by PAUL NURSEY-BRAY
Paul Nursey-Bray is Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Adelaide.
First published in the Journal of the Historical Society of South Australia, Number 17, 1989: pp88-111. Republished with the permission of the author and the current editor of the Journal of the Historical Society of South Australia.
Republished to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the death of Fransesco Fantin. And for all the refugees in mandatory detention (Concentration Camps) in Australia at the present time. Like Fantin, they are innocent victims of a world with borders and Nation States, and global capitalism. - Takver
"To describe him as a hero is not to depict him as a grand figure bestriding the passage of history. Fantin was hardly that. Fantin did not want to die. He did not want to continue to confront Fascism. Had he had his choice he would, as he made clear, have moved away from the aggression in Loveday 14A. But when his choices were denied and his options limited by forces beyond himself he did not deny his beliefs.. He affirmed them. He was a hero despite himself; a reluctant hero and therefore a real hero."
When one says fascism one says horror, its crimes are known. Its infamies do not allow of attenuation. It is a tyranny which tries not without success in many parts of the world - to annul the civilised conquests which were attained during centuries of struggles and of progress in order to push back the human race into a state of shameful barbarism . ..
To those outside. To let them know that in this Internment Camp there are living friends, workmen who make common cause with them. Companions who have years of struggle for liberty, for justice, who have the same goal, and are cheered by their victories.
Francesco Fantin, Pensieri a Ricordi, Loveday Camp, Barmera, 1942.2
Francesco Fantin was an intelligent but not an educated man. He was a textileworker by trade who brought to political issues unsophisticated, strong convictions rather than a great depth of analysis. Yet in the fragmentary writings that he left behind there is clear evidence not only of intelligence, but of sensitivity, of sincerity and of a genuine concern for his fellow man. Fantin was a convert to anarchism who tried to live by its tenets of community, fraternity and liberty.
Yet we do not remember Fantin for his theories of anarchism, rather we remember him as an anarchist worker engaged in the political struggle. There is no corpus of work, no body of theory by which we can judge his views. Beyond a dozen or so letters and the few pages of the diary he composed in the Loveday Camp there is no record of his ideas. That he had ideas is clear, but he lacked the means of setting them out. The translator of his diary remarked: `The writer appears not to have been very literate, and the spelling and grammar are in places incorrect'.3
Fantin was an active member of the left, corresponding, acting and working against Fascism. He was one of the founding members of the Anti-Fascist Matteotti Club in Melbourne. But, unlike his friend, fellow Vicenziano, townsman and migrant, Frank Carmagnola, he did not play a leading part in the national organisation of the anarchist or antiFascist movements.4
It is undeniable that Fantin's chief importance lies in his death and the manner in which it occurred. Killed by Fascists in the Internment Camp 14A in South Australia in November 1942, Fantin, the anarchist and anti-Fascist, the victim of violence he had done little to occasion, lost his life for what he believed. It is for this that he is remembered, indeed revered. Fantin was, and is, viewed as a martyr by the political left in Australia, both within and outside the Italian community. As a significant event his death had both immediate and enduring effects. The immediate effect was on the politics of internment and the fate of the anti-Fascists in the internment camps. Beyond this, however, his life, his internment and his death have all come to represent something larger than the particular problems of internment. For many Fantin has come to symbolise the anti-Fascist struggle within the Italian community in Australia. His story helps to communicate to future generations some knowledge of that little known struggle and an understanding of the issues involved.
Francesco Fantin was born in 1901, to Giovanni and Caterina Fantin, in San Vito di Leguzzano in the Province of Vicenza. His father was a textile worker. He had two brothers, Alfonso and Luigi, and two sisters, Maria and Erminia. Francesco left school after only a few years of education and became a textile worker in the nearby town of Schio. At the end of World War I, when the conflicting social forces that gave birth both to Fascism and the Italian Communist Party were shaping the political life of Italy Fantin became active in Schio as a trade unionist and political militant. It was at this time that he adopted anarchism as his political doctrine and became a conscious and active anti-Fascist. Between 1921 and 1922 he served in the Italian army.5 In 1924 he migrated to Australia, arriving on 27 December6 on the ship Re D'Italia.7
The vigilance of the Fascist regime of Mussolini, and its activity in the promotion of the Fascist cause abroad, must never be underestimated. In the 1920s and 1930s there was a concerted effort to win over Italians abroad to the Fascist cause, to recruit them into Fascist organisations directly, or to gain their support indirectly by enrolling them in Italian language schools and Italian cultural organisations. The Statute of the Fascists Abroad was issued in February 1928, its aim being the development of the national consciousness of Italian communities abroad. There was a subsidiary aim of discouraging migrants from adopting a foreign, that is non-Italian, nationality. In Rome a Secretariat. of Fasci Abroad was established to co-ordinate the activities of Fascist organisations outside Italy and to promote, whenever and wherever possible, the Fascist cause.8 Some idea of the flavour of the ideology that was propagated, and the extent to which Fascists abroad were expected to replicate the attitudes and policies of the Fascist government at home while assuming its priorities as their own, can be gauged by the following letter, sent from Rome by the General Secretary of Fasci Abroad, De Cicco, to each secretary of a Fascio in Australia on 4 January 1939:
The Minister for Foreign Affairs has sent the necessary instructions to representatives of the Government with regard to discrimination of Jewish-Italian citizens resident abroad.
As far as concerns belonging to the Fasci, Jews may continue to take part, always provided they are worthy, and at no time and for no reason take any attitude against the Government.
But I remind you that such members of the Party tray not, even in exceptional cases, occupy any political or directive position in any Italian institution.
I also remind you that the problem of the protection of the rare should be put before our community abroad, and put as a problem essential to the future of a people that is returning to its imperial destiny, which has a new mission to fulfil [sic] in the world, and which therefore cannot consent to dangerous disfigurings in its body and mind, disfigurings which would change those racial characteristics that are carrying us to that imperial destiny and are calling us to that mission.
Italians abroad are more exposed than those at home to the danger of 'racial' deformation. They must be protected above all now, when so many are called by the Duce to return by degrees to the country of their origin.
Secretaries of Fasci, and all Fascists are henceforth pledged to this battle for the protection of the race, pledged to activity - not loud and clamorous, for that might give rise abroad to fake interpretation and bad reactions - but to a continuous. tenacious spirit of construction, little by little. The racial spirit of Fascists must be like a religious spirit which transfuses nonbelievers with the persuasion and force of its faith.9
In this political climate it is not surprising to find that Italian migrants of any anti-Fascist persuasion were spied on by the Italian consular authorities. As' Cresciani notes, it was the consul-general and the Melbourne consul who were chiefly responsible for spying on suspect members of the Italian community, in Australia. Files were kept on fifty antiFascists in Adelaide alone, that is ten percent of the Italian community in South Australia.10 Fantin was an early victim of consular-spying activities. Correspondence on Fantin, and his subversive character, took place between the Melbourne Consulate and the Italian Ministry of the Interior as early as September 1927. In April 1928 the Ministry wrote to the Consulate in these terms:
In the meantime you are informed that the subversive Luigi Francesco FANTIN, son of G. BATTA, born at San Vito of Leguzzano on 18th May, 1896, emigrated to Australia in March, 1922.
