The internees of Loveday came from all walks of life and with a vast array of skills and abilities. Some were farmers, some were university professors, some were tradesmen, some were musicians. All had the same issue: how to survive the mind-numbing boredom.
Commandant Dean offered them payment of one shilling per day to work in and around the camp. There was plenty to do: tending the vegetable gardens, cutting firewood, working in the kitchens. However this was small incentive for those who supported Mussolini’s Fascist movement. They argued that working would contribute to the Allied war effort. Why, they might as well take up a rifle against the motherland as help boost enemy resources.
Dean also knew that idleness would fuel discontent. An alternative had to be found.
To that end, he had a hobbies workshop built in each of the six compounds. It was essentially a shed where the men could learn crafts such as woodcarving, parquetry or basket weaving from those skilled enough to teach.
Here, in my own writing space by the computer, are several striking timber artefacts made by my father-in-law, an internee of Camp 9. On the bookshelf behind is a framed black-and-white photo which shows him in middle-age, greying at the temples. He is gazing wistfully beyond the photographer. The shadow of a smile plays upon his lips. He seems a kindly man.
I never met my father-in-law (he passed away in 1963). But I try to imagine him as he shaped a jagged lump of mallee wood with improvised tools fashioned from wire, kerosene-tin, and cutlery into a carved picture frame or a trinket box.
How did he feel? Was he angry or accepting of imprisonment? Did he bemoan the fate of his cane farm in far north Queensland? Did he worry about his mother and siblings, trapped in the thick of the war in Italy?
Another of the internees, Lamberto Yonna, was an artist and cartoonist who captured camp life on paper. His sketches focus on Valerio, a fellow prisoner whom he met and befriended at Loveday. Valerio must have been a bit of a larrikin, for he is depicted as rather cheeky and conniving. One cartoon shows him dressed as a dandy with spats, a bowler hat and cane. The caption is in English. ‘They made a new man of me’. Valerio shall one day go to Canberra and thank them for having interned him!
Another unnamed Italian in Camp 14 sculpted huge statues of Adam and Eve. The couple are naked, reclining on stone cushions, looking relaxed. They seem to be having a casual discussion. About life? Love? The Universe? Whether to have apple pie or snake stew for dinner?
When the internees were released at the end of the war, the Adam-and-Eve artist smashed his creation to pieces. All that remains are amateur photographs, one of which is shown in Bert’s Story compiled by Pat Noyce.