio and the newspapers. We used to know exactly what went on every day of the week, yeah and then a lot of Italians in, when they were fighting against the Australians in North Africa, they used to give themselves up by the hundreds, the prisoners of war. They used to surrender themselves by two or three hundred lots at a time, the Italians
and that’s when they got a lot of the Italian prisoners come to Australia there and they had them working in farms all around Sydney.
Did you meet any of those prisoners of war?
Yeah I met some, yeah. My father in law, Nicolina’s father, he had a farm up at Ryde and he had some up there.
So they would put Italian prisoners of war with Italian, Australians if they could?
No weren’t going to put Australians and Italians but Nicolina’s father
had how many acres? 12 acres of land up there and he had no-one. He was looking for someone to work so they bring these fellers there.
It’s a long way for them to come, all the way across from Europe to land here in Australia?
Yeah but those days, I don’t know if you ever read about it? The Italians were going to North Africa and places, Tobruk and all those places where they were fighting. They never used to fight. They just
march in and give themselves up and that’s how they got all these prisoners.
How do you feel about that?
Well I was happy about it because what’s the use fighting against something they didn’t know what they were fighting for? They didn’t know who they were, what they were going to get. They were forced to fight because they were frightened of, Mussolini was frightened of Hitler going and taking Italy away because what he done
with all the other close nations and the thing that’s always the way Mussolini went to war that time again so England and the States and all these places. That time there, I don’t know if you, you probably don’t remember? England was getting bombed every night of the week and Hitler was half way, three parts to way to Russia taking Russia out and the only thing saved Russia was the snow
cause they couldn’t get passed there but they were just taking all the countries, one after the other.
So how did you get back from Murwillumbah back from Sydney? How did you make the journey?
Train, in the train.
And that must have been a good feeling to be coming back home after all this time?
Yeah after so many months and, you know being away from home. The poor old feller and the two brothers
there. I used to write to them or sometimes I’d give them a call next door, the lady next door that had a telephone, talk to them like that.
And did they miss you while you were up in Murwillumbah or were they coping a bit better?
Yes because they were still young, you know and they had friends here because they used to go to school here and they had like sort of a mixture Italians and Australians but mostly Australians because there wasn’t too many Italians those
days up there in Elizabeth Street and another thing is, the money that the oldest brother used to do a bit of shoe work and my father wasn’t doing much because he was sick so they never had that much money to spend. You know they’d just make enough to live on.
But they managed to survive?
Yes they did, yeah
changed when you came back home?
Yeah changed a lot.
What happened, how did you make them change?
Well then I started in the shoe place. I stayed there for about six months when I got back.
That’s in Elizabeth Street, your father’s shoe shop?
And built the place up again because I knew most of the people. I used to get up early in the morning when my father used to get up, half past six in the morning cause we had people coming up there all the time from half past six till nine from the subway and we started to get all these old customers
and work back in again and then I built that place up. In six months after I was back there, we were taking the same amount of work as when I left.
So Sydney was a changed place when you came back, just after the war?
You know why? A lot of Americans here. In
just in that part of Elizabeth Street was, the location was called Surry Hills and in Surry Hills the Americans had a base on the back of Crown Street Hostel there and there were all blacks, would have been the best part of five or six hundred blacks there, Americans and in Crown Street Hospital, we had a hundred and ten black kids born in one
year and that’s, they had the money too and these people having the money, all these young girls were having kids with all these black fellers.
That must have been scandalous at that time, was it?
You can just imagine and my father used to know most of these girls that had these kids with these, cause he’d been there for a long time see and they all used to knock around there
and the poor old feller, when he used to see them, he was too shy to even say ‘g’day’ to them, you know because he knew what happened to them but they didn’t mind. They used to go up and talk to him, used to call him Ernie cause my father’s name was Ernest, used to call him Ernie. “How are you going Ernie? How do you like my baby?” The poor old feller, he didn’t know what to do. He felt ashamed that they had,
but they didn’t worry. I reckon he felt, he used to treat them, some of these girls that he knew, he knew the mothers and fathers and he used to treat them like his own daughters. You know used to, very friendly. When he see these things happen, he really got downhearted and disgusted with it and he used to see them. He used to turn around and he didn’t want them to say, ‘g’day’ or ‘hello’, but the girls used to go and talk to him, see.
So how were the girls treated once they had, you know the babies, black babies or half, were they, how did the rest of the?