Right up to, the outbreak of Communism in San Vito he showed himself one of the most fiery exponents of the party programme. Nevertheless, owing to his limited education, he was never recorded as a dangerous person, he made no secret of his views, nor did he commit any acts which call for the particular attention of the Authorities.11
Correspondence is on file, regarding Fantin, between the Sydney and Melbourne Consulates, and between their offices and informants, dated as late as January 1940.12
It remains unproven, but one must assume that the Italian authorities followed, with respect to Fantin, their normal policy towards anti-Fascists in Australia; they denounced him as a subversive, a communist and an anarchist to the Australian Government. It was a policy begun by the ConsulGeneral, Antonio Grossardi, in, the 1920s and continued by his successors.13
What had Fantin done to merit this close and constant scrutiny? He was an anarchist and an active anti-Fascist. He was also active in the labour movement, particularly in Queensland, where he is credited with being part of the organisation of the caneworkers' strike of 1934. But it was Fantin's open anti-Fascism that was of concern to the Consular authorities. Fantin took an active part in the anti-Fascist struggle, although his lack of education no doubt hampered his rise to a prominent position. Clearly, however, he was a significant activist who continued to struggle against the forces of Fascism both before and after internment. In a letter to the Commandant of the Barmera Camp 14A where Fantin was interned, Frank Carmagnola, the leader of the Italian Anarchist movement, appealing for Fantin's release, supplies evidence of Fantin's active involvement in the anti-Fascist movement. 'I have known Mr Fantin', he wrote, 'for a number of years as a very staunch anti-Fascist worker and as one whose sympathies were entirely against the forces of fascism and nazism and who worked arduously and sincerely against such forces. During the period I was editor of the Italian paper La Riscossa, which was a very strong anti-Fascist paper, Mr Fantin was a correspondent for such paper in Queensland and also a distributor of same . . .'14 A Security Report on Carmagnola's request for Fantin's release, on the grounds of his known opposition to Fascism, notes a report from Sydney that presumably was based on an interview with Carmagnola:
Carmagnola stated that he went to Melbourne and with two other Italians, namely Francesco FANTIN, and Valintino CIOTTI, they opened the Anti Fascists 'Matteoti Club', at Spring Street, Melbourne. They also published a weekly newspaper known as La Riscossa. Carmagnola was the publisher and Ciotti was the editor, of the La Riscossa newspaper.15
An ironic footnote to this detailing of Fantin's robust anti-Fascism is provided by the fact that the Director General of Security was clearly persuaded by Carmagnola's appeal. 'I would like to review these cases', he wrote, 'in the light of the information obtained regarding Carmagnola, in order to decide whether Degli ESPOSTI and FANTIN could safely be released under appropriate restrictions, for it would appear unlikely that they would represent any danger to our war effort because of their antagonism towards Fascists.16 The letter was written on 18 November 1942, two days after the murder by Fascists of Francesco Fantin!
Fantin appears to have first attracted the attention of the Australian authorities through a letter that he addressed to L'Adunata Dei Refrattori (Rebels Association) Roseville Station, New Jersey, a letter that was intercepted by the Commonwealth Investigation Branch, Brisbane. In the letter Fantin informs the association, of a change of address which he asks them to pass on to his various correspondents, and concludes, 'with hope and good will to live anew for Anarchy'.17 The Inspector of Police at Cairns was written to by the Commonwealth Investigation Branch in Brisbane asking 'if confidential enquiries could be made into the nationality, sentiments and activities of the abovenamed [Fantin]'.18 The result of these enquiries by Constable R.R. Kelly was a declaration that Fantin was harmless. 'From the inquiries made', wrote Kelly, 'I am satisfied that Fantin has no followers of Anarchism in this Division, and I also ascertained that he is a good honest worker, who is quite rational, when not speaking of Anarchy'.19 Despite this report, the label of anarchist, barely understood but construed as dangerous, was attached to Fantin.
In June 1940 a quite different accusation wars levelled at Fantin when he was accused, in a letter sent to the Aliens Registration Central (13-6-40) from one James McCarthy of 'Waverley', Wharf Street, Brisbane, of being a rabid Fascist. In the same letter McCarthy also indicted a number of other Italians. It must be presumed that the accusations reflected the prevailing anti-Fascist, and therefore, at this stage, anti-Italian sentiment of the broader Australian community. McCarthy stated that Fantin had 'openly expressed to me his hatred of England and Englishmen'. He called him 'particularly cunning and a most crafty type', asserting that in conversation he had said, 'I would sooner employ a Hindoo or an Afghan than a bloody Britisher'.20 It says much for the political climate of the time that this accusation was believed. Apart from all else the use of the terms 'Hindoo' and 'Afghan' clearly betray the psychology of someone brought up within the British Raj rather than that of an Italian worker. Nevertheless it was an accusation that was to do Fantin great harm.
Finally, Fantin was accused, quite separately, of communism. A letter from the Intelligence Officer Cairns to the Intelligence Services of the Australian Military Forces - Northern Command of 21 October 1940 noted: 'From a source which is considered to be reliable I have been informed that the abovenamed (Fantin is identified as Chico Fantini) is a Communist. . .'21 One is left to wonder whether that 'reliable source' was connected with the Consular spying activities. Whatever the source of the accusation it was one that continued to be made. The I.O. Cairns wrote to the Intelligence Service of the Northern Command on 4 November 1940: 'FANTIN is reported to be a rabid Communist and for a number of years to have actively spread Communist propaganda amongst the sugar workers in North Queensland'.22
This claim, that Fantin was a communist, was a damaging charge. Certainly it would have been one that would have drawn the attention of the authorities to Fantin. It must be remembered that at this time the Molotov-Ribbentrop Ponaggression pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany was still in effect`: and the Comintern assumed, and sometimes exercised, a broad dominance over the political direction and activity of communist parties outside the U.S.S.R.
The accusation further compounded the confusion concerning Fantin's political allegiance. We now have Fantin the Anarchist, Fantin the Fascist and Fantin the Communist all cohabiting the same 5'6" frame! Even the authorities, suspicious as they were of potentially subversive enemy aliens, were rather bemused. A letter from the Northern Command Section of the Australian Intelligence Core to the 1.0. Cairns written in September 1941 noted: 'As some confusion exists as to whether this man is a Fascist or a Communist, it would be appreciated if action could be taken to clarify the position, to enable further action to be taken'.23
However, clarification was not forthcoming. Instead, in an ingenious, administrative coup de main the tangled threads of the accusations against Fantin were pulled together into one damning indictment:
Fantin is a particularly cunning and crafty type of Italian alien who has been engaged in anti-British propaganda under various guises. He has been listed as an Anarchist, a Fascist, and a follower and teacher of Communistic doctrines. He has a bitter hatred of England and Englishmen and is definitely opposed to Democracy. Fantin has been in Australia since 1924' but has not at any time made application for naturalisation.24
At the end of 1941 Fantin was living with his brother Luigi at Sawmill Pocket, Edmonton. It was his usual place of residence in Queensland. On 18 December 1941 the house was searched by Captain. Brown, 1.0. Cairns and Sergeant Walsh of the. Edmonton police. Maps of the war zone and letters were seized to the disquiet of Fantin as Captain Brown notes in his report. He also notes: 'There was nothing noticed that would connect FANTIN with any organisation of a subversive nature'.25 Despite the result of this search the order for the internment of Fantin was made in Brisbane on 13 February 1942 by Major-General J.M.A. Durant. Fantin was arrested the next day and taken, via Townsville, to the Internment Camp at Gaythorne, Queensland.
On 28 February 1942 police officers returned to Fantin's place of residence at Sawmill Pocket and again conducted a search. The list of the material they confiscated at that time is worth reproducing as indicative not so much of the political persuasion of Fantin as of the attitude and approach of the Australian authorities. The Sergeant in charge reported that:
Hereunder is a list of articles seized at Fantin's room. (1) Autograph Book with foreign writing therein. (3) Booklets in foreign language. (4) News Papers in foreign language. (1) Booklet by Carl [sic] Marx. (3) Letters in foreign language. (1) Phamplett [sic] in foreign language. (1) Multi-coloured handkerchief with photograph of B. Durruti.26
An appeal from Fantin against internment was dismissed on 20 March 1942 and on 21 March an order was made moving him from Gaythorne to the Loveday Internment Camp in Barmera, South Australia.
