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Former local politician Tony Costa (b. 1941) was in orphanages as a child. Tony was born in Islington, England to an Irish mother and Italian father. 

At the age of two, Tony’s single mother, Kathleen, took him to a London orphanage. She intended the stay to be temporary but later found out he had been shipped out to Australia when he was eleven. Tony is one of the hundreds of former child migrants sent to Australia from the United Kingdom between the 1920s and 1970s.  

And the nuns, the Irish Sisters of Charity said, “then, you you and you over there, you’re going to Australia” and that could have been Mars or the Moon. So we were we weren’t sent we were deported. (Costa)

Tony was sent to live at a ‘farm and trade school’ known as Bindoon Boys Home for five years. When he arrived, Tony witnessed a boy being “brutalised.” That boy was John Hennessey, who became a key campaigner Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

So I’ve always looked up to John as mine and how he put up with that sort of brutality, because it was a betrayal of upbringing by the so- called Christian Brothers. (Costa)

Bindoon Boys Home was established by the Christian Brothers in 1936. Located north of Perth, Bindoon became a Catholic agricultural high school in 1967. Tony describes life in the home as harsh. There were limited opportunities for education and lots of work and prayer.  

It was an era of bastardry. Boys Town was brutal and very traumatic. Under the guise of Christianity and discipline, kids were treated in the most inhumane way, flogged and brutalised” (Green Left).  

Like many of the boys in the home, Tony found solace in the music of Mario Lanza. 

During playtime we could hear the booming powerful voice of Lanza soaring above us from speakers the Christian Brothers had mounted around the playground… Many of the boys were transported by his voice. It had a haunting, yet joyous, uplifting, feel good thing about it. (Green Left)

This experience fostered Tony’s life-long love of opera music. He believes that arts and culture should be accessible to everyone. 

Workers have every right to identify with culture… most operas are based on the peasantry and their struggles. Yet opera is marketed as upper middle class and theatres charge such high prices it is out of the reach of Mr and Mrs Working Class. (Green Left)

After leaving Bindoon, Tony moved to the inner-western Perth suburb of Subiaco. The home helped him find a job at a dry cleaning company where he worked for eighteen years.

Tony then began working for the Western Australian Government as a railway Customer Service agent. He worked in the railway industry for thirty-two years before retiring two days before his sixty-fifth birthday.

Tony was highly involved with the union. He successfully campaigned for migrant and local workers to get literacy and numeracy education in the workplace. 

When I went into the rail industry, it opened up my eyes about the way migrant workers are appallingly treated… They were exploited… And that’s when I became involved, and would go up and have a go at the union and say, “Look, you’re you’re taking their membership fees, and you’re doing nothing about it.” (Costa)

When he was twenty-one, Tony found out the names of his parents and travelled to Great Britain in search of them. He was unable to locate any family. His mother had migrated to the United States and left a letter with her details at her church, but the letter never got to Tony. 

Many years later, Tony learned that she married an American Air Force Sergeant, settled in Wisconsin and had another child. Tony’s mother died before he could travel to meet her but he was able to visit her grave. Her husband Leon gave Tony a photo of a man whom Tony realised was his father.

Unbeknownst to him at the time, Tony’s father migrated to Australia while he was incarcerated in Bindoon. Tony eventually found his father. He and Tony’s half-brother attended Tony’s 50th birthday party but they did not remain close. Recently, while attending an event for the Child Migrants Trust, Tony recently learned that his father had been the head waiter in Parliament House.

Tony remains in contact with his younger half-sister in the United States. She is now a grandmother of nine.

Tony says he never married because “no one would tolerate me” due to the impacts of his traumatic childhood. But, he says, “I thrive on my independence” which has allowed him to commit his life to social justice.

As a self-proclaimed “filthy socialist”, Tony is appalled by the levels of inequity in Australian society. He is committed to social justice, and especially concerned about homelessness, justice for First Nations peoples, mandatory detention of refugees, and abuses within the Catholic Church. Tony believes that activism requires collective action.

Results can only be gained through collective thinking and application. For one single voice to be pushing and shoving, you can end up getting burnt out. (Costa)

Tony’s commitment Tony served on the Subiaco local council for twenty-two years. He was elected as Subiaco Mayor in 1995 and served an eleven-year term. When asked what inspired him to run for mayor, he explained he had always been involved in the community and offered a quote from the late Prime Minister Gough Whitlam

So the opportunity came up. I though, “Oh, give it a go”. And I loved that line, “There comes a time in life for one to either to put up or shut up,” …fI did, and was elected and re-elected on three different occasions. (Costa)

Tony refers to himself as “a mayor for the people”. He worked to expand public housing because “if you’d like to accommodate a progressive city you need to be able to house and accommodate people on low incomes.” But one of his first initiatives as Mayor of Subiaco was to campaign for a change to local council election laws.

I was absolutely horrified to discover in those years, that the only people that could vote in local council elections, were property owners. Wow, this is not right. That’s insane. (Costa)

Tony is committed to seeking justice for former child migrants. He is a board member of the Child Migrants Trust, a support organisation for child migrants from Great Britain. The organisation provides counselling, and offers assistance with obtaining records and accessing redress schemes, and family finding. Tony was able to locate family members using the service.

At the age of seventy-three, Tony travelled to Northern Ireland to give testimony for the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry. He believes that sharing this history can help right wrongs of the past and inform contemporary debate on Australian asylum-seeker policies. 

…if we can learn at any time from that appalling experience of some 60 odd years ago … and to do that, we want to see the rights — the wrongs, rather — are being righted by what is called rightful justice… 

That’s where I think there’s an urgency why this matter has to be addressed. If we do take these political refugees, we need to give them a guaranteed element of dignity, which is a human right. (SBS) 


“Bindoon (1936 – 1966).” Find & Connect, 2021. 

Costa, Tony. “personal communication.” 16 February, 2023.

Dyett, Greg. “Australian migrants give evidence in Northern Ireland.” SBS News, 14 September 2014. 

Noakes, Frank. “Rebel with many causes.” Green Left, 14 August 1991. 

“Tony Costa interviewed by Rob Willis in the Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants oral history project (2010).” Find & Connect, 2010. 

Image available here.