You know what the average Australian used to call them? “You’re a black slut, you’re a so and so,” all these stupid damn names but what can they do? Those days there, most of the Australian boys they weren’t here. They were still away. They were the people who had the money and they give them what they
want. They used to buy them dresses. They used to buy them shoes. They used to buy whatever they want so, you know going out one day, two days with them and things happen and that was the finish of it.
Were there many marriages at that time between the black men and the white?
No the only one. Was this girl here that, was two that I knew that they married the black, the sailors. They married these two black sailors but most of
Was that because the men didn’t want to marry the girls or?
No it’s only because I think, you know it’s one of these going out tonight, have a good time, then they’re finished with them. While they were here on leave, they spend the money, they go out with these girls and just left them having these kids and they never seen them again and there was a lot of cases like that.
Now you said that Sydney
changed a lot just after the war and you mentioned that way that the fact that there was a lot of black sailors here, it changed the atmosphere a bit?
After the war it changed not only with the, because then all the, more Italians come out. More Greeks come out. More Yugoslav’s come out and the South Americans started to come out too and it was a different sort of a reaction against all these people here.
Then after about a couple of years, 1948, let me see, ’44, ’45. After not even a year the Italian migration started to come in and then every week, would have been a day or two, five or six hundred Italians coming in, in Australia. In the period of about say about four years, would have been the best part of about half a million Italians come to Australia.
What years would
they have been?
That would have been between the 1940 to the 1950 odd but boats full. Sometimes two boats a week, a month, sometimes three boats a month.
And would they come to Sydney or would they go to Melbourne?
Everywhere, Sydney, Melbourne. All over Australia they used to go.
Which suburbs in Sydney would they tend to go to?
Leichhardt would have been the popular one. They used to call
it the “Little Italy,” there. They had more Italians in Leichhardt than anything else cause all little house prices were cheap and they used to live there, soon as they get a few dollars they used to buy the house.
So Sydney’s changing because there’s black people there and then there’s more Europeans coming here to live?
Yeah well see what happened with the Italians, as soon as they got a few dollars, get a job and get a few dollars, the husband and wife
used to work and they sell the little house in Leichhardt and they move up to Liverpool way, they buy a little farm there, bigger house. Well they move up around Five Dock, Haberfield, whatever they had the money, could afford to get a bigger place with a big yard. They wanted a big yard so they can grow their own vegies and all that type of things and that went on for a long time.
How did your life change when you came back from Murwillumbah after the war?
changed my life because I had a lot more experience with everything. To me, like being here. It’s like being in my own place, my own house, my own land. I just done what I wanted to do and there was no stop to it. I want to buy that shop at Randwick. I open the shop up there and started a shop there. I had about five or six women working there and three men and I just kept on going that way.
That was it, just did.
So you became more determined than ever to be a success?
Yeah, then when we sold that shop, we got this other shoe shop where we stayed for 40 odd years and I just kept on going that way, doing things that I had in mind to do all the time. When we started with the orthopaedic shoes, I approached most of the hospitals, most of the orthopaedic specialists and most of these people here that were doing this type of work and help the poor people who had
no money. Sometimes I used to do shoes for nothing, just to help them out.
So how do you think war changed you?
Well it changed me seeing all this different type of people, suffering and stuff like this here, which I could not stand. I had to suffer myself. Come at that age here and go out and work at 12, 13 years old, earning 15 shillings a week and I hated to see someone suffering and doing the things that I’d had to do. I was forced to do it,
cause when I get my mother and two brothers out here and actually I was against anything else. When I seen something like that I just hate to see it and see people suffering or see people getting robbed like the people in the hospital, with money and stuff like this here. It’s something that I could never stand, or never stand it for them. I thought it was wrong, which it was wrong to begin with. If you only
seen things that I seen there. When I used to go to the, I used to go to the markets over the weekend, down the Sydney Markets. They used to be where Chinatown is now.
After the war you used to do this?
Yeah after the war I visit the markets there all the time and when I used to go to buy the stuff when I was in Double Bay, like the fruit and vegetables and other
stuff was all at the markets there, I used to, Fridays I used to go there in the morning and I used to buy a load of say watermelons when they were in season. I’d probably buy a trailer load full of watermelons, might have been three or four days in watermelons and I had some of the boys, they used to live up in Redfern. They used to go to school with us and they had those, you know those little two wheel barrows? I used to give them all these watermelons to take
them out. They used to go out to the beach, Coogee, Bondi, all these places here and sell these watermelons. Over the weekend we used to get rid of these watermelons. We used to make anything up to about two or three hundred pounds profit.