The Loveday Internment Group of camps, situated at Barmera in the South Australian Riverland, was first established in July 1940. The first two camps, known as No. 9 and No. 10 were designed as individual compounds, one and a half miles apart, holding 1,000 persons each. In December 1941 the entry of Japan into the war raised the question of potential Japanese internees. A new type of camp was decided on involving four compounds. This camp was designated No. 14, and the four compounds labelled A, B, C and D.27 On 28 February 1942 ' 14A Compound with Capt. J.H. Richardson as Camp Commandant received 115 Italians from Gaythorne Internment Camp, Queensland'.28 One of that group of 115 was Fantin.
There were a number of fundamental problems that existed in all of the internment camps established under the general aegis of the Australian army in World War Il. They were problems that demonstrated an official ideology that was still based on national and racial characteristics, on a simple minded chauvinism that neglected the complexity of social relations. It was an ideology that paradoxically mirrored the racial and national obsessions of the enemy! It resulted in judgements that made all Germans Nazis and all Italians Fascists, regardless of their political persuasions. The disposition of prisoners between the compounds of the Loveday camp was made therefore on national, or indeed racial lines, rather than along lines of political affiliation. As Lt-Col E.T. Dean notes: 'Each of the main nationalities held, viz. German, Italian and Japanese, required special study, and a different method of handling and treatment'.
The Germans: Arrogant, appreciated strict discipline and firm control.
The Italians: Naturally temperamental, needed firm handling, but once shown who was in command had to be led like a schoolboy.
The Japanese: Subservient, were model prisoners. Their fanatical desire to maintain 'face' made them easy to handle in their eagerness to obey all orders and instructions to the letter.
For all these reasons, it is suggested that where possible people of different races be segregated.29
The result of this policy of segregation along racial or national lines, with a complete disregard for political differences, was bound to lead to tensions within the compounds. Nazis were interned with anti-Nazis because they were all German, anti-Fascists with Fascists because they were all Italian. In addition, the Nazi or Fascist majority, for the logic of the situation demanded that these groups would be the majority groups, were chosen by the Australian authorities to provide the leadership of the camps.
The internment policy of the Australian government can be criticised on two counts. In the first instance, it imprisoned individuals who were openly opposed to Fascism or Nazism simply because of their nationality, or/and because their political views were, while not right wing, regarded as dangerous. While it is obvious that, in the period in question, communists would be the subject of official scrutiny, particularly prior to the German invasion of the Soviet Union, nevertheless, internment of active anti-Fascists showed a lamentable lack of discrimination in the implementation of policy. This error was then compounded by the internment of the political opponents of Fascism and Nazism with Fascists and Nazis. It was; a misguided, misinformed and shortsighted policy that was bound to lead to disaster. It was Fantin's misfortune to be the particular disaster that was both to subject the policy to dose public scrutiny and to bring about necessary changes.
One result of the internment policy of the Australian government was the politicisation of camp life. This is not to suggest that all internees were politically active. Many would have espoused no particular political doctrine. But their affiliations, their loyalties became the battleground for the activities of political groups that sought to capture their allegiance. The enforced co-existence of these groups representing polarised political positions was bound to lead to conflict situations where each group would seek to assert its political and moral identity against the other. The intensity of this conflict was involved both with the obvious question of support for one side or the other in the war, and with related ideological issues of importance. At the broader level such issues involved the vital political and social questions raised by Fascism and the Fascist state. More specifically, for each national group, but particularly for the Italian community amongst whose members the Secretariat of Fasci Abroad had laboured hard to foster support, there was the question of loyalty or disloyalty to the Fatherland. These were issues that served tó accentuate and focus the political antagonisms of camp life. For the anti-Fascists the most significant additional feature of their position was the fact that they were, by the nature of things, doomed to be a permanent minority.
The situation in Camp No. 14A was made worse for anti-Fascists by the transfer from Camp No. 9 of Dr Francesco Piscitelli, an intelligent and able person, and a Fascist, who quickly assumed leadership of 14A. Valentino Ciotti, friend of Fantin and co-founder of the Matteoti Club, gave an account of Fascist activities within the Camp at this time in a statement made after his release.
During April, 1942, Dr Pissitelli [sic] was transferred from No. 9 Internment Camp and elected leader by the internees. He had been previously appointed by the Military Authorities as leader of the camp. Pissitelli [sic] is a strong Fascist and used to spread Fascist propaganda. The Fascists used to meet in the mess room and discuss the war news when the papers arrived at about 7 p.m. at night and the educated ones would read the papers to the masses, even if there was a reverse for the Axis Forces, it would be read as though there had been a victory for them. The Fascists were against Britain and her allies and did all they could to spread propaganda to assist Japan, Germany and Italy. When the Japanese submarines came into Sydney Harbour they spread the propaganda that the Harbour Bridge had collapsed and that Sydney was finished. The more prominent of the Fascist used to get around the camp and say that on one occasion the Japs were in Brisbane, another that they were in Townsville another time in Perth. I have known on occasions when the rumours of the Jap victories were questioned by the internees that the Fascists have told their questioners that the soldiers who brought in the food had given them the news.30
It was an unpromising situation for the opponents of Fascism who were considerably outnumbered. Ciotti estimated that, at that time, there were 'about 300 real Fascists in the 14A internment camp and about 70 or 80 anti-Fascists . .. not influenced by Fascist propaganda'.31 However, it is also clear that there was a job to be done with respect to countering the spread of Fascist propaganda and disinformation. As Ciotti notes, 'this type of propaganda influences the indifferent section and some anti-Fascists too. Many of the internees are ignorant and can be easily led by the propaganda held out to them by the Fascists'.32
Fantin and Ciotti took the lead in opposing Fascism and Fascist propaganda, trying to circulate accurate versions of war news, and expressing themselves in favour of victory for the Allies as a means of achieving liberation for Italy. It was the position that the Italia Libera Movement was to advance as the reason for its foundation in 1943. As Ciotti recorded in his statement, 'some of the anti-Fascists endeavoured to give the true facts of the news and to get sympathy amongst the internees for Britain and her allies, Fantin and myself were most active in this direction'.33 Ciotti's account also illustrates the intensity of the exchanges between Fascists and anti-Fascists. He recounts how one internee was talking to a Fascist, saying that he had been well treated in Australia, that he liked the Australian people and that Australia was a good country. The Fascist responded by threatening him. 'We have got you marked down', he said, 'and later on we will deal with you. You are a traitor to Italy' Ciotti intervened and defended the man who had praised Australia. A number of Fascists called him a low dog and a traitor, to which Ciotti replied: 'Down with Fascism, down with Mussolini, long live free Italy'.34
It is clear that Fantin was also involved in heated exchanges of a similar kind. A statement made by Giuseppe Paternoster after Fantin's death details an incident between himself and Fantin in August 1942. Pasternoster had been insulted by Fantin's attacks on Fascism and had taken Fantin by the neck of his shirt, saying: 'Respect me if you wish to be respected'.35
This confrontation between Paternoster and Fantin was only one of a series of incidents in August 1942 in which Fantin was abused, threatened and assaulted by Fascists. On 17 August Fantin wrote to Ciotti, who had now been released, detailing an assault on him three days earlier.
