Francesco Fantin was an anarchist. Born in San Vito di Leguzzano in Northern Italy in 1901, he migrated to Australia and made his way to the Queensland cane fields. There it did not take long for his politics to become known. By early 1942 he was recognised by Australian military intelligence as a significant Anarchist leader, albeit of a small following. Strangely, though, his arrest on 14 February may have been a case of mistaken identity, since his older brother Luigi, whose second name was also Francesco, had adopted nationalistic views.
By March 1942 Fantin was in Camp 14A at Loveday in South Australia. Following the principle that internees should be accommodated with their countrymen, Fantin found himself alongside other Italians, but of a wide range of political affiliations. Tensions between Fantin and the camp’s fascists reached boiling point in November 1942. The precise circumstances of Fantin’s death remain shrouded in some mystery, but it seems that at around sundown on 16 November 1942, at a tap-stand in 14A, Fantin was struck down from behind with a blunt instrument by a Fascist assailant by the name of Giovanni ‘Bruno’ Casotti. Fantin failed to regain consciousness and died from his injuries later that evening at Barmera Base Hospital. Assailant and victim barely knew one another. While Fantin had worked in North Queensland and been in Loveday some time, Casotti had been trucked to Loveday just a couple of weeks earlier with other West Australian Italian internees.
Casotti was placed on trial, found guilty of manslaughter and given a two-year prison sentence. His claim was that he had pushed Fantin, who fell and bumped his head on a water tap; counter-claims had it that Casotti had bashed Fantin to death with a piece of wood. Uncertainty hung too over the motivation for Casotti’s assault, with strong suspicions among the police and others that it was political. Certainly the surviving associates of Fantin from the very outset referred to his killing as an assassination and never wavered in that belief. The authorities for their part recognised the dangers of their internment practices and were more sensitive to the notion of separating anti-fascists from their sworn enemies, and even of releasing them from internment altogether.
Cresciani, Gianfranco, Fascism, Anti-Fascism and Italians in Australia 1922-1945, Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1979.
David Faber, ‘F G Fantin: A Historical Legacy Retrieved’, Journal of the Historical Society of South Australia, 44 (2016), 77-88.
Peter Monteath, Captured Lives: Australia’s Wartime Internment Camps, Canberra: National Library of Australia, 2018.
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 first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 26 September 2016.
NAA: BP242/1, Q300084, Fantin, Francesco Queensland investigation case file.
NAA: A373/1, 10913 Death of Francesco Fantin - Segregation of Fascists and anti-Fascists in internment camps.