When would you do this?
When I come back from Murwillumbah, down in the shoe shop. Friday morning I used to go up in the market and do this here and line all these kids up and we used to make about two or three hundred pounds profit and they used to split them up
with all the kids.
You were very entrepreneurial?
Yeah and I done that for a long time. Then over the years there when we left, we were still there with my father. When I left the shoe shop and I went up to Randwick to start my shop up there, I used to do that market business all the time
there cause if you had a bit of money those days there, cash and some of those poor growers. They used to come in and they could not sell the stuff and it was left in the truck, like tomatoes. A couple of hundred cases of tomatoes, a couple of hundred of this so I used to turn around and buy the whole lot. Then I knew all those little dealers with the barrows that used to go around. I used to give it to them and say, “Listen, here’s the stuff. You give me 50 pounds and you can do whatever you like with the rest of
the stuff,” and I used to make, help them out to begin with. They used to make a bit of money to buy the stuff up again for the following week and I done that for a couple of years.
Interviewee: Raffaele Panucci Archive ID 1359 Tape 08
OK, Ralph, do you think it took you some time to adjust back into normal civilian life when you came back to Sydney?
That’s a good question. Well to begin with it did because I was disappointed leaving my father and the two brothers there. After my mother passed away, and me being the oldest and like supporting them with everything that they need and being away at the time of
the year I was really disappointed but, as you said, it took me long time. It took me the best part of about six months to try and get them back to as we were before I left and to build up what I had in mind to do, which we come and we done everything that I had in mind to do in about six or seven months time and then I started to settle
down but it took me that long to come back to the real life that we started from the beginning.
How was Dad when you first came back, had he recovered a bit from his nervous breakdown?
Very, very little. As a matter of fact after six months when I was back, he was a different man altogether cause his nerves started to quieten down. As I said, he had a nervous breakdown, he had a stroke
but after I come back here and he seen me here and he knew that I was staying here and, you know he started to pick up and he started to eat a little bit better and in the six months time after I was down there he picked up a lot. That was a bit of a relief as far as I was concerned too because I was really thinking that he won’t last that long. You know after having this nervous breakdown and the stroke, I thought once he sees me again he’ll probably get a shock and he might just, you know pass away but no,
it reacted the other way. He picked up and he started to pick up a lot better. Then he went on and he lived for another, 76, 77 when he died. He lived for about another 20 odd years, yeah a bit more than 20 odd years. Then when we moved up to Stanmore there in Parramatta Road I got him to sell the little shop there and we got him up in Parramatta Road with ourselves in the little
place up in Petersham and he was a lot happier there because he used to see us every day so the kids, the whole lot of them, it changed his life a bit then, see.
So your Dad was obviously very happy to see you back home?
How were your brothers feeling about having you back?
The first thing he said when I come back, he said, “You don’t know how I feel at the present
time.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Having your two young brothers here, me sick, they didn’t know if I was going to live to see you coming back here.” “Well,” I said, “You got none of that worry now.” I said, “I’m here and tell me what you want to do and,” I said, “I’ll get everything done for you.” He said, “I want nothing.” He said, “I only want you back and just get everything organised.” I said, “Don’t worry about that,” so from then on we just keep on
you know, went on and moved up and done everything that we wanted to do.
Were you feeling optimistic at that time, positive about the future?
Well I was always positive because I knew in my mind what I wanted to do.
And what was that?
Well I want to get and gain something, make a name for yourself. Do things that the average person didn’t want, haven’t got the set mind to do it. I wanted
to, we started, I got the idea first that Randwick shop. Once we got rid of that I said, “I’m going to go back to shoes and we’ve got to get stuck into the shoes and do everything that I can.” That’s when I started to do contact with the hospital, with the orthopaedic fellers and stuff like that, anybody that had anything to do with orthopaedic shoes and that’s how we started keep on going there but every year we used to build up, up, up, up all the time
until we just got, we got our name in papers. We got our name everywhere and everybody started to know you and I never had to put an ad in the paper about advertising that we make shoes or we do this or we do that. It’s just people telling one another just mouth to mouth every time. You know that type of things and we kept on going like that for the best part of, until we sold, got rid of the place
and people were still after me, after we come here they’re still ringing up here if we can still do this and do that. I said, “No,” I said, “It’s come to an end. I can recommend you to people who used to work for me. They do exactly the same thing but we just give it away.”
