Australian Radical History - Franceso Fantin and Book Review: "Never Give In"

Francesco Fantin was born near Vicenza in Northern Italy in 1901. He left school at 14 and began working in a textile factory to help support his family. Fantin grew up differently, he came from a “reverso” family – “one who is against”. The growth of fascism in Italy posed a significant challenge for Fantin, an avowed anarchist. Faced with increasing repression in Italy, in fear of his life, Francesco immigrated to Australia in 1924. He moved to North Queensland working as a labourer in Queensland and Victoria. His brothers, Alfonso and Luigi, joined him in North Queensland a few years later. Francesco Fantin was actively involved with many other Italian anti-fascists in North Queensland in struggles against the local fascists. Italy joined the war on the 10th June 1940. Three days later on the 13th June 1940 the Australian Aliens Registration Central Bureau received information Fantin was a fascist active around Cairns. Military intelligence soon took an active interest in Fantin. On the 13th February 1942, an order was issued to arrest the enemy alien Fantin (Q18 117) from Edmonton. After his arrest police officers from Cairns searched a room occupied by Fantin at Sawmill Pocket Edmonton and among other incriminating evidence found a colourful handkerchief with a picture of Durriti.

Fantin had been transferred to an internment camp in Loveday, South Australia, despite the anarchist and anti-fascist Francesco Carmagnola making representations told the authorities that Fantin was an anti-fascist, not a fascist. Ironically, Francesco Fantin, Valentino Ciccotti and Francesco Carmagnola opened the anti-fascist club, the Matteotti Club, in Melbourne in 1927. Around 60 anti-fascists were interned with over 350 fascists, at Camp Loveday. Fantin was targeted by the fascists because of his stringent anti-fascist views. He was beaten on a number of occasions. He was murdered on the 16th November 1942. Francesco was struck from behind with a piece of wood while drinking at a tap. When he fell to the ground he was beaten and kicked to death. Giovanni Casotti, a fascist from Western Australia, was sentenced to two years imprisonment for manslaughter. It has been proven beyond doubt the authorities, realising they were responsible for Fantin’s death, organised a cover up. To add insult to injury, Fantin was buried outside the internment camp’s cemetery. His bones were removed from his grave and destroyed a few years after his burial.

Francesco Fantin, anarchist, poet, anti-fascist, a man among men, died an agonising unnecessary death. We will not forget you. This 16th November 2012 marks the 70th Anniversary of his murder.

Book Review - Never Give In :Three Italian Anti-fascist Exiles in Australia 1924-1956
Dr. George Venturini Search Foundation Sydney 2007 ISBN 978-1-876300-14-2

Francesco Fantin, Massimo Montagnana and Omeri Schiassi are three names that never quite made it into this country’s history books despite their valuable contributions to Australia. This 846 page colossus goes a long way towards redressing this injustice. This is a book about an anarchist labourer, a communist physicist and mathematician and a socialist lawyer and classicist.

The three men were refugees from Mussolini’s Italy. Fearing for their lives they escaped to Australia. In 2012 these same three men would not have been given ASIO clearance because they would be deemed to be political refugees. They would have been detained indefinitely without right of appeal if they had arrived unannounced to Australia in 2012. Although never accepted by the bulk of Australians, they were embraced by a minority that understood the valuable roles they played in protecting freedom.

Francesco Fantin was bludgeoned to death by Italian fascists in the Loveday internment camp in South Australia on the 16th November 1942. Although he had fled Italy to escape fascist persecution and since 1924 had been heavily involved in the anti-fascist movement in Australia, he was interned as an enemy alien by the Australian authorities. He was locked up with members of Mussolini's fifth column in Australia.

Dr. Omeri Schiassi, the socialist lawyer and classicist arrived in Australia in the same year as Francesco Fantin, in 1924. He joined the staff of Melbourne University in 1927 as an instructor in Italian . He led a full active life in Australia immersing himself in anti-fascist activity. He died suddenly and unexpectedly on the 2nd of January 1956 while conducting Italian examinations at Myrtleford in regional Victoria.

Massimo Montagnana, a Jewish communist, arrived as a refugee in Australia in 1940. He joined Omeri Schiassi in founding Italia Libera in 1941. Massimo returned to Italy in May 1948 throwing himself into political activity. He died in Turin in 1948.

Never Give In is much more than a book about these three men. It is a book that explores what made them. Venturini has given a detailed account of events both in Italy and Australia that impacted on the lives of these three exiles. It is a book well worth reading. The only major criticism I have of Never Give In is Dr. Venturini’s disdain for chronological order. If you want to get hold of this powerful testimony to three Australian unknown heroes, try your local library or the Search Foundation, Level 3 Suite 3B, 110 Kippax St Surrey Hills Victoria 2007 Australia. Ph:+61 2 9211 4164 Fax:+61 2 9211 1407 Email: admin@search.org.au Web: www.search.org.au.

Personal Observation

Ploughing through Dr. George Venturini’s book Never Give In, I was surprised, no not surprised, shocked to read Dr. Francesco Castellano was somehow involved in Francesco Fantin’s assassination. Castellano was as near as you could get to a God among the immigré Italian community in Brisbane in the 1950's. This is a man who I only met once when I was four or five who had a profound impact on me. I remember as a child my parents would take my sisters and me to Fortitude Valley in Brisbane on Saturday morning to get those Italian goodies you couldn’t find in monocultural Australia. The granita machine was our favourite.

I remember a crowd of people squashed into the shop. A tall upright man dressed in a suit who looked like an old man to me, was the centre of attention. I think I was just taller than his knee. He was fumbling in his coat pocket for something when a coin fell out of his pocket onto the floor next to me. I bent down and picked up what looked like a gold coin and tried to give it back to him.

He looked down at me and theatrically told the crowd, let the boy keep it. Obviously the good doctor was more concerned about maintaining his “bella figura” than the gold coin. I understand the gold sovereign he’d let me keep was a week’s wages for a labourer in the mid 1950’s. Francesco Castellano, the Italian God figure, was nothing more than a fascist doctor sent to set up practise in North Queensland to recruit Italian immigrants into Mussolini’s Fascist Party. Castellano was the partner of Dr. Piscitelli, the interned Italian fascist in charge of Camp Loveday who most likely gave the order for Fantin to be assassinated.

Dr. Venturini has done me a favour, he has punctured the myths surrounding men like Castellano. The final curtain call in this three act play is mine. Dr. Francesco Castellano would be rolling in his grave if he knew the little boy who tried to give him back his gold sovereign would, like Francesco Fantin, became an anarchist.

From Anarchist Age Weekly Review No.996

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Comments

Francesco Fantin book was a very interesting and instructive. It has a deeper meaning, and describes the hard life. These guys at a difficult time, helped many to collect theirthoughts and make the right decisions for the society.

I love the article on Francesco Fantin.