The Narrabundah Boy and his Italian friend, 65 years on
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The Narrabundah Boy and his Italian friend, 65 years on

It was 65 years ago, but Ray Hawke remembers the first time he ever saw Angelo Costa.

On a cold Sunday in Canberra in 1954, nine-year-old Ray, the middle son of Manuka butcher Leo Hawke and wife Pearl, was messing about with his pony Bambi in the backyard of the family's brand new red-brick home in Griffith.

A short film has been made about Angelo Costa and Ray Hawke's 65-year friendship.

A short film has been made about Angelo Costa and Ray Hawke's 65-year friendship.Credit:Jamila Toderas

Two figures approached the yard: a teenage Dimiano Costa, the Hawke family's weekend gardener, holding the hand of his shy little brother Angelo. The youngest Costa boy spoke barely a word of English, and was slowly getting used to life in his new home of Canberra, Australia.

The Costas had emigrated from Calabria, Italy, and were piled into a three-bedroom weatherboard house on Warramoo Street. They were surrounded in Narrabundah by emigrant families from right across Europe - Maltese, Polish, fellow Italians and many many Dutch.

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In the confident young larrikin and Aussie Ray Hawke, Dimiano Costa saw a potential friend for his five-year-old brother Angelo.

A young Ray Hawke on a horse at Narrabundah circa 1956.

A young Ray Hawke on a horse at Narrabundah circa 1956.

"Angelo was just this shy little boy with lots of dark hair," Ray recalls.

"I said 'come and pat my horse' and I let him sit on Bambi and, really, that was it. I took him under my wing."

Angelo laughs: "I remember getting off Bambi and thinking I'd have bandy legs for the rest of my life."

Despite the language barrier and the age difference, the boys became inseparable. Their friendship was built with hand gestures - "a lot of pointing" - laughter and a shared and deep love of horses.

Ray taught Angelo English and in return Angelo would help Ray groom the Hawke family horses in agistment in a paddock just out of Narrabundah.

Angelo Costa rides along Warramoo Crescent, Narrabundah, in the early 1960s.

Angelo Costa rides along Warramoo Crescent, Narrabundah, in the early 1960s.

But the little Italian boy longed for a horse of his own.

"I came up with a plan to make money - I started catching homing pigeons," Angelo recalls.

Angelo and Ray at Ray's property in Hall.

Angelo and Ray at Ray's property in Hall.Credit:Jamila Toderas

"You used to get two shillings for a pair of pigeons and I was selling them to other Italians for food, but then I realised that the meat-eating ones wouldn't come back home.

"But I had one [pigeon] in particular who always escaped and managed to fly home. So I just kept selling him over and over again."

It worked. Angelo bought his own horse and as the boys grew into men, they remained best friends. Both started careers working with horses; Angelo breaking-in horses and eventually starting his own riding school on Mugga Lane, while Ray preferred to work in camp drafting.

After falling in love and marrying, the men's wives naturally formed a close bond and the Costa and Hawke families shared special occasions together too.

Over the years, they've stayed in touch; a weekly phone call where Ray updates Angelo on work and family news and the Italian - a serial entrepreneur - asks for Ray's advice on his latest invention.

Ray is based at a property at Hall while Angelo has a few hectares at Royalla. Of course, the gentle beasts that brought them together are