On the evening of the 15th of this month, at 10 o'clock, while I was in bed here in my tent, with my friend Coletti, two fascist ruffians, together with their assistant Catabbano called me outside with the firm intention of ruining me. They wanted me to give the fascist salute and shout 'Long live il Duce'. Having obtained from me neither the one thing or the other, they began swearing at me, saying that my mother is a big harlot, and so on. They went on with kicks, seizing me by the neck to choke me, finally telling me that if I say anything more, they will kill me. Now I shall see if the military commandant will take some steps. So, with other antifascist friends, we shall defend ourselves as we can. The aggressors are Manaelo Uazzolino [sic, probably Cazzulino] and Paternostro [sic], lately come from Camp No. 9.36
As a result of this attack, and the threats made, Fantin approached the Camp Commander; Major J.H. Richardson, reporting the attack while asking to be moved from the camp because his life was in danger.37 The request was refused, and, although Paternoster was charged the charges were dismissed because no marks of violence could be found on Fantin. At this time records show that Fantin informed the Camp authorities that he was an anti-Fascist, that Paternoster and company were Fascists and that he, Fantin, was being persecuted for his political beliefs.38
As the year of 1942 advanced the tension between Fascists and anti-Fascists increased, fed by the fluctuating fortunes of the Allied and Axis Powers. In late 1942 the tide of war was, at last, beginning to turn in the favour of the Allied forces. The Battle of Britain had dearly been won and Bomber Command had moved strongly onto the offensive; American forces had recently occupied the Vichy bases in Africa; the German onslaught on Russia was stalled at Stalingrad, and shortly to be driven back; most importantly, the British Eighth Army was pushing Rommel out of North Africa, having, decisively defeated the Italian forces. These events, and their promise of future Allied victories, clearly had a significant effect on the psychological atmosphere of the camps. The Fascists were experiencing a series of defeats for the first time, and perhaps contemplating, also for the first time, the possibility that the war might be lost. In such circumstances the experience of internment would acquire a new and bitter character; For the Italian internees of the Fascist persuasion this bitterness would have been accentuated by the total defeat inflicted on their armies in North Africa, an ironic reversal of earlier African triumphs.
In early November a party of Fascist internees arrived from camps in Western Australia. They were welcomed by the Fascist contingent with a communal singing of Giovinezza. Fantin derided the proceedings, and was struck, by Paternoster, with a back hand blow39 Aldo Formigomi, a fellow internee, later provided the police with an account. of this incident:
I remember the contingent of internees who arrived from Western Australia at the beginning of November 1942. The day after that I was passing outside the door of the but where the internees have breakfast, at about 7.30 a.m., and I saw Fantin come out of the huh. He had a trickle of blood coming from his left cheek. He then called me and said, 'I am going to make a complaint to Lieutenant Cross. Will you come and interpret for me?' We went over to Lt Cross and he said in English, 'Paternoster hit me in the face in the breakfast room and made it bleed'. Lt Cross then said, 'I will fix this up. It is too bad for him this time'.40
Despite this assurance no action appears to have been taken. Fantin wanted to report this assault to the Camp Commander but was advised by a fellow anti-Fascist not to press the matter since the attack was not serious.41 Fantin clearly believed otherwise, having, as his diary reveals, a presentiment of death strong enough to make him wish tó leave a will of sorts. 'To the companions', he wrote, Tanizzon, Ciotti, Carmagnola and others still. Seeing that the acts of violence continue, yesterday 7 November I received more blows. Why? Because without any baseness they saw me laugh'.
For the rest I was glad, one day I shall explain why. In short having among these Italians many enemies. The companions remember, that if it should be necessary to leave this Internment camp to go to the cemetery. The brother FANTIN (if they can) must give some money, the fruit of my long work.
Let this money be divided in this way. Two shares to the dear nephews, and nieces, and sisters for the care they have given my dear parents.
The other two shares libertarian press, and political victims.
In addition the sum of forty pounds sterling which they can take out of my bank book. A donation which I make between Red Cross and General Hospital of Cairns, Nth Queensland.
Thanking that hospital for the care given during my stay in the year 1929. F Fantin42
As the month of November advanced the pressure on the anti-Fascists in general and Fantin in particular grew. On 13 November, three days before his death, Fantin wrote to his brother: `During the present week the news is splendid on all fronts. You can hardly imagine how happy this makes me, only [sic] I have to tell you that even this joy I have to keep secretly in my heart. I have but a few friends with whom I can communicate. Here I have many enemies around me. When I hear them talking against the Australian people and all who are fighting fascism, you will understand the reaction of my feelings. At times tears fall from my eyes, and in so doing, gives me a feeling of relief'.
Sometimes I feel deeply down-hearted, a feeling I have never experienced during the previous years of my life. It is not because I am enclosed in this camp, for towards the Australian people, I have no bitter feeling, rather, I feel affectionately towards them. It is against these fascists and all Italians who have lost their sense of reasoning, whom I despise and feel a sense of hatred.43
The conflict that precipitated the fatal attack on Fantin grew out of a campaign organised by the anti-Fascists to raise money for 'Sheepskins for Russia', a campaign associated with the defence of Stalingrad, and linked to a general appeal outside the camp. Fantin took a leading part in this campaign. At a time when the Fascists were dismayed by the reverses suffered by the Axis powers, this was taken to be a very provocative action. The amount of tension provoked can be gauged by a letter written by a German internee to the Swiss Consul:
. . . it pleases the authorities to keep in this camp a number of loyal Italians and German right in the middle of a devilish mixture of elements hostile and traitorous ... a group of communists, Jews, half Jews and others have subscribed to a list collecting money in aid of Russia. The Authorities do not only allow this continual provocation in the camp, but they make it appear as if we all here in this camp were traitors. This brings about unbearable tension the result of which may soon be serious.44
In all a sum of £9.7.0 was collected for Russia. The names of the internees who had contributed appeared as an item in the Mail, which reported on 14 November:
Internees Hope For Allied Victory
Admiration for Russia and hope for an allied victory have been expressed by German and Italian anti-fascist aliens in a South Australian Internment Camp.
In addition to sending a donation to the sheepskins for Russia appeal, they have forwarded a letter to the Russia Medical Aid Committee, in which they say that anti-Fascists in the camp have been following the heroic fight of the Red Army with great interest.45
There is a suggestion that it may have been Fantin who inspired this item in the paper. Certainly some Fascists believed this to be the case.46
The arrival of the newspaper in the camp at about 4 p.m. on 16 November produced great agitation and anger among the Fascists. Paternoster testified that he had discussed the matter after tea with two other Fascists, and they had agreed the internees in question should be killed. 'An Italian who contributed to such a fund would be a traitor'.47 A report of another conversation indicates that an internee called Manuele Cassolini said, 'This Fantin should be killed', to which Paternoster replied: 'He already stinks of death'.48 A friend of Fantin, Giovanni Pattanaro, notes in his testimony that before Fantin's death between 300 and 400 Fascists - the numbers reflecting the arrival of the Western Australian contingent on 3 November - met in the mess room, after the papers had been delivered, to discuss the war news. They sang Fascist songs, in particular Giovinezza, hailed Il Duce and gave the Fascist salute.49 The camp leader, Dr Piscitelli, attended this meeting. In their testimony the Fascists represented this gathering as a meeting of the confidential friends of Piscitelli, and claimed that the object was, given the newspaper report of the collection of money for Russia, to make an application for the removal of the 'red shirts' (friends of Russia) from No. 14A Compound. Any plan to injure Fantin was denied.50 The North Queensland Guardian published an account on 19 February 1943 that confinues the story:
Paternostro [sic] then addressed the crowd saying 'Those engaged in anti-fascist activity in this camp must be got rid of'. One in the crowd asked, 'Who are the men who must be got rid of?' Paternostro replied, 'The four flying foxes that hang around the camp every night'.
By this remark he referred to F Fantin, Mario Cazzulino, R. Degh [sic] Esposti and V. Lavagna.
THAT B MUST BE KILLED
After tea in the but we beard whispering coming from the other side of the partition but we could not hear what was being planned.
About 6 o'clock three of us went for a walk around the camp, keeping together for protection. After going about 60 yards we met Fantin, who was on his own. One of us said, Tantin, come with us, we are going to keep strolling but pick up something with which to defend yourself, because we have every reason to believe that the fascists intend killing us'.
Fantin replied, 'I just passed Dr Pisatelli [sic] and Mario Deluca. As I passed them Deluca said to Pisatelli [sic] 'That .. . must be killed'.
We again asked Fantin to come with us. but he replied that he would go and watch a game of bowls for a while as he did not think they would attempt to kill him while it was still daylight, and that he would get into his hut before night fell.
