War friendships endure

Sandra Garizzo with Max Evans and Graeme Stewart. Picture: Marcus Whisson d426086
Sandra Garizzo with Max Evans and Graeme Stewart. Picture: Marcus Whisson d426086

Joe Garizzo was captured by Allied troops in north Africa in 1941 and spent three years in concentration camps in Egypt and India until he found himself in a camp in Claremont in 1944.

From here, the 27-year-old Italian prisoner of war was sent to work on Mr Stewart’s family farm in Kojonup, where he befriended the Stewarts and the Evans family, who now live in Claremont and Mosman Park respectively, forming a relationship that continued even when he returned home to Venice.

Ms Garizzo said the family had received documents during the war from the Italian government declaring her father missing.

‘The family thought he was dead,’ she said.

‘My mother and Barbara Stewart (Graeme’s mother) were great friends and we used to visit the farm, particularly on school holidays to help with shearing,’ 82-year-old Mr Evans said.

‘I remember working in the shearing shed with Joe, clearing paddocks and doing cropping.

‘We were just friends, I was a teenager and he was in his 20s.’

Mr Evans said he continued to write letters to Mr Garizzo, even on his way back to Italy and he was the first to make contact and visit him in Venice in 1955.

‘We never thought of them as prisoners of war, they were just workers or friends,’ he said.

Family and friends of the Stewarts and Evans families have returned to Italy several times.

Mr Stewart (76) said it had been a lovely relationship through various family members.

Ms Garizzo was in Australia earlier this month for two weeks.

‘There has been this continuity for three generations and the strange and amazing thing is that these two families have met on this occasion and it is like a reunion after so many years,’ she said.

Mr Garizzo worked in Kojonup for about two years and returned home in 1947.

‘My father talked to us about Australia so much that I think we have absorbed some of Australia and we feel within us that it has become part of our story,’ Ms Garizzo said.

‘Even though it was such a short time, my father had been so impressed with Australia, his life changed and that is why it was such an important period for him.’

Mr Garizzo died in 2012 at the age of 92.

Ms Garizzo said she would one day like to bring her family over to Australia.

‘My son would love to come and see where his grandfather was.’