I want to talk to you more about that stuff in a little while, but in the meantime could you tell me about how you came to meet your wife?
Met the wife? Right, we
used to go to school together as kids.
Back home. We used to, of because we used to, you know having games and close up, we started to toss one another and but we had no real feelings about one another. We were only kids anyhow.
Was she about your age?
Yeah, six months, seven months younger and her father,
he happened to come out here the same year as my father did and like Nicolina’s father could not speak English. When Nicolina’s father come out here, my father had a place up at Merriwa working for that Barrington feller and he got him to go to the Barrington and working on this sheep farm cleaning up the lantana bush and all that and he stayed there for about
two years while my father stayed there and they made a bit of money there with my father working there all the time and when they come back to Sydney, they brought, he brought a little farm up on North Ryde. He used to like to grow flowers and like bit of vegetables, mostly flowers. He used to like poppies. He used to grow the best poppies in Sydney and then my father got the shoe shop here
and then all of a sudden after the war finished, he brought his family out, Nicolina and another sister which she lives down the road, not far from here and another sister was married there so she stayed there and come out here afterwards and then I met, they come on a boat, come out this Italian boat, can’t think of the name now.
They had a wharf strike in Sydney, all of Australia and the boat got as far as Melbourne and they had to stay another week in Melbourne before they come to Sydney so Nicolina’s father never been to Melbourne before so he said, “Can you come to Melbourne with me because the family got stuck there and I don’t want them to stay on that silly boat,” because it was the first boat had come out from Italy and it was one of these merchant boats and they made it to a passenger boat.
So he said to me, “Can you come down to Melbourne so we can pick the family up?” I said, “Alright,” so I went down to Melbourne with him and look around, we did both wharf things so we got on the boat. When we got onto the boat, I used to go through all these boats when they used to come here. This merchant boat, you ought to seen it. You go up the front entrance when you go in. They were right down the bottom of the boat
cause it was, and they put all these beds on the side of the boat and women and men, they used to sleep one opposite the other. They had no privacy and they had, do their washing, they had a big trough where they washed their feet and all that and the only thing they had separate was toilets. They brought them here like animals and when I seen that bloody boat, I tell you what, I was upset to see that they paid,
the poor old feller paid two hundred and seventy odd pounds each for them to come out on that boat there. It was the first boat that left Italy after the war. Anyhow we picked them up and we brought them to Sydney and that’s the first time I seen Nicolina, all those years after the war and after school and all that, must have been the best part of about 20 years.
That would have been 1946?
And did you realise straight away that you felt maybe there was chemistry?
No it never ever entered my mind. You know, I thought I was doing a good turn for the old feller, he had to bring them out and then I was knocking around with Tom, Dick and Harry here and I got a bit sick of it. I was round about 26, 27 and I said,
I met up, the woman used to live next door to us here and she said to me, “Why don’t you try and settle down?” You know, that’s a good question so I said, “What do you mean?” She said, “You had all those shops, you making a lot of money. You doing this and you doing that, you got nothing,” and I said
“And you think if I get married, I’ll be any better off?” She said, “You got to try.” Anyhow this Nicolina’s father come down one day and said to Pop, “Come up home.” They used to live at North Ryde. “Come up home, we have a dinner at home,” so I drove my father up there and Nicolina’s father said, she said, “Why don’t you stop and have dinner with us?” I said, “No, got an appointment in Sydney.” “No,” he said, “Stay here with us
and you can go afterwards.” Anyhow I finished up staying there. We had few drinks, started to muck around, blah, blah, blah and I finished up staying there during the night. You know stayed there because they had a big house. Pop and I stayed there. The next day we got up and Pop said, “Look,” he said, “You’ve got a good opportunity there. She’s a nice girl,” blah, blah and I said to Pop “I don’t know, Pop.” I said, “Got to think about it,”
so I used to go with a little girl up in Dowling Street. She used to be a hairdresser and she was a fully champion girl. She won a hairdressing prize about three years in a row so her mother used to come down to the shop and see me all the time and she turned around, she said, “It’s about time you’re getting married.” I said, “Don’t tell me what to do, cause I’ve got no intention of getting married.” “Oh,” she said, “If you’re not going
to get married to my daughter, don’t come up to my place anymore.” I said, “You’re right,” I said, “I won’t.” I rang her daughter up. I said, “That’s the finish of it,” so that break everything up and then I went up to Nicolina’s place with Pop again the following Sunday. I stayed there for dinner and then gradually we started, you know I took her out a few times, then I said, “Righto.” In about six months I got married.
What year did you get married?
I can’t even think of the year now, better ask Nicolina.
You’ll be in trouble?
Yeah I will. It was the year, that same year cause they got here on Australia Day in January.
Yeah that same year when they come out cause only six months after she come out and that was it.
So in ’46 were you still working in your Dad’s shop in?
Elizabeth Street or you’d already started in Randwick?
No, we had the shop in Parramatta Road. We sold the one at Randwick.
When did you start the one at Randwick?
After, soon after the war finished, when I come back to Sydney, with Pop.
Yeah with Pop there. After they settled down, we got everything going, I brought the shop in Randwick.
So you probably started that in ’45?
And how long would you have run the one in Randwick?
What, 18 months,
a year something like that then I built it up and I got rid of it, made a few thousand dollars profit and we got the shoe
And that was home wares wasn’t it?
Yeah and then we got this shop in Parramatta Road, the shoe shop there. That’s when we started the shoe shop.
And originally that was the three brothers?
And what was Dad doing at that point? He was still doing his own shop?
Yeah Pop was still there with two brothers.
The other, second brother, he didn’t like shoes. He went to something else, but the young brother, John and me.
Started Parramatta Road?
Yeah and we were there until, what about 14 years ago when we give it away. It was about, ’80, no must have been longer than that because, I’m thinking about, time flies
would have been about 20 years ago, ’65 yeah about 16, 17 years ago. That’s when we give the shop away and then I just, I was still going around helping these people in what’s a name homes, all of the old people homes,
these little private hospitals. I used to go around because I used to make the shoes and go down there and take the shoes and do the repairs and stuff like that. I used to go down and do them for nothing because they were sort of a poor type of people. They had no money so I used to go out and help them out and do that type of thing there. I thought I’ll do the right thing cause most of the time any people that they never had any money, could not afford to do anything, they used to just charge them for the material
and no profit made. I done that for years.
Why do you think you used to do that? What drove you to do that?
Because I had a feeling that I didn’t like anyone to, I didn’t want to see anyone suffering for stuff like this here. If they need something and I could do it or help them out, I used to just do it.
Sounds like that was a very, it’s always been an important thing for you?
Yeah all the time. When I used to be in the Lions Club, I used to do exactly the same. I used to
find out the families that they need things and I used to go there and just help them out as much as I can. We used to go to a place up the infants home up at Ashfield. Those days there, there were 140, 150 kids there that the father, mothers they had arguments and they’d leave them there and all that and two or three times a year, Christmas time especially we used to, I don’t know how much we used to spend there on toys and food. We used to give them a dinner and buy them toys and help them out that way
We done that, well they used to do it every year but beside, then from Boys Town, they used to get a lot of kids from Boys Town, teach them the trade and I done the same thing there. Most of those boys I helped them out until they started their own business or until they finish up with something. I used to say to them, “When you do something, you do it properly and you never look back.”
You know, “When I learn the trade you do it the right way,” and any of them that they had no intentions, they want to come out of Boys Town just so they can get out of there to do something, unless they learn the trade properly, I used to say, “No.” I used to call the people back “You can take them back,” but I always made sure that anyone who stayed and they want to learn the trade, I made sure that they do it.
So you’re a very generous man?
When you get, you know, when you started the way I started, you get that way.
Do you think that’s a big reason why you’ve ended up being like the way you are because it was such a struggle in the early days?
Well I think so cause I believe if you do the right thing, you’ve got to finish up in the way where someone looks after you and I think someone up there probably looked after me
and another thing is you do the right thing and you can always look someone in the face and tell them what you want to tell them. You do the wrong thing and you can’t look anybody in the face. You got to hide yourself and I’ve noticed that for a long time because I used to make shoes for, not people that they had money, people that they had money and
it used to take them six or seven months to pay for the bills, people that I’ve known and most of them they were professional people too and they used to see you walking up the street. They see you and they turn around the other side, never even look at your face and I think it’s a horrible thing that and that type of thing so I said to the kids, “You don’t, never, you don’t want to be like that. If there’s anything wrong, you do anything wrong, or goes wrong
just go and face the people and tell them exactly what happened,” and that’s the only way to get on and these days here, it’s a shame because there are too many like that, everybody trying to avoid one another when things like this happen. You know, with me I looked at life in a different way altogether. If anything went wrong I just went out and faced them but if anyone needed anything
that I had up there that I can help them out, I used to go and face them too and tell them exactly, “I can do this for you. I can do that for you.” You never die rich that way but you get a lot of satisfactions.