Fantin was in a very nervous state. We again implored him to walk with us, but to no avail.51
At about 6.30 p.m., as Fantin was drinking alone, the confrontation with Giuseppe Bruno Casotti took place that led to Fantin's death. It is significant, given the suspicion of a conspiracy at least to injure, if not kill Fantin, that his assailant was unknown to him. Casotti was in fact one of the Western Australian Fascists who had arrived earlier in the month. His traditional tormenter Paternoster would have seemed a more likely candidate for the role of assailant. Obviously conflicting interpretations are possible. It can be argued that the fact that Casotti did not know Fantin supports the argument against conspiracy. If a conspiracy is suspected, however, then the use of Casotti can be seen as a premeditated and calculated attempt by the Fascist contingent to catch Fantin off guard, since he would not have suspected an attack from someone he did not know.
At 6.30 p.m. on the evening of 16 November Fantin was approached by Casotti as he was drinking alone from a compound tap. Two versions of what happened next need to be considered, the Fascist and the anti-Fascist accounts of Fantin's death. The Fascist version suggests that, after an altercation, Casotti pushed Fantin who fell, striking his head against the tap support. Other evidence suggests that Casotti struck him with a large piece of wood, and, when Fantin fell, kicked him in the body and the groin.
Just after 6.30 p.m. Fantin was carried to his tent. He was unconscious and bleeding from the mouth. Three minutes later Piscitelli came into the tent. Pattanaro said to him: 'Doctor you had better send this man to hospital straight away because he has no pulse'. Piscitelli replied: 'What do you know, he is alright'.52 But a few minutes later Fantin was carried to tire Camp hospital, where he was put in charge of another internee, Dr Adriano Muggia. Muggia diagnosed that Fantin's neck had been broken, his skull fractured and several ribs cracked.53 The Military Medical Officer attached to the 33rd Garrison Battalion at the Internment Camp, Loveday Dr Luke Verco, was called in. His diagnosis was cerebral hemorrhage, caused by a fracture to the skull, and a decision was made to move Fantin to the Base hospital in Barmera. Fantin died of his injuries act 10.25 p.m., the night of 16 November54 At the Coroner's Inquiry, on 27 November 1942, it was argued that his injuries were consistent with falling over and striking his head with great force against some object, or with being hit, as was alleged, with a piece of wood. The lack of abrasions on Fantin's neck told against this latter hypothesis at first. It was noted however that, as Fantin wore a cap over the back of his neck, a blow could have been struck without causing abrasions.55
The nature of Fantin's injuries and the discussion of them at the Coroner's Inquiry relates to the two accounts of the manner of his death. There was a confusion deliberately fostered by the Fascists, and one that coloured both the trial of Casotti and the nature of his sentence. There were a great number of testimonies on both sides of the question, although, not unexpectedly, given the disparity in numbers between Fascists and anti-Fascists, the bulk of evidence was, greater in defence of the Fascist version of events. It can be strongly argued, h owever, that the weight of the evidence favours the view that Fantin was murdered.
The Fascist version of the events of 16 November is represented by the testimony of Casotti himself:
Stated that he had met Fantin for the first time on the evening of 16 Nov 42. He had met him at the top of and between Huts 3 and 4. He had been hailed by Fantin and had got into conversation with him. Casotti said that Fantin has said that he was very pleased that the Italians were being killed at the war and that they were killing all the fascists. Casoti had replied that it was no good Fantin talking that way. Fantin had started. to insult Casotti's father and mother and his country. He had called Casotti a son of bastards (figlio di bastardi). Casotti had pushed him, on the chest with both hands. He had not intended to kill or injure Fantin, but to give him a fall. Fantin in falling had struck his head on the tap standard. Many internees had seen the incident.56
It was this version that was strongly supported by a large number of internees, presumably of the Fascist persuasion. At the Coroner's Inquiry Domenico Riso stated that he was sitting with half a dozen other internees when Fantin approached the tap and met Casotti. He stated he heard talk of Fascism, Communism and Italy, and that he witnessed an argument between Fantin and Casotti. 'I hear Casotti say', he stated, ' "leave me alone" and then the other chap said "Fuck you, your mother, family and everyone". I saw Casotti raise his hand and hit Fantin. I could not tell where he hit him. Fantin fell over backwards. I could not say if he struck his head or body against anything... When Fantin was on the ground I did not see Casotti strike him in any way I did not see him hit Fantin with a piece of wood or kick him'.57
The evidence suggesting Fantin was murdered is very strong. Despite the equivocation at the Coroner's Inquiry, the nature of his injuries would appear to be inconsistent with a fall, even a fall occasioned by a push or blow. The damage to the ribcage as well as to the head and neck is more consistent with the evidence supplied by those who identified Casotti as a murderer. Augusto Pretti made a clear statement on 26 November 1942:
CASOTTI, Bruno, is the murderer who murdered FANTIN. He murdered him with a piece of wood, 3 x 2 x 2, the first blow struck him on the head. and he fell on the ground. Another blow in the ribs while he was on the ground, and afterwards he gave him a kick in the stomach.58
Domenico Franchini gave evidence that he and three others saw Fantin walk across to the tap followed by Casotti, and that 'Casotti hit him on the head with a baulk of timber 3 x 2 x 2 pushed him over, kicked him over the heart; on the ribs and groin and private parts'.59 Felice Masserano stated in his testimony: 'After the killing of Fantin some of the Fascists said "It is good to kill that Bastard because he is a communist". I have heard persons in mobs say that Fantin had been murdered with a bit of wood. Some of the Fascists said that he fell down [sic] and struck his head. My opinion is that Fascists murdered Fantin'.60 Giuseppe Petrilli reported that the morning after the death of Fantin, Casotti had said, in response to a question about the events of the night before: 'I gave him a crack on the head with a stick as he was drinking water'.61
A report by the Security Service in February 1943 summed up matters: 'Nevertheless, from the enquiries made it appears to that it was universally accepted amongst the internees that Fantin was murdered by PEZUTTO [sic]'.62
There are then, on the one hand, clearly competing accounts of what happened to Fantin on the evening of 16 November. However, it was the final opinion of the Coroner, Mr Appleton, that, whether Fantin had been 'violently pushed or knocked down' by Casotti, the latter was 'guilty of murder'.63 On this basis he committed Casotti to trial.
In the aftermath of Fantin's death there were numerous attempts by the Fascists to intimidate witnesses who might testify to the murder of Fantin. Giovanni Pattanaro claimed that as he was walking about the camp on the night of 16 November a voice behind him called, 'Those who speak will die, one Fantin a day from now on, all Communists should be dealt with in this way'.64 Giovanni Colletti in a statement made in February 1943 noted: 'After the murder the fascists terrorised the anti-Fascists by continually saying, "Death to those who speak, one Fantin a day. Anyone who talks will go the same way".'65 A report compiled by Constable First Class A.T. Hughes on Fantin's death and conditions in the Internment Camp, filed on 10 February 1943, confirms these statements. 'It also seems apparent', Hughes noted, 'that Dr Pissitelli [sic]; the Camp Leader, did all he could to prevent the true facts being brought out, and that the Fascist section sought to prevent evidence reaching the Authorities by terrorist methods'.66
This intimidation, and the suppression of evidence it involved, is one factor explaining the rather curious nature of the trial that followed in December 1942. There is another important factor, however, which appears to involve an official attempt to cover up the Fantin incident in order to spare the government the embarrassment that might result from a public discussion of its internment policy.
