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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

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Francesco (Frank) Calabro (1925–2011)

by Malcolm Brown

When Cabramatta, the ethnic melting pot in Sydney's south-west, went through its worst troubles – gangs, drug dealing and the murder of the Labor MP John Newman – Frank Calabro, 18 years a Liberal member of the NSW Legislative Council and twice the mayor of Fairfield, was a moderating voice. One disastrous day, he said, was not going to ruin the wonderful future for Cabramatta.

In the immediate aftermath of John Newman's murder in September 1994, suspicion centred on ethnic conflict. It was pointed out that in a community that had more than 100 ethnic groupings there was always someone with a gripe. But Calabro said not too much should be made of it. ''I've seen them all fighting one another,'' he said. ''But they've always sorted it out and got on with their lives.''

Francesco Calabro was born on January 3, 1925, at St Alessio, near Reggio, Calabria, the son of Antonio Calabro, a master bootmaker, and Maria (nee Romeo). He went to a state school in Italy while his father left for Australia, arriving in advance to set up a home. The family migrated in 1934.

Calabro attended St Mary's Basilica Christian Brothers, next to St Mary's Cathedral. In 1946 the family moved to Bonnyrigg. In 1950, with his father and brothers John and Battesimo, Calabro bought a company that ran five buses. Calabro Buses grew to become a huge enterprise, running 100 buses and coaches that were sent all around Australia.

Calabro became the president of the Cabramatta Chamber of Commerce in 1959. He was also elected that year to Fairfield Council. The following year, he helped form the St John the Baptist Association.

Calabro never forgot his origins. In 1960, he attended the first Italian Festival in Brookvale and from that time never missed an Italian Day festival in Warringah and, for years to come, Italian National Day celebrations. He helped form Italian associations across the state. For years, he held Wednesday-night meetings with people from many ethnic backgrounds, including Croatian, Serbian, Turkish, South American, Vietnamese, Chinese, Greek and Italian. They looked upon him, one tribute said, as ''a friend and inspiration''.

On November 20, 1963, Calabro married the Italian-born Rosa Polimeni. In 1965 he founded the Cabramatta branch of the Liberal Party and was also elected the deputy mayor of Fairfield. In 1966 he served his first term as mayor, reportedly the first Italian-born Australian to reach that position, and his country of origin made him a commander of the Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity.

But he was very much a grassroots politician. He often drove around Fairfield's council area looking for potholes and any other faulty infrastructure.

Calabro served a second term as mayor in 1969. The Liberal Party endorsed him as a candidate for the NSW Legislative Council and on March 12, 1970, he became the first Italian-born person to become a member of parliament in Australia. In 1971 he stepped down from the council but was re-elected in 1974. In 1977, finishing with the council, he was appointed to the parliamentary joint select committee on parks for mobile homes and caravans. In 1979 he took over as the acting president of the Liberal Ethnic Council after the state Liberal Party executive dispensed of Lyenko Urbanchich in controversial circumstances.

In 1982 Calabro began a five-year term with the parliamentary joint standing committee on road safety. During this time he was called on to defend the reputation of Calabrians, who had had bad press because of Mafia-related activities in the Riverina. ''Only a handful of Calabrians have gone astray – 99.5 per cent are outstanding citizens and they have proved that,'' he said. Only a few people were involved in the ''horrible activities'', which he said the authorities should have stopped years before.

Calabro retired from politics in February 1988. He continued a very active role in the community and the chamber of commerce. He was a foundation member of the Mount Pritchard and District Community Club, a member of the Marconi Club, the Association Polisportive Italo-Australian club and the foundation senior vice-president of the Fairfield-Cabramatta Police Citizens Youth Club.

In 1992, when police swooped on drug dealers in the area in Operation Shake-up, Calabro, as the president of the Chamber of Commerce, applauded the initiative. In 2001 Calabro was awarded the Centenary Medal and in 2003 was appointed as a member of the Order of Australia.

Frank Calabro, who continued in his last years to support his clubs and enjoy his expanding family, is survived by his children Tony, Vince, Robert, Maria, Carmel and Daniela and eight grandchildren.

Original publication

Citation details

Malcolm Brown, 'Calabro, Francesco (Frank) (1925–2011)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 13 July 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


3 January, 1925
St Alessio, Calabria, Italy


13 January, 2011 (aged 86)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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