Has Australia been good to you Ralph?
Yes, got nothing to blame or nothing to go crook about. The only period that I was a bit upset was during that war period because they treated some
of those poor people they were here for years and doing the right thing and doing, well doing the right thing for the country and doing, they never done anything wrong and they got put in internment camps and suffering. They suffer, the family suffer and everything suffered. I thought that was wrong. That made you feel, you know a little bit up in the air type and you really didn’t know what to do but as far as I’m concerned Australia would be the best country in the world as far as I’m concerned.
I travelled overseas. I went to different places but you can’t beat this place. All my kids, they all went to the United States because we got relations. They come back here and they said exactly the same thing as I’m saying to you now. Even my granddaughter, she was here a few weeks ago from England and she had Mum’s cooking and steak and vegetables whatever she wanted to eat. She said, “There’s nothing in England like this stuff here,” and she’s
got money. She can spend her money there too but she said, “It’s not the same,” so we’ve got nothing to growl about this country. We’ve got everything that we want.
Has there been a big change over the years or any change do you think in the way Italian immigrants have been treated in Australia?
Well at first I say most of the
Italians coming out, they had the problem because they could not speak the language to begin with and another problem they had years ago, when they first started to come out, was very hard for them to get a job in factories because they could not speak and they had to go either inland or like fruit shops or whatever the Italian community used to be, to get employment but after they started to
pick up the language and know exactly what they want to do, a lot of them had success and made money. Some Italians that I know, they made a fortune but the reason why they make a fortune, they make a lot of money because they specialise in things they can do and when they do it, they do it properly and a good job and that makes a lot of difference. See, most of these tall buildings that you see in the city now
nine out of the 10, they were built by Italian people and they’re still standing up. They’ve been there for a few years now cause they do the job and they do it right. Then they tell you if it’s wrong, well it’s wrong but I’ve known a lot of builders during the years. That Melocco Brothers, they used to be down in Annandale. I’ve known their family for years. They used to bring the best marble from Italy here
and they worked in that marble there for years. Unless they done a good job, they would never do it see, and that brings success of things that you do and you get a good name for yourself.
Do you think you made a contribution to Australia’s war effort when you were working in the labour corps during that time?
Yeah my word. Well all the time we were up in Canberra
when we went there to begin with in Canberra, that pine forestry that we clean up was absolutely a disgrace and we done a lot of work there. Then we went up from there, moved up to the bananas and that was another sort of difficulty, type of work there because you had to find out all these different diseases about the bananas and then you had to go and clean them so they don’t bring the diseases around to the other plantations so that was a pretty sort of a
responsibility sort of a work there.
In later years did you get an opportunity to talk with some of those blokes that you did that work with just to sort of look back on it and see how they felt about those times?
No, I tell you why. Because no-one from the Banana Growers’ Federation or the Forestry Department, no-one ever, ever realised all the things that we done and those people, they didn’t want to be known because they done the wrong
thing themselves to begin with. To let those places get to that ruin from the beginning because they had the opportunities, like the Banana Growers’ Federation. Each poor grower, they had to pay money to belong to it. They should look after them but no, they let it go until something really happens and the Forestry Department there, the government was run by the Forestry there. Well if they need people in the forestry, that’s just as important as being in the army cause they’ve got to all go. There was,
those forestry, I don’t know how many of thousands of acres they’ve got out of the pine forestry there. It goes nearly to the Victorian border but no-one seemed to worry about it and we done that type of work there, was essential type of work.
Are you disappointed that people haven’t acknowledged that job and that work and your group?
and that you’ve been looked over?
I’m disappointed because
it’s something that they really needed and no-one ever mentioned anything about it until the people started to complain what was going wrong all the time and once that started, that’s when they started to do something about it, yeah.
Have you remained in contact with any of your friends from that time over the years?