On 22 December 1942 Casotti appeared before Mr Justice Richards in the Adelaide Supreme Court. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Clearly at this stage there was not sufficient evidence available to the Crown Prosecutor regarding the assault on Fantin to allow him to challenge this plea and argue for a charge of murder. This is perhaps an indication of the success of the Fascist campaign aimed at the suppression of evidence. It was also suggested by Joan Finger of the Political Rights Committee that the military authorities, desirous of presenting the case as an accident hurried it into court 'to forestall attempts to probe it further'.67
R.F. Newman, counsel for Casotti, made a plea for leniency, arguing that Fantin's death had been caused by a push from Casotti delivered under great provocation.68 Before the judge could pass sentence, however, the Crown Prosecutor, R.R. Chamberlain, received information that the case was 'more serious than first appeared',69 and asked for an adjournment. This was granted and enquiries were set in train. It was these enquiries that produced the statements from Ciotti, Masserano, Pattanaro and Colletti, cited above, and the report on Fantin's death and the conditions in the Internment Camp by Constable Hughes. Hughes, in fact, found witnesses willing to testify that Fantin was murdered:
In regard to the alleged FANTIN murder, the statements of PATTANARO and COLLETTI have produced very little direct evidence, that of CIOTTI, none, but information has been received that Secondo ROMANELLO, Attilio CURRAZZOLLO (nicknamed among the Italians, Baracca), Lorenzo AVALLI and an internee named Della BONNA are in a position to throw much light on the actual killing. ROMANELLO is credited with being an actual eyewitness and is said to have intervened when PEZUTTO [sic] was kicking FANTIN after having struck him a blow on the rear portion of the neck with a billet of wood . . . Attilio CURAZZOLLO and Lorenzo AVALLI are said to favour the anti-Fascist group. It is suggested that these two, if interviewed away from the Internment Camp and given a guarantee of transfer from it subsequently, would volunteer information; but their fears of maltreatment and battery must first be allayed.70
On the basis of this new evidence it would appear that the Crown Prosecutor would, when the trial resumed, have a prima facie case for the alteration of the charge from manslaughter to murder. It is at this point that political rather than legal considerations became important. The Government, the Army and the Commonwealth Security Service all wished to get through the Fantin affair with a minimum of fuss. They wanted as little public attention as possible directed to the policy of interning anti-Fascists with Fascists. A change in the charge to murder would highlight, in an unequivocal manner, the level of tension in the camps produced by that policy.
K.H. Kirkman, Deputy Director of Security in South Australia and also Master of the Supreme Court, wrote to the Director General of Security in Canberra, BrigadierGeneral W B. Simpson, on 6 February, in response to an inquiry from the latter of 22 January. 'The Crown Prosecutor', he wrote, 'has informed me unofficially that as the result of further investigations at the Camp he considers, he can sustain a charge of murder. He is now considering the legal position in view of the previous indictment for manslaughter'.
In view of this development, I have conferred with the Commander of S.A. L of C Area and it has been decided not to pursue an order under Regulation 71. It is felt that the new charge might involve difficult questions for the Minister to answer and that an order under Regulation 71 might produce protests and further complicate matters whilst not materially assisting the method used to convey the information from the Camp.71
It is clear from a letter that Simpson wrote to 'My dear Kirkman' on 26 February that the issue had been discussed with the Crown Prosecutor, and that, as a result of these consultations, a decision had been made, which was subsequently communicated to the Commonwealth Attorney-General, that Tantin's murderer [sic] could not be charged with Murder, as he had already been indicted and pleaded guilty to Manslaughter'.72 It is also clear, however, that the Attorney-General, Dr HY. Evatt, was still anxious about the outcome of the trial, for General Simpson proceeds:
The Attorney [General] is particularly anxious that, when the hearing takes place, it should not be such as to offer unnecessary criticism of the Army's management of Internment Camps. I was instructed to pass on these views to you; expressing his desire that you should do what you could, tactfully, to see that these were carried out.
I gather he felt that Kirkman, Master of the Supreme Court, might be able to suggest this tactfully in the right quarters, where Kirkman, the Deputy Director of Security, might fail.73
In a letter of 2 March to 'My dear Director General', Kirkman is very reassuring. 'I had a word with the Crown Prosecutor', he writes, 'along the lines suggested in your 3744/ 43 of 26th February',
He does not consider that the particular trial judge is likely to offer any comment on the aspect you mention, and from my personal knowledge of the judge I think he will refrain from doing so. The Crown Prosecutor, however, will make contact with him.
The Crown proposes to take the line that since the adjournment further investigations have shown that the accused's actions strongly point to murder, but that on account of the majority of the witnesses being aliens it has been considered advisable to proceed with the charge of manslaughter. The Crown are placing al l the circumstances before the Court and will urge the imposition of a heavy sentence in view of the information since the adjournment.74
Thus it transpired. The trial was resumed on 16 March 1943. While the Crown presented the new evidence bearing on the proposition that Fantin had been murdered with clear intent, it did not ask for a change of the charge 'in view of possible legal difficulties', but 'tendered the new evidence in answer to the plea for leniency'.75 On 19 March Casotti was sentenced to two years imprisonment, with hard labour, at Yatala Labour Prison, the sentence running from December 1942 Criminal Sessions, that is 30 November 1942.76 The curious and ambiguous nature of the trial, the accusation and the verdict can be detected in the speech of Mr Justice Richards in sentencing Casotti:
The more serious charge of murder could have been laid against you, but the responsible authorities, acting, no doubt, on the assumption that there may have been truth in your statement that you acted with great provocation, decided to charge you with the lesser crime of manslaughter . . .
Witnesses for the Crown have now given certain evidence from which, if this were not a criminal matter, the Court might well conclude that you struck Fantin on the back of the head with a stick and that that killed him... Then there is the evidence of another man who says you admitted to him that you hit Fantin with a stick. But for reasons that need not be stated I regard it as safer not to act on his evidence. After hearing all the evidence, I informed your counsel that I did not intend to assume that you did use a stick, and in spite of what has already been said, I adhere to that intention. Although the restrained nature of their evidence about a stick gives one some confidence in their evidence as to kicking, I am not assuming that you did kick Fantin after he was down, thereby showing malice.77
Kirkman was satisfied. He wrote to Simpson: 'Casotti is today sentenced to two years hard labour. A copy of the judge's remarks when imposing sentence are attached. From these you will see that nothing eventuated that is likely to cause any difficult situations'.78
Despite the best efforts of the security services, Fantin's death did become, almost immediately, a matter of public scandal. Indeed it is possible that the light sentence visited on Casotti and the fact that a charge of murder was not pursued, exacerbated rather than eased the situation. But even before the sentence in March, the death of Fantin had attracted considerable public notice, and drawn attention both to the fact that Anti-Fascists were interned and to the fact that they were interned with Fascists. At the same time, the extreme nature of the events attending the Fantin murder, caused a reconsideration of internment policy within official circles. The result of these two developments, both directly linked to Fantin's death, was a gradual change in the policy of internment, producing a release of AntiFascists.
Public protest was led by the left in general and the Communist Party in particular. Joan Finger, for the Political Rights Committee, protested to Dr Evatt as early as December 1942. ' We are concerned', she wrote, 'that (1) anti-fascists should be interned at all, (2) that anti-fascist and fascists should be interned together, and (3) that there is maladministration in the Internment Camp at Loveday, which the military authorities are attempting to cover'.79 J. Healy, General Secretary of the Waterside Workers' Federation, also wrote to Evatt in December 1942, raising the Fantin case.80
The North Queensland Guardian, the paper of the Queensland branch of the Communist Party, in discussing the Fantin case, asserted:
All anti-Fascists must be separated from Fascists in the camps. This is a first demand to which Dr Evatt must attend without delay. No anti-Fascists should be in internment camps.
