Know your member – The Branco Franco story

Branco Franco with the Rotary flags. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED

I was born in Civitavecchia, the port city of Rome, on September 5, 1927. I was just five-years-old when my father went back to Venice with his work as a railway engine driver.

My brother Ludvik was born in Rome as well, but two years after me.

My other brothers, Boris and Bruno, were born in Mestre-Marghera, a land-based suburb of Venice.

Filippo Grimani was the primary school I went to as a young boy in Marghera.

Afterwards I did high school in Venice, which is where I finished two years of engineering.

When I was just 12, World War II started and there were bombardments every day where we lived. It was a difficult life for all the family.

After the war, there was a severe shortage of work, and by 1954 two of my brothers, Ludvik and Boris, had emigrated to Adelaide.

I did the same in November 1956, arriving in Fremantle first and then going to Adelaide.

There was not much work in Adelaide at the time, so when my brother Boris heard that in Port Lincoln they were looking for workers in the Housing Trust, we came over here, pronto.

However, it was not the best of starts! On our first night in Port Lincoln, there was a big event or something on in town, and no accommodation was available anywhere, but thanks to a nice staff member at the Great Northern Hotel, we ended up sleeping on a mattress, dragged on to the floor of the laundry!

Looking back it may have been a Tunarama event, as it was nearing the end of January.

After a few weeks Boris went back to Adelaide to join his girlfriend, but I remained here in Port Lincoln. Oh, what a lovely place!

I worked as a painter for Lance Montague, and then for Roy Lykke and in my spare time, mainly on weekends, we went rabbiting up Cobbler’s Hill at the Doudy Farm. What an amazing time.

In 1960 the Olympic Games were in Rome, and I went back to Italy and promised Rosa that with all the money I was going to be making from the rabbits, we could be back to Italy in five years.

In 1960 we got married and have remained so for 63 years.

When we did return to Australia in 1961, myxomatosis had set into the rabbit population, and that was the end of my big dream.

We have two boys, Henry and John, who were born in Port Lincoln in 1964 and 1970 respectively.

They married Angela and Kathryn, the latter having two girls, Tijana and Grace.

Grace was a Rotary Youth Exchange Student who spent 12 months in north-western France in 2016.

Rosa and I are very proud of our family and of their individual achievements.

In 1974 my work boss, Ron Cunningham, asked me to join Rotary.

I have thoroughly enjoyed all my – nearly 50 years – in Rotary.

I was awarded a Paul Harris Fellowship on June 29, 1991, something of which I am extremely proud.

Rotary has been so good to me, it is hard to find the right place to start this part of the story.

We had a close connection to many Rotary Youth exchange students over the years.

We hosted quite a few in our home – three from South Africa (Chris Law, Anne Razuadovski, and Jozeph Du Plessis) and one each from Mexico (Anita Ferraes), Japan (Natsumi Abe) and Finland (Jussi Petinen).

We are very grateful to the students for bringing so much knowledge and culture to share, and much pleasure to our family.

They all stayed in our home for three months each.

Every one of them was just amazing, and we are still in contact with most of them, for at least birthdays and Christmas.

From the very first day in Rotary I was asked to look after all the banners, mostly collected from the inbound exchange students sponsor clubs.

The tradition of swapping club banners has carried on over many years.

Many also came from representative members of other clubs from all over the place.

Some even being brought back by our members visiting far-flung clubs from time to time.

I have always loved this job, even up until recently, when it became rather difficult to manage.

At one stage there were about 1300 banners marked up and catalogued – beautiful colours, from all around the world.

Some were painstakingly attached in specific groups to giant hanging banners for display on the club’s important occasions like Changeover Dinners, etc. They were really something to behold.

We used to keep them all at home in our spare room, but now they have been given a new, safe and dedicated home, in a lovely blue steel cabinet at the ‘new’ Rotary shed.

There have been many changes to Rotary in my 49-plus years.

One stands out, particularly and that is attendance. It used to be obligatory to achieve 100 per cent attendance, but this has slipped by the wayside as the culture has gradually changed in our community and that of Rotary as well.

I will always hold an important record in the Rotary Club of Port Lincoln.

I did 21 consecutive years with 100 per cent attendance – and that was every week, not a fortnight like these days.

Nowadays, we do not even have to dress up to attend dinner meetings.

There used to be suits and ties, and now it is much more casual dress.

We dress up now for district conferences, district governor’s club visit and other main Rotary club functions like changeover, anniversaries and Christmas.

One thing the district still has is an annual conference – usually the district governor, with his team and his club.

When I was president in 1986-87 the district conference was in Alice Springs. Many Port Lincoln club members attended for a very enjoyable time.

Thank you to all the local Rotarians and partners for your support and friendship you have given me and Rosa.

Thanks to Rotary for being such a big and important part of my life.

I hope you have enjoyed this story.