Yes we used to have turnouts all the time but most of them have all passed away and
they all had sort of a success with everything they done. This Calabro, this feller I tell you was the flyweight State champion. He had two brothers that were in the shoe trade. They had all these about 15 or 20 tourist busses. Then the kids grew up and the family they broke up and they done very good with that type of thing. Another
friend of mine, that Mick Zappa, the feller that used to be at Five Dock, he had one of those wedding reception places and couple of other places that I knew, they were carpenters. They had furniture manufactures. You know they all had a name that they were going to do things in the system, in their own system. They want to start and do something for themselves because we nearly went through a period that we all finish, started the same
as I started, see and once you get like that, you want to get somewhere, to have a success of doing things that you want to do.
Did they carry around any resentment in later years at the way that they were treated in that time?
Well yes sometimes we used to talk about it when we get together what really happened but we didn’t mind it because we still, even when we get together, we have a bit of a turnout and
we still think this country was the best country in the world, didn’t matter what happened in the past years, you know and as that minister said to me, “Wartime,” he said, “Things that happened during the war, that no-one knows it’s going to happen but while you’re there and it happens, if you’re the unlucky person, you’re just unlucky. You’ve got to put up with it and there’s no-one anyone else can do,” and I thought that was a damn
good answer, that one, there because I really felt that what he said, I made notes and I went through it.
Was it satisfying for you to talk to him about it and get some acknowledgment finally?
Yeah, I told him. I tell him about the Banana Growers’ Federation besides the forestry and he happened to come from Mullumbimby and I’ve known some of his relations when I’ve spoken to him and he said, “You were the young
feller took me when mother’s daughters out.” I said, “Yeah,” I said, “we did go out a few times with some of those people there,” but even though he knew a lot about the bananas disease and stuff like this here and he said to me “And you were right,” he said, “You were the ones that saved most of the bananas around the Mullumbimby area,” so yeah, you know things like that, until you meet up with
people that they know or they’ve been there, to find out exactly what went on.
How do you feel about war these days?
Well myself I reckon there should never be any war because the people that suffer in wartime, it’s the family and kids, women and kids cause you get lot of, well a lot of fellers too but mostly the fellers
that they want to be or have war, they got no feelings for anyone else. You can see what happens now. They put a bomb in themselves and they go where the crowd is and blow everything up so those ideas there, it’s not human and once you haven’t got the humanity and you ceased them in the body, you might as well be dead, don’t have nothing to do with nobody cause the feelings, you got no feelings for nobody or nothing goes on onto the world
and it’s very hard today, very hard. I hate to see those type of things there because during the wartime I seen many people getting killed, for nothing, just through silly arguments about, “You arguing a toss about I’m doing this better, they come to do that better,” and no people. Arguing the toss about things they don’t know much about but they believe in them. They believe
“Italy’s going to win the war, Germany’s going to win the war, England’s going to win the war, America’s going to win the war.” It’s only what they get set in their mind but if they had to go there and really fight it, then it’d be a different story altogether and that’s the belief that a lot of people get in and believe in it and if you get around and find out, you know you got to get around and find out how this country lives and how the other country
lives and then when they find out because on TV’s and newspapers, they never show you the poorest part of the countries. They always show you the best part of it. As my father used to say years ago, “In New York,” he said, “You only see the best part of it.” He said, “If you go down to the slums,” he said, “People are lying, dying in the streets. No clothes, no food nothing but America’s the best country
in the world,” they say. That’s all you ever hear and this thing’s going on all over the parts of the world, not only there, but they never show them to you or they never talk about it and it’s pretty hard for the average person who’s never been around, to be able to sort of settle down and believe in this stuff here so you might be able to talk to me about it. I say, “Yeah, yeah,” you know, “You know everything,” because
they never, even been or seen anything. Once they see it with their own eyes, it’s a different story.
Do you think there’ll be a time where there is no war?
Well I think myself while there is a human being on this earth here, it’s going to be war all the time because
I had Lebanese people working for me in the shoe trade and religious, didn’t matter what religion he had but he happened to be Catholic and his family and he said, “All these guerrillas for years and years his father, his grandfather, they sit on the top of the mountains. In summer time they come down and they take what they want. If you don’t give them what they want, they kill everybody.” That was years and years ago and today, they’re still going and doing
exactly the same thing so who’s going to stop those people? Very hard and if you got a family that these things happen to them, you’ve got your family today, these people come down, they get rid of it and you haven’t got it tomorrow and Sid was saying to me, “Some of his relations exactly what happened to them. They were big
family.” He said, “All of a sudden you lose my father, like his father said, he lost a sister with all the family and his sister, like married this feller here and her husband lost a brother with all his family in the two days period cause when these people come down because they had a bit of a property and they had a bit of animals and stuff and they want to take everything
away from them.” I said, “Try and stop them?” Once you try and stop them, they clean you out and these things go on all the time so who you going to believe, who you going to trust? And another thing I think there’s too much greediness in the world today. We’re not happy what we have. We always want to get more and the more you get, then the more you want to get and those things there
they never come to an end.
