Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Fantin, Francesco Giovanni (Frank) (1901–1942)

by Paul Nursey-Bray

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

Francesco Giovanni (Frank) Fantin (1901-1942), labourer and anti-fascist, was born on 20 January 1901 at San Vito di Leguzzano, Vicenza, Italy, one of five children of Giovanni (Battista) Fantin, textile worker, and his wife Catarina, née Manea. After a brief formal education Francesco adopted his father's trade. Against a backdrop of conflicting social forces that were to engender both fascism and the Italian Communist Party, he became active as a trade unionist and political militant, with anarchism as his political creed.

Reaching Melbourne on 27 December 1924 in the Re d'Italia, Fantin was employed mainly as an agricultural labourer and cane cutter in Queensland, where his brothers Luigi and Alfonso had a cane farm at Sawmill Pocket, Edmonton. At Mourilyan (1924-28) Francesco joined the Australian Workers' Union. In 1931-32 and 1939-40 he worked at the Federal Woollen Mill at Geelong, Victoria. Known as Frank or 'Checco', he was active in the labour and anti-fascist movements, attracting the unfavourable attention of the Italian consular authorities. In 1939 he was involved with Frank Carmagnola in opening the anti-fascist Matteotti Club in Melbourne, and was a correspondent for the anti-fascist newspaper La Riscossa.

In 1940 Fantin was denounced to the Australian authorities as a fascist, possibly the result of confusion with his brother Luigi; paradoxically, Frank was also accused of spreading communist propaganda among the cane workers. He was arrested on 14 February 1942. In his appeal against his detention he gave his religion as atheist, and stated that he was married to Maria, née Zambon, a textile worker, living at San Vito, Italy. On 20 March Fantin was moved to Loveday Internment Camp 14A at Barmera, South Australia. A peculiarity of the internment system was that inmates were segregated by nationality rather than by political affiliation. The result in Camp 14A, where the Italians were interned, was a forced integration of anti-fascists with fascists and a consequent politicization of camp life. Taking a leading role in opposing the fascists, Fantin was abused, threatened and assaulted.

Matters came to a head late in 1942. At 6.30 p.m. on 16 November he was drinking alone from a water tap when he was approached by Giovanni Bruno Casotti, a known fascist. There are two versions of subsequent events. The fascist version suggested that, after an altercation, Casotti pushed Fantin who fell, hitting his head on the tap support. Anti-fascists argued that Casotti struck him with a piece of wood and kicked him in the body after his fall. Fantin died from his injuries later that day in the military hospital.

In the Supreme Court, Adelaide, in December Casotti pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Moves to change the charge to murder were opposed by the government, the army and the Commonwealth Security Service, since a charge of murder would have further fuelled the public outcry at Fantin's death and the internment policy. Casotti was sentenced to two years imprisonment. Public pressure, however, brought about changes in the policy: increasingly, anti-fascists were released if they could satisfy the authorities that they posed no threat. Fantin's death made him a martyr, and a symbol of the fight against fascism waged by a substantial proportion of the Australian Italian migrant community.

Select Bibliography

  • Internment in South Australia: History of Loveday (Adel, 1946)
  • G. Cresciani, Fascism, Anti-Fascism and Italians in Australia 1922-1945 (Canb, 1980)
  • Radio Times (Melbourne), 23 Jan 1943
  • P. Nursey-Bray, ‘Anti-fascism and Internment: the Case of Francesco Fantin’, Journal of the Historical Society of South Australia, no 17, 1989
  • North Queensland Guardian, 15 Jan 1943
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 17 Mar 1943, p 6
  • BP242/1, item Q30084, CRS A373, Box 21:10913, AP80/1, item P2565, MP742, item 255/12/12 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Paul Nursey-Bray, 'Fantin, Francesco Giovanni (Frank) (1901–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fantin-francesco-giovanni-frank-12912/text23327, published in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 20 October 2014.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Fantin, Checco
Birth

20 January 1901
San Vito di Leguzzano, Italy

Death

16 November 1942
Barmera, South Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation