The Nonno Diaries – Chapter 3

3 Apr

Recap: Elio is my grandfather, my Nonno. For someone who is known around his hometown as the man with a perpetual smile on his face, I can only hope to be as content as he is one day. These are simply the stories that he has recounted to me with a twinkle in his eye and that I hope to keep alive by writing them down.


To read ‘Chapter One – The Journey Over’ click here.

To read ‘Chapter Two – School & The Depression Era‘ click here.



I remember being only a few years old when my mother burst into the house after working the fields near our home in Italy. In her hands she held an empty shell from a cannon, 2 inches in diameter. She had stumbled upon it when in the paddock. Turning it over we noted the date: 1918, shell number 475 and with the script Berndorf written above the firing cap. That was my first exposure to a war.

Back in Australia, it was 1939 and life had become good for my family and I in Queensland. In that same year, World War II began. With the possibility of delayed supplies, everyone was presented with coupons for petrol from the Government. The amount of coupons each person received would be based on how much machinery you were operating. Our farm ran a stationary motor that was used to cut the chaff (the top of the sugar cane) for the horses, the tractor for ploughing (which used kerosene, mind you, but needed petrol to start it), and then of course the coupons for the family car. The coupons were never enough to use the automobile as we had done prior to the war. In order to adjust, we only used the car to do shopping every couple of weeks, to go to church every Sunday, and on the very odd occasion to go to the pictures about eight miles away.

The development of War World II happened at around the same time that dad said we were old enough to start working on the farm after school. My brother and I would pull all the dry leaves from the cane when the planting season was on. We would cut the bottom and top off, load it onto a cart, take it out to the paddock where they would plant the sugar cane, chop it into pieces about a foot and a half in length, and then load it onto a planter driven by horses that would then plant them into the ground. Eventually in a few years, they would develop a machine to do this work for us. Suffice to say that we were relieved when they did.

The soil on the farm was sandy with a great number of stones dispersed through it. Another job our dear father gave us was to search for and remove these stones. My brother and I made a pile in the bushland so that they would not get in the way of the machinery. To keep abreast with the war during this time, we had a battery-driven radio to listen to the news and updates. I will always remember when the war came to Australia and we heard that bombs had been dropped near Darwin. Reality set in and we knew that we could one day be forced to evacuate. Strangely enough, the stone pile we had created years earlier came in handy. Our father decided to use it as a base to hide our valuables and items should we be ambushed. We hid clothes and tinned food there just in case. Fortunately for us, we would never come to use the base.

Life continued on. When I was fifteen, I decided to commence a four-year course in mechanics by correspondence. After three years, I thought it would be logical to stop studying because I felt that I had built up enough knowledge and was capable of doing my own work and fixing the machines. The correspondence experience was an enjoyable one, at least, because I was able to work at my own speed.

To take our minds off things, every now and then my brother and I would take the horses and go to the pictures in Eton. Eton was a little town with a tiny church on the hill, a mill that was used to crush the local cane, a hotel where we would tie our horses and a cinema located not far away. This cinema had no roof. It had been burnt off years before the war and had never been replaced. It was rarely a problem, but should there be any chance of rain, you would be silly to make the journey out this way. The seating back then was nothing like you see in the theatres of today. Back then the whole cinema was lined with deck chairs, which suited the rural, outdoor setting.

Upon our exit from the movies, we would often see a beautiful clear moon casting the perfect backdrop of moonlight for riding the horses home. Despite the odd occasion when our horses would kick their reigns off the hotel post, my loyal horse Toby was always waiting for me to return. From high in the sky the full moon was smiling at us and the stars were twinkling. My brother and I turned our horses towards home and took them for a detour through the bush. The horses loved galloping on the fresh ground and we rode home all blissfully gay. The war seemed so far away.

When my brother turned eighteen, he received a phone call to join the Australian Army. He may have served his time on the Australian base, but fortunately for our family he was never called upon to leave the country for battle. I was so happy he was able to stay home. I was also called up at one stage, but I had rheumatic fever so would not have been eligible. It was not like my family did not have enough to do in the meantime. We would all work so hard cutting cane and making sure we had enough money and food for all the workers. My mother was constantly in the kitchen tirelessly preparing meals for eight people three times a day!

As whispers emerged about the impending end of the War, the buses began passing through again so we were able to take them to the pictures and around town instead. In 1945 when the war officially ended, we all strode into town to celebrate. I suppose that being so far away in rural Queensland, the war had never felt like it was on our front doorstep. Nevertheless this was globally an opportunity to celebrate peace once more. Prospects looked positive in the area with plenty of rain and everyone we knew had survived the economic downturn. Unfortunately this would not remain the case as 1945 eventually saw the drought set in. Tonnage of cane dropped very low and the consequence was that it was not worthwhile hiring cutters. What did this mean? My brother and I would be left to cut all the cane on our own.

1946 saw my mother become quite sick with high blood pressure and she began to lose sight in one of her eyes. One morning she rose from bed and could not see out of one eye. She yelled for us to call our father back from the farm and to take her to the Doctor. The prognosis was that her illness derived from a thickening of the blood and the Doctor informed us that there was nothing that he could do to help her condition. The best advice he could give us was to move to a cooler climate outside of Queensland.

My mother had contacts from our fourth cousins who were located in Victoria in a small town called Werribee South. They told her it was a market garden region and would be suitable for us. My brother and I travelled down to the area for a holiday to hang out with our cousins for a couple of weeks before we were to finally move down. We really liked the community and the cooler surrounds, so my brother stayed in Victoria, whilst I went back to our Queensland property until it had been sold. My sister and mother flew down straight after, then my dad, younger brother and I bought a truck and put everything we owned, including the kitchen sink and the car, onto the back of it and drove the seven-day journey down to Victoria.

The only possession I really had to leave was a second-hand Harley Davidson I had purchased in Queensland from my dear friend, Peter. I had polished and fixed it up like new. On my departure, I of course had to sell it, but passed it onto a good friend who drove it all the way to Mildura when he eventually left the area as well. I was pleased as punch to see that my mechanical skills had been sufficient for such a long-distance journey. 

The war years and its aftermath saw a lot of changes for people around the world. In my case, we left Mackay, the drought and a life we had worked so hard for. 1948 was the year we started a new journey and chapter in our lives in the red earth surrounds of Werribee South.

The War Years: From the 1941 Abbott and Costello film, “Buck Privates.”

One Response to “The Nonno Diaries – Chapter 3”


  1. The Nonno Diaries – Chapter 4 « La Donna del Vino - May 29, 2012

    […] To read ‘Chapter Three – The War Years’ click here […]

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