What sort of things do you think about when Anzac Day comes around each year?
Anzac Day? Well I feel like that we’ve got to memorise the people that passed during the wartime but making too much propaganda that idea, you encourage going to wars all the time and getting ready to go
and have another war and kill people. Anzac Day well it was bad luck because we had that war and people died and we feel sorry and we done everything for them that we could but the more, I always say to the kids, “The more I see these wars on TV, all these Star Wars and all these people here, it’s encouraged.” Even the young three year old there, he gets an imitation boom, boom. He gets it and, you know that goes into their mind and if they keep on going like this here, you
never get it out of the system cause it’s all they want to watch and it’s hard, it’s really hard.
What can we do about that?
Well to specially I reckon all this war stuff shown on TV news because here he is, three year old, he can sit there and watch those things. Well if you leave them there all day long
it never gets out of them there and that’s an encouragement and once that encouragement gets in the head and the system, it’s there. Very hard to get that out of the system, at that age especially, so I don’t know who’s going to come in and stop these wars and stop this killing and stop whatever’s going on.
If we be more friendly and look in a different respect, “If I can help you, well I help you. If you can help me, well help me,” and that’s how the world should be but for some reason or another it’s not going that way. I was talking to a Lebanese chap who runs a produce store down in the bottom end of Burwood there.
He’s been there for years and I was talking to him. He’s around about his 50 odd. He said, “Bush [US President George W. Bush] is killing all those people there.” I said, “What do you mean?” “Well he started it. He had to kill those people in there.” He said, “The people there, they want to kill their people and,” he said, “Things like that, they just keep on going all the time. It never stops.” That was his opinion, his idea so you always get people with different opinions and different ideas.
He thinks that Bush caused most of the problem so what are you going to say to a feller like that?
Did you say anything to him?
I just said to him, “The only thing he’s trying to do, he tried to stop the feller that was killing the poor people by the thousands, not by the one. But,” I said, “he didn’t get him. He’s the feller that he should have got to begin with.” He said
“That’s right. But,” he said, “he’s getting the family people now. He’s not getting that feller. And,” he said, “if he would have got that feller,” he said, “I would go and help him,” so that was his answer but as I said, those fellers are hard to get. They run everything and they got millions and they buy everything that they want and that’s why these people got ammunitions, they got bombs, they got because there’s these people who help them to get
this stuff here and otherwise if it would have been the average people, where would I buy all this stuff here to get into bombs and make all this stuff here. Someone is behind them to help them to get all these materials here and I don’t know, it’s a pretty hard sort of a, especially in these countries like, see they’ve been used to these things here for years and they never stop.
They’ve been used to it. The only way you could stop them is to pick them all up and bring them from that country, bring them to another but once then they get back to that system there, they probably start there again so I can’t see which way we’re going to stop them.
How did you feel about Australia being involved in the Iraq war?
Well Australia must, I think they got involved in account of the United States
because, you know we’re pretty close with the States, we’re pretty close with England so they had to do something about it. If you didn’t do the right thing with the States, they’re the ones that saved us during the last war because a lot of people, if it wasn’t for the Yanks during the last war and Pearl Harbour, we’d never have been here today because the Japanese would have blown us up from the bottom end up. That was during that war because a lot of people they don’t know, they weren’t here. You had to see really what went on
and the Yanks just got there in time to destroy them and saved us so they had to do something about it. Australia had to do something about, just say, you know, “I’ll help you. Whatever you think that we should do, I’ll do it to help you out,” so they had to be in it to make the Americans, that Australia can do something too and a lot of people they didn’t like it either
think that [Australian Prime Minister] Howard should never have done anything like that. I know but you got to think of all the other states especially United States. They’re the ones that helped us here during the last war so if they asked you, “What you can do?” what would you say yourself to President Bush there, would you say no, or what would you say? You got to say, “Well we’ll try and do our best,” so that’s what he done.