Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Del Fabbro, Umberto Primo (Albert) (1899–1978)

by Carmel Floreani

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Umberto Primo (Albert) Del Fabbro (1899-1978), terrazzo contractor, businessman and Fascist, was born on 2 December 1899 at Segnacco, Friuli, Italy, one of nine children of Giacomo Del Fabbro and his wife Teonilla, née Di Giusto. Umberto was named after the reigning king of Italy, which may have influenced his enduring national pride. After elementary school he attended trade school, where he acquired expertise in terrazzo paving, a specialty of the region. Following his father to Australia, he arrived in Sydney in the Osterley on 28 January 1915 and found work on the construction of Burrinjuck Dam.

When Italy entered World War 1 with the Allies, Del Fabbro was repatriated to serve with the Italian army in 1918. He was employed in reconstruction work undertaken by the military near his home town and formally discharged in 1920. Having returned to Sydney in 1921, next year he joined his brother Amedeo in Melbourne and, with another Italian, formed Zoz-Del Fabbro, a mosaic and terrazzo business employing some twenty tradesmen. Now known as Albert, he moved to Adelaide in 1925, set up a factory at Kent Town and began to promote the use of terrazzo as an attractive building material. His business grew as he gained important contracts and the premises of Albert Del Fabbro Ltd moved to Flinders Street, in the city, in 1935.

A 6 feet (183 cm) tall, imposing figure, with dark hair and piercing, blue eyes, Del Fabbro was then one of the most successful and influential Italians in South Australia. He had married Victorian-born Bessie Jane Jewkes on 5 February 1927 in the Maughan Methodist Church vestry, Pitt Street, Adelaide; they were to have two daughters. In 1930 Albert became a naturalized British subject, assimilating well into the community. Nevertheless, he was an active member of the State branch of the Fascist Party from its inception in 1926 and administrative secretary in 1930–40. While many Italians joined to maintain their culture, Del Fabbro's commitment was political; he recruited members, had a mosaic portrait of Mussolini in his office and retained a fierce loyalty to Italy. In 1937 he wrote to the Advertiser protesting about racial prejudice against Southern European 'foreigners'. When Italy joined the war in June 1940 Del Fabbro was interned at Hay, New South Wales; he was later at Loveday, South Australia. His naturalization was revoked in 1943 on the grounds of disloyalty and his wife wrote begging him to 'give up worrying about and discussing world affairs'.

Released in 1944, Del Fabbro rebuilt his business and by the 1960s had 120 employees. He sponsored the migration of Italian tradesmen, helping them with fares and accommodation. His generosity and enterprise were acknowledged with a gold medal from the Chamber of Commerce of Udine, Italy, and his appointment as cavaliere of the Order of Merit by the Italian government in 1964. Active in the Lions Club and the Liberal Country League and a director of several companies, he was an instigator and foundation member of the Italian Club of South Australia, established in 1967 to encourage cultural activities for all Italians and to foster integration into the Australian community. In retirement he lived at Mitcham, continued to enjoy playing bocce with his compatriots and returned to Italy often. Predeceased by his wife, Del Fabbro died on 7 July 1978 in St Andrew's hospital, Adelaide, and was cremated after a service at St Paul's Monastery. His daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • D. O’Connor, No Need to be Afraid (Adel, 1996)
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 6 Sept 1937, p 22, 12 June 1940, p 18
  • D1915, items SA2367 and SA2452, AP501/2, items 1, 3, 9 and 10, A463, item 1963/1399, and A1838, item 1535/18/35 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Carmel Floreani, 'Del Fabbro, Umberto Primo (Albert) (1899–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/del-fabbro-umberto-primo-albert-12882/text23269, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 18 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

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