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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Castellano, Francesco (1899–1976)

by Don Dignan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Francesco Castellano (1899-1976), medical practitioner and internee, was born on 23 July 1899 at Grumo Appula, near Bari, Italy, son of Fedele Castellano, medical practitioner, and his wife Maria, née Lozito. Having graduated in medicine from the University of Naples, in 1929 Francesco migrated to Queensland. He was one of ten Italian doctors who achieved registration in the State through an Anglo-Italian treaty (1883) which provided for reciprocal recognition of British and Italian medical degrees. Castellano was appointed to an Italian community hospital at Ingham. He spent three years there in partnership with Dr Francesco Piscitelli before moving to Cairns to join Dr Angelo Vattuone. After Vattuone left for Brisbane in 1935, Castellano was the sole Italian medical practitioner at Cairns.

Following Italy's entry into World War II on 10 June 1940, the names of six Italian doctors headed the Queensland list of those who were to be interned for alleged fascist activities. The evidence submitted against Castellano was mainly based on the use made of his premises at Cairns for meetings of the Armando Diaz Society (founded by Vattuone in 1934). Vattuone's confiscated correspondence indicated that the society sought to replace the recently-defunct fascio at Cairns. Apart from organizing ritualistic ceremonies—to commemorate the anniversary of Benito Mussolini's march on Rome (1922)—and sponsoring poorly-attended propagandist lectures, the self-proclaimed fascist doctors achieved little. They did, however, convince Australian security officers that Mussolini's boasts about fifth columns in Italian emigrant communities were to be taken seriously. Once war hysteria abated, the absurdity of confining the doctors became obvious, especially when there was a critical need for their skills in rural areas.

On 15 June 1940 Castellano was sent to Gaythorne camp. He bore his internment in a co-operative and dignified manner, and was released in late 1943 to practise in western Queensland. On 23 October 1944 he married a 36-year-old clerk Ursula Vette Horgan (d.1969) at St Mary's Catholic Church, South Brisbane; they were to remain childless. Next year he established a practice in the capital where the Italian community was soon to be swollen by postwar immigration. His experiences had in no way dampened his ardour to promote things Italian. At the centre of initiatives to create cultural, sporting, social and welfare institutions, he was patron of the Corale Giuseppe Verdi, the Azzurri Soccer Club, the Italian Tennis Club and the Italo-Australian Centre.

With Sir Raphael Cilento, in 1953 Castellano courageously revived the Brisbane branch of the Dante Alighieri Society, which had been suspended in 1939. (Run by a predominantly fascist committee, the society had been established by Vattuone in 1936 to promote the Italian government's purposes.) Castellano was president from 1953 until 1967. He was also foundation president (1972) of the Italian Consular Welfare Committee (later Co.As.It.). Regarded as the 'dean' of Italian communities, he lectured throughout Australia on his national culture. Castellano had a reputation for understanding, kindness and generosity: in his medical practice he sent out accounts 'once and once only'. On 26 January 1972 he married a divorcee Maria Doralice Pizzica, née de Francesco, at the general registry office, Brisbane. Survived by his wife and three stepdaughters, he died on 11 December 1976 at New Farm and was buried in Nudgee cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Brändle (ed), The Queensland Experience (Brisb, 1986)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, no 1, 1977, p 971
  • Leader (Brisbane), 2 Jan 1977, p 3
  • M. A. Gurdon, Australian Attitudes to Italy and Italians, 1922-36 (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Queensland, 1970)
  • D. Dignan, The Internment of Italians in Queensland (typescript, held by author).

Citation details

Don Dignan, 'Castellano, Francesco (1899–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 18 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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