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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 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.  

Tony was sent to live at a ‘farm and trade school’ known as Bindoon Boys Home for five years. Bindoon 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).

When he was twenty-one, Tony found out the names of his parents and travelled to 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. 

Tony moved to the inner-western Perth suburb of Subiaco after leaving Bindoon. He served on the Subiaco local council for twenty-two years. Tony was elected as Subiaco Mayor in 1995 and served an eleven-year term. 

Tony worked at a dry-cleaning company in Subiaco for eighteen years. He was also employed by the Western Australian Government in the railways for many years. Tony was highly involved with the union.  

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). 

References: 

“Bindoon (1936 – 1966).” Find & Connect, 2021. https://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/wa/WE00190 

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

https://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/australian-migrants-give-evidence-in-northern-ireland/ez2f17qi1 

Noakes, Frank. “Rebel with many causes.” Green Left, 14 August 1991. https://www.greenleft.org.au/content/rebel-many-causes 

“Tony Costa interviewed by Rob Willis in the Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants oral history project (2010).” Find & Connect, 2010. https://www.findandconnect.gov.au/ref/wa/biogs/WE00769b.htm 

Image available here.