My latest release, The Sunnyvale Girls, has real life past and present moments weaved into it. My inspiration for this story originated from the Italian prisoners of war stationed on farms in our wheat belt area in rural Western Australia. One of my friends and her family told me about Giulio Mosca, who was on their farm Sunnyvale, during the war. Hearing about Giulio and his house building skills I set out to learn more.
This involved searching the archives for his prisoner records, which I found and requested. It was amazing to see these, and my friend’s farm written on the registered employers form. We learned so much about Giulio, where he was captured, where he went, where he was born and details about his father and also the ship he went home on. I couldn’t find out any more online. I had to visit Italy and search in person. A trip to Italy. Why not? So I packed my bags and went on a three week adventure to Italy visiting Venice, Rome, Montone, Florence, Lucca, Pisa, Naples, Pompeii….But the main stop was a little town of Chiaravalle in the province of Ancona, in the Marche region.
Through sheer luck (and maybe the foresight to write down Italian words for ‘looking for the council, shire, records office’) we bumbled our way through the streets and found the building that looked like the shire office after directions from two lovely Italian ladies, who spoke no English. Inside this building we came across a policeman, Mimmo, who spoke enough English to understand (with the help of the documents and translations I had) what we were after. Mimmo took us to a nearby building and through a lengthy discussion with a lady, who didn’t want to give out personal information; we ended up with a name and number. Thank God Mimmo went into bat for us. We were told Giulio’s daughters didn’t speak English, so he’d given us the granddaughter’s number. We thanked him and headed off down the street to pay some more money into our parking meter. Then minutes later Mimmo found us again and introduced us to Giulio’s daughters, who he must have called earlier, and who came down to meet us. Here we are in the street. There were hugs and tears and conversation where we had absolutely no idea what either one was saying.
Through their English speaking daughter Sylvia, we organised a lunch date and they came and visited us in Montone, where we were staying. Sadly we learnt Giulio passed away over twenty years ago from cancer. During our lunch, poor Sylvia had two conversations going trying to translate for both sides. But it was wonderful to share the stories of Giulio and to see the same photo’s he’d kept from Australia. His daughters said he never talked about the war times, except to say he’d liked being on Sunnyvale. It was a trip to remember and I came home with so much to write about. The Sunnyvale Girls is a book that will always hold a special place in my heart and I’m just so honored to have met Giulio’s family.
by Fiona Palmer
Three generations of Stewart women share a deep connection to their family farm, but a secret from the past threatens to tear them apart.
Widowed matriarch Maggie remembers a time when the Italian prisoners of war came to work on their land, changing her heart and her home forever. Single mum Toni has been tied to the place for as long as she can recall, although farming was never her dream. And Flick is as passionate about the farm as a young girl could be, despite the limited opportunities for love.
When a letter from 1946 is unearthed in an old cottage on the property, the Sunnyvale girls find themselves on a journey deep into their own hearts and all the way across the world to Italy. Their quest to solve a mystery leads to incredible discoveries about each other, and about themselves.