Since Labour came to office the internment of anti-Fascist Italians and others practically ceased. But that is not enough. Known anti-Fascists should be released. Where there is any doubt about a prisoner's bona-fides, the Government should bear the cost of the investigation.81
The Anglican Bishop of Goulburn, Dr E.H. Burgmann, was written to in December 1942 by T Sairane, on behalf of, he stated, the anti-Fascist community. Citing the Fantin case he asked the Bishop to do all in his power 'to seek the separation of all anti-fascist fighters from the fascist in the various Internment Camps in this country'.82 Burgmann wrote to the Prime Minister, enclosing the letter from Sairane, and stating: 'If the enclosed is true, as it seems to be, it is obviously important. If we intern anti-fascists with fascists we must expect murder'.83 The Anglican Coadjutor Bishop of Sydney Bishop C.V Pilcher, approached the Minister for the Army, F.M. Forde, on two occasions. On the second of these occasions he enclosed a description, written by an eye-witness, of Fantin's death. "The state of things which the documents reveal', he commented, 'is at once cruel and intolerable. I am sure that you will agree with me that under the circumstances, immediate and effective action is called for on the part of the government'.84
In the same period some measure of disquiet was also being evinced in official circles. Simpson wrote to the Deputy Director of Security in Queensland on 16 December 1942 informing him of the death of Fantin, and noting that the Fascists took strong exception to Fantin's admiration for Russia. 'It also appears', he wrote, 'that DEGLI-ESPOSTI, who is a friend of FANTIN's shares the same view and, as pointed out to you in another memorandum, it was decided to release him in case the ardent Fascists in the camp decided to attack him also'.
No good purpose will be served by mentioning this matter further, but I would like to point out that these camp reports do show that there are some anti-Fascists interned.85
In reply, the Deputy Director of Security for Queensland, J.C. McFarlane, drew the lesson to be learned from the Fantin case in even sharper terms:
This case [Fantin] can be used as an example in support of the suggestion made by Lieut Mather on his return from Cowra, that all the Fascist and known disloyalist element should be separated from the anti-Fascists and Communists in order to avoid the spread of anti-British propaganda amongst those willing to work under supervision, and furthermore to prevent acts of violence taking place.
I strongly recommend that the matter of segregation in the internment camps as mentioned above, be given serious consideration.86
Under this dual pressure, of public opinion on the one hand and a rethinking of issues by the authorities on the other, some changes in the official position on the internment of anti-Fascists is detectable. It is a change that, over time, became linked to a change in policy, allowing for the release of the anti-Fascists, either completely or into work teams under supervision.
In early part of January 1943 the Attorney-General, Dr H. V Evatt, under pressure to provide some explanations of Government policy, wrote to the Minister for the Army asking him for details of the segregation of internees at Loveday. Ford replied on 8 January providing the, relevant information and noting that 'it is anticipated that those whose claims are genuine will be released from internment as the result of the review of all local internees now being conducted by the Security Service'.87 On 19 January 1943, A.J. Dalziel, Private Secretary to Evatt, wrote in reply to a Miss Shaw, who had addressed Evatt over the Fantin case, stating: 'The control of internment camps comes within the jurisdiction of the Department of the Army. It is understood that the question of separating Fascists from other internees is at present tinder consideration by that Department'.88
To Bishop Burgmann, John Curtin, Prime Minister of Australia, wrote on 24 February 1943: 'Although segregation is effected primarily according to nationalities.', it was 'the policy of the Department of the Army to adjust such segregations, within the limits of security and of camps available, to ensure the maintenance as far as possible of reasonable harmony amongst the internees themselves'.
Commonwealth authorities are at present engaged in investigating the cases of local Italian internees with a view to their release for employment and it is anticipated that this investigation will result inter alia in any genuine anti-Fascists being released.89
By 15 March Simpson, Director General of Security, was able to assure the Secretary of the Mareeba Zone Committee of the Communist Party that the circumstances surrounding the death of Fantin were being fully investigated and that 'It is the policy of the Security Service to carefully investigate the cases of all internees who are reported to be antiFascists in order to decide whether they should be released'.90
Thus, even while the authorities were trying to minimise the effect of Fantin's death on their public credibility, there was a move towards a modification of the policy on internment. Increasingly anti-Fascists were released if they could satisfy the authorities that they posed no threat. It is worth noting that when the testimonies of Degli Esposti, Masserano, Coletti and Pattanaro, all cited above, were taken in February 1943 they had all been released. Other internees deemed to be loyal were released into work schemes of various kinds. The Deputy Director of Security, S.A., wrote to Simpson in April 1943, with respect to internees who were naturalised British subjects: 'The final classification of these internees was to the effect that they would be released if suitable employment could be found for them in this State'.91
By July 1944, when the Australian Civil Rights Defence League wrote to Evatt about the segregation of anti-Fascist from Fascist internees, again making reference to the death of Fantin, Simpson could reply in a confident and challenging manner. 'If you will be good enough', he wrote. 'to supply me with the names of civilians still interned whom you regard as Anti-Fascist I shall be pleased to have their cases fully investigated'.92
It is clear that Fantin's death had an immediate effect on internment policy in Australia, particularly where it touched the lives of anti-Fascist internees. But that is not why Fantin is remembered today. He has become something more than an historical figure whose death was a catalyst for changes in internment policy. Without being a mythical hero, he is both a hero and a myth.
To describe him as a hero is not to depict him as a grand figure bestriding the passage of history. Fantin was hardly that. Fantin did not want to die. He did not want to continue to confront Fascism. Had he had his choice he would, as he made clear, have moved away from the aggression in Loveday 14A. But when his choices were denied and his options limited by forces beyond himself he did not deny his beliefs.. He affirmed them. He was a hero despite himself; a reluctant hero and therefore a real hero. As Umberto Eco has observed:
Real heroes, those who sacrifice themselves for the collective good, and whom society recognises as such (maybe some time later, whereas at the time they are branded as irresponsible outlaws), are always people who act reluctantly. They die, but they would rather not die; they kill, but they would rather not kill; and in fact afterwards they refuse to boast of having killed in a condition of necessity.
Real heroes are always impelled by circumstances, they never choose because, if they could, they would choose not to be heroes.93
In all these senses Fantin was a hero.
Yet more than a hero Fantin has become a political-myth. Use of the term myth here in the sense of a collective belief that legitimises political activity.94 He represents, for those who have lived since his death, the whole anti-Fascist movement. Fascism captured the imagination and the hearts of much of a generation, not only in Italy but in Australia too. It was a dominant ideology with potent myths and symbols that at times seemed irresistible. The history of the period is for many the history of Fascism. To understand that period not only as Fascist but also as anti-Fascist, to understand not only the symbols of power and dominance but also the spirit of resistance and hope for liberty, there is need for an alternative set of symbols and myths. The history of Francesco Fantin provides a source for such political myths, a source for an alternative ideology. In looking back to Fantin we look back to anti-Fascism and to the spirit of resistance. We also look forward in hope. As Fantin himself wrote in his diary:
And do not forget. That the most mild and lawful progress has been gained over long centuries of struggle. For every step that humanity has advanced there have been necessary torrents of tears and of blood, hecatombs of victims sacrificed for the happiness of future generations.
Only then with the good seed, harvest of good healthy brains and generous hearts, shall we have good germination. Even though the good seed should have still to remain for long; long winters hidden under the clods. And since life will go on always let us seek not to drown altogether in a sea of mud.
And before the bitter reality of every day, before this deep darkness.
Let us try to stand up for the light, and for the truth.1942 Franck Fantin95
In this my life of roaming through the world in search of a piece of bread less bitter, of a little liberty. In these long months of my Internment Camp. In the evening hours when the sun disappears, when the earth veiled in a tenuous shadow already dozes quiet and melancholy I feel in my heart a great sadness. And when it seems that everything vanishes slowly in the night. In this farewell to the day that is passing, I feel a vague disturbance at my heart, and an immense need of hope and faith. As the first rays of the stn of the morning bring songs to the lips. So with my thoughts and my heart, to return into the huge nest of greenery among the great trees that stir and unfold themselves to receive the kisses of the hot sun, to be among that whispering of the wood, among the budding of grasses of wild flowers to be among a gentle breeze that sounds in all things, and in its voice the sweet concerts of the dawn, and of the dusk. Dreams? The bitter reality of finding myself always here among this infected mass of war. And among few with righteous consciences, in these last twenty years, in these times of dictators and dictatorships, the human species full of fevers seems mad.
All the world rings with the roar of ruinous butcheries.
Everywhere chaos in a stir, a seething (for today) without hope.
