Reminiscences of Post World War II Australia
A migrant from Italy.
These reminiscences of Peters were taken by Sheila Cullinane from the Murray District Historical Society. 2014.
“Life was very hard when we came out to Australia.. but I found that it was the land of opportunity, where, if you worked hard you could build a life for yourself and your family”
... Peters Squillace
Peter was born in Calabria, Rome Italy. There being six children in the family, and with work hard to come by Peter left home at fourteen and moved to Northern Italy where he obtained work. He decided at age 19 to migrate to Australia.
He being the youngest in the family made the big decision to come by himself, as his eldest brother was already out here. Peter arrived here in 1960 as an unassisted migrant.
Peters first job was in Benger, South of Harvey, planting potatoes. He said the flies were so bad that half the time he couldn’t see what he was doing. He decided that that wasn’t for him so he asked his brother for a loan to pay for his fare home. His brother refused, but as it turned out it was for the best as when he got his first pay packet he couldn’t believe how high the wages were.
He worked in Brunswick, Busselton, Vasse and Pemberton doing back breaking work. One of his jobs was in Rawlins digging irrigation drains. It was a hard-sloppy muddy work. Peter, who had a lovely head of hair used to carry a comb in his pocket to keep his locks looking smart. By the end of the day he had neatly slicked back mud caked hair.
Peter spoke little English and on entering a shop in Rawlins he came up against the language barrier. He wanted a loaf of bread. It took some time to get the message over, but finally when he did the very hospitable shop owner told him of a school teacher who could possibly teach him English. On catching up with her she made a deal with Peter.. she would teach him English, and he would teach her Italian. In three months he could speak good English and so was able to help others out with making themselves understood who were having difficulties with English.
Peter, on hearing that there was a dance being held in Bunbury asked his friend for a lift. Peter, who had learned to dance in Italy, said he danced with nearly every girl in the room and had a marvellous time. From this came the realisation that he needed a vehicle to drive himself.
Then of course he needed a licence. so, he borrowed a ute from his friend, with a bag of potatoes on the back and went to the police station. He obtains his licence for 10/- and asked where he could put the bag of potatoes. The Constable said that no way was he to leave them at the police station but that his house was just around the corner. His wife was very pleased to receive them.
Peter then purchased a ute for 140 pound. Looking for a bit of entertainment he decided that he would go to Harvey to the pictures. This is where Maria his future wife lived who had previously migrated with the family from Italy. Maria and Peter had been friends since school. By the time he was ready to go he had a ute load of people. The poor old ute, which wasn’t in too good condition went OK for a while but on trying to climb a steep hill out of Harvey, stopped, and no way could they get it started. Had to sleep in the bush for the night until a good Samaritan came along the next morning for help. Knowing about cars he lifted the bonnet, tinkered with the engine, and hey presto it started and off they went to the pictures.
Peter decided that he needed a more reliable car. He and his two friend put their money together and bought a 1960 Falcon ute for $1,005 pounds. He was so proud of it he spent the time driving up and down the street showing off. The local priest who was to celebrate a parish feast Day asked Peter to drive his ute at the head of the parade with the priest sitting on the back. A day to remember.
On going further afield looking for work he ended up in the Wickepin hotel with two of his mates. A very ample bodied man asked what he could do for them so Peter ordered 4 schooners.. but, replied the fellow there are only three of you. at which Peter replied. the other one is for you. During conversation, they told him that they were looking for jobs in bush clearing. The kind gentleman directed them to a farmer’s place where he knew the farmer was looking for workers. A deal was arranged that they would do it for six pound and acre.. with a shake of the hand in agreement. The farmer wanted to know when their equipment was to arrive to help them do the job. Peter, who only had one shovel to his name, and even that was picked up along the way, skirted the question and changed the subject. It was a rule that the farmer had to strike the first match to light the rolled scrub in case of maybe the fire breaking its boundaries. Once the fire was well and truly alight all the farmers would gather around and have a party with lots of drinking and food. They offered them a drink but they wanted to get to work. It ended up that a strong breeze came up that night and did the burning off in quick time. It set the sky on fire and Peter said he had never seen such a site in all his life. The next day after working hard they were covered in black soot which was a very funny site indeed. After showering back at camp from an overhead bucket and rope they made a camp fire which they cooked their spaghetti and sauce. The farmer on walking past could smell the food cooking so came across so they gave him a taste. On a request from the farmer A date was made for the next night that they would go to the farmer’s house and show his wife how to make the recipe in her kitchen. They went off to town to get the ingredients for the sauce and then asked the farmer would they be able to kill a couple of roosters. Farmer said yes.. only if you could catch them. Peter had the answer. He had a small gun which he did the deed with. They dually turned up to cook their dish in the lovely kitchen with all the mod cons. The evening was a success with everyone saying it was a delicious meal. Peter asked could the wife, who had written the recipe down to please pass it on to other people so they could show how good the Italians cooked. The wages were cut three ways in payment for the work they had done.
The next job was next door at another farmer’s place. The farmer lent them tractors to drive which of course they hadn’t driven before. but soon learnt. They constructed a wire behind the tractors which uprooted the blackboys and piled them in heaps ready to burn. The farmer wanted to know where they had learnt to do this and Peter told them he had just concocted it himself hoping it would work. Nine days of clearing and burning and the job was finished. Another good pay packet. They thought they were millionaires. Peter new then he could then pay back his friends for putting the money in to buy his ute. but they wouldn’t take it because of all Peter had done for them in finding work.
Back to Wokalup. On going to the pub one day he got talking to a fellow who wanted to sell him 10 acres of land. After much dealing it was agreed the gentleman would give Peter 64 bags of potato seed, and after the first crop Peter would repay him with 64 bags of potatoes. The first crop was excellent and was able to pay the fellow back his 64 bags. Peter then sold his potatoes through the potato board of which he had to get a permit. He sold 128 bags for 29 pound a ton. He was then able to pay for his land with 16 ton of potatoes. He then sold seconds to farmers from the back of his ute.
When in Harvey for a haircut he was asked if he would like to buy two house blocks. Peter and Maria were looking at getting married so wanted land to build a house. Maria had come out with her family, the Roscillas and were living in Harvey. They decided to buy, but the house building didn’t eventuate as some gentleman came along with a very lucrative offer. and so the blocks were sold.
In 1962-63 Peter decided he would like to buy a farm and went to Dalgety’s to find what was for sale. The representative took him to Pinjarra where there was an orchard for sale on the land where Alcoa is now situated. Not having the finance he visited the bank manager and a deal was struck that he would lend him the money pay which he would pay back at 500 pound a year.
In 1964, 31st October Peter was married to Maria. There was a house on the block so they lived there. There first crop turned out to be very profitable as the apricots came on earlier than other markets and so loaded onto the ute and headed to markets early. The price then dropped out of the market so he loaded the ute up with fruit and went from house to house in Mandurah selling. Eventually people would then come to the orchard to pick up their fruit. Maria was kept very busy during this time.
Three children arrived in two years so there was no time for a social life. One of the children didn’t keep good health which made it doubly hard.
Peter was very involved in the Catholic church. The priest at this time was Fr. Fitzgerald who didn’t keep in the best of health. He expressed a wish to go back to Ireland to say goodbye to his relatives. A large wallet was purchased and passed around to the parishioners to put their donations in. Enough money was raised to send him back to Ireland.
The presbytery which housed the priest was very run down also. It was decided not to renovate this building but that a new presbytery would be built. This, they thought would attract priests to the district. Completed in 1937. At that time in Pinjarra the Church was made of weatherboard. . It was a reasonably sized church but when larger events such as Confirmation were held the women and children were inside and the men outside. Some of the men parishioners at the time, besides Peter, were Ernie Hogan, Des Colum, Max Webb, and Tom Gunson. A committee was formed to consider building a new church. And so, it was decided to go ahead. A member of the Anglican church was the financial adviser. Parishioners went door knocking to help raise funds. John Moore was approached to build the church. Completed 1981
Wanting some land to lease to plant potatoes Peter approached Ms Shelley Fawcett who was next door on Pinjarrah Park. Being a very austere English lady Peter had to go with cap in hand. In those days Peter said the house was really something to see. He got his ten acres and then applied to the potato board for a licence which he was granted also after a bit of haggling. His first crop was very profitable. After some time, Peter made Adrienne Fawcett, who was Shelley’s nephew, his partner. Adrienne could borrow money from Shelley to buy the fertilizer which he could pay back after the crop was sold.
In 1965-66 a Canadian chap called to see if he might be able to buy some potatoes. He said he was operating an Oil Rig the other side of Greenlands road. After some chit chat he offered Peter a job in his mess peeling potatoes which he agreed to do. After some time the boss called him up onto the platform on the rig and showed him how things worked, and so started a different job. It was very dangerous work as huge chains were turning for the drilling. Some days they worked for 16 hours a day. In 6 months, he could pay Jimmy Williams for the orchard land, and ended up in charge of the rig.
Sometime later a gentleman from the Industrial Development called to see if Peter wanted to sell his orchard. A great deal of haggling took place as Peter realized that something big was going to take place on that land. He gave the fellow a box of fruit to take home for his family thinking that maybe he wouldn’t see him again. But sure enough he turned up again and agreed to buy the land for a good price. This land is part of where Alcoa now stands.
Peter then purchased 27 acres of land from Harries Real Estate which didn’t have a house on was out along Williams road, past Burnside Road. This block grew lovely wild mushrooms. A lady tourist called in one day to see if she could have some mushrooms. Whilst Peter helped her to pick a bucket of mushrooms she asked him if he wanted to sell his block. After checking with Maria they decided they would and got a princely sum for it. Peter then went into partnership with Adrienne Fawcett, who was married to Glenys the daughter of Nancy Edge. This land belonged to Nancy and was situated along Greensland Road. 500 acres which included dairy and cattle.
Later in time he bought the shop in camp road from Mr. Fawcett. The shop was called Shop Caca Takeaways. At that time, Peter had three jobs. The farm, Alcoa and the shop. So it was left to Maria, and their two of their children Maxina and Frank to run the shop. It did very well and so they decided to buy a house in Marshall way and rent it out. The shop did well and so the house and the shop were then able to be paid off. Frank and Maxina worked without wages, but when shop was sold two houses could be purchased for them in Pinjarra from the proceeds.
When Peter and Maria visited Switzerland on holiday, they saw a house they wanted to build. Peter eventually found a builder that could do this and was very pleased with the outcome. Peter and Maria built their house in 1974 in which he now resides. Maria sadly passed away at the age of 68 in 2012. Peter was heartbroken as Maria was the love of his life. She was such a loving and hardworking lady who was sadly missed by her family and friends.
Today in 2013 Peter keeps busy helping his family and friends. He is certainly a success story, from being an impoverished Italian migrant in 1960.
Permission to publish this article was given by Peter Squillace.