It is only a little while since they emerged from the great bath of blood.
I remember as though it were yesterday that adolescence of mine, an infancy without games, grown up among the clash of arms in that little industry city (Schio), the pain of seeing all the slaughter of that war. Then the end (and one thought it was forever) of Prussian militarism.
Then? The Spring. The life which is ever renewing itself, with a hymn to love, to liberty.
Spring with a warm wind a kiss of young women, a caress of the sun. When I remember you through the ways of the world young, and dear friends.
They were always when the blue seemed bluer, the green greener, the light more illuminating, the love more loving. How many dreams in those twenty years of, mine, a period of twenty years behind these poor lines of mine; in common with my good mother. How many hopes in those evenings of winter around the hearth of my family; for a just society where bread may be among the needs of all, where. the brotherhood of the nations may not be an empty word.
But too short the time, too many those slow to understand this great idea of love. The wickedness, the ambition for dominion, the acts of violence against the poor people, against those who for the good of others gave everything without ever asking anything for themselves.
Too late is understood all the evil which fascism, squadrists of a hundred armed men against one, was doing, that immense decimation within that native land, step-mother who denies bread and liberty to her children.
That decimation which they have continued in the country-sides ref other people who were friends.
How many huge herds of corpses today are stretched under the light shelter of the red earth.
And what if all these dead were no more than a first installment of the universal destruction, they go on to kill and be killed.
I ask myself! What is the bottom of the wicked nature of these dictators?
Patched and bastard stuff, unstable and,passing leaves, ill-come abortions who lie down in evil as a suckling child involved in his urine, as a drunkard falling senseless in his own vomit, as one ulcerous lying in his pus.
When one says fascism one says horror, its crimes are known. Its infamies do not allow of attenuation. It is a tyranny which tries not without success in many parts of the world - to annul the civilised conquests which were attained during centuries of struggles and of progress in order to push back the human race into a state of shameful barbarism. And if today the days are like a night without dawn. Men of, good conscience and many of them there still are who demand in thought and word the full assuagement of needs, the life lived for itself in peace, in the expansion óf all its forces and all its joys.
And do not forget. The most mild and lawful progress has been gained over long centuries of struggle. For every step that humanity has advanced there have been necessary torrents of tears and of blood, hecatombs of victims sacrificed for the happiness of future generations.
Only then with the good seed, harvest of healthy brains and generous hearts, shall we have good germination. Even though the good seed should have still to remain for long, long winters hidden under the clods. And since life will go on always let us seek not to drown altogether in a sea of mud.
And before the bitter reality of every day, before this deep darkness.
Let us try to stand up for the light, and for the truth.
1942 Franck Fantin
Libertarian anti-fascist I have always recognised in love the greatest good in life, the greatest thing in this world, the noblest purpose of existence, the summit of joy and felicity that may be reached by human beings.
Thirsting for justice, susceptible to good.- Instead of the company of men I have rejoiced in time past and in the present in that of my dreams.
They were always kind companions to me, and I could not imagine music sweeter than theirs.
Always the ways of the world, on one day that passes another with the monotony of the sad time that is passing, in the depth of my mind.
To all the dead companions, to all those buried alive, to dear Isidoro Bertazzon tragically dead. 21-8-.1942.
Giacosa Pietro. Dead the end of the year 1941. Not today alone but every day I remember you.
O men, why did you not crush me.
Like an insect the bringer of mourning.
Or rather why did you not teach me
To work for the good of all?
In shelter from the winds and the scourges
And having become instead of a worn an ant.
I should have lived good, willing, busy.
And should have loved you like brothers.
Now dying a wretched mendicant
With desperate heart I curse you.
To those outside. To let them know that in this Internment Camp there are living friends, workmen who make common cause with them. Companions who have years of struggle for liberty, for justice, who have the same goal, and are cheered by their victories.
And pensively they continue to talk of all the peoples who in pain suffer the fascist tyranny.
If I have spoken evil, show what I have said that is evil; but if I have spoken well, why do you strike me?
But today he who speaks with reason is squeezed by the throat by the baseness of the majority. Ignorance insufficiency of light in brains.
Well then increment must be given to healthy propaganda to cure many evil of this social body, for the fulfilment of justice upon this earth. Does it seem a fine thing to you when a man does nothing else all in his life but eat?
In the meantime he begets children and at first he rejoices, but as they begin to eat much he gets angry and shouts at them; grow up more quickly, gluttons, it is time you started to work! And he would like of his own children to make beast of burden for himself, but they instead work for their own stomachs, and the song begins again.
The soul cries out with joy, never has an idea that makes the heart exult.
Some live like beggars imploring everything. The others like thieves, taking everything for themselves. An infinity of laws of rapine have been given, they have put armed men over others, saying to them; defend our laws they are useful, they promise that we will suck human blood! First they squeeze a man on the outside, and when one does not follow them, they will fill him up with many things that chain his soul. But with good will keeping going. It will happen as with the rain, every drop swells a seed.
And dear mother you remember that still a youth I began to look for the truth where it is at home, and finding it in that great ideal of human redemption. From that day human pain has become my daily bread, with single faith in love, in liberty, in respect for human integrity.
Hoping that one day the Italian people will sweep away as leaves of autumn all that clique of fascist tyrants.
The aggression of 15 August, hours of the evening with the purpose of strangling me. It will remain among other violences suffered from the fascists, as a spur to persevere in the good propaganda for defence of civil rights. And if dear mother these street ruffians have offended you without having known you. From the heart of this your son who weeps they have fetched torture. From this. heart of mine so hardly tried, will be born new longings, stronger love, stronger the gratitude for how much you have done that I might grow up with all your care, and maternal caresses.
To the companions, Panizzon, Ciotti, Carmagnola, and others still: Seeing that the acts of violence continue, yesterday 7 November I received more blows. Why? Because without any baseness they saw me laugh. For the rest I was glad, one day I shall explain why. In short having among these Italians many enemies. The companions remember, that if it should be necessary to leave this Internment Camp to go to the cemetery. The brother FANTIN (if they can) must give me some money, the fruit of my long work.
Let this money be divided in this way. Two shares to the dear nephews, and nieces, and sisters for the care they have given my dear parents.
The other two shares libertarian press, and political victims.
In addition the sum of forty pounds sterling which they can take out of my bank book. A donation which I make between Red Cross and General Hospital Cairns, Nth Queensland.
Thanking that hospital for the care given during my stay in the year 1929.
The research by Paul Nursey-Bray on Fransesco Fantin has also inspired:
Description: Red Like The Devil is a powerful, intense and humourous production based on the life of Francesco Fantin, an Italian anarchist, assassinated at Loveday, an internment camp in South Australia in 1942. The environment is raw, human behaviour is extreme and suppressed. What happens when a bunch of men with varied beliefs, cultures and values get thrown together in a WW2 prison camp?
More information from http://www.doppio-parallelo.on.net/pop3.html
Description: "Red Like The Devil" written and directed by Teresa Crea. .....Performed in Italian and English, the play develops a powerful tension, as the fascist taunt Fantin. We are never sure when their jokes are threats, and vice versa. The bi-lingual nature of the play works perfectly in the prison camp setting, highlighted by Bob Petchell's music which uses motifs from fascist, communist, and anarchist songs of the time.
More information from http://www.abc.net.au/rn/arts/preview/sep96/block1.htm.
Read a review in Green Left Weekly
A piece of musical theatre performed by the Italian Folk Ensemble (IFE) in Adelaide in March 1990 to accompany a photographic exhibition on the life and death of the Italian anarchist, killed by Fascist countrymen in 1942 in South Australia's Loveday Internment Camp.
More information from Same tunes, different voices: Contemporary use of traditional models in the Italian Folk Ensemble's Ballata grande per Francesco Fantin (Adelaide 1990), Linda Barwick, XIV 1991, p47. See the abstract:http://www.msa.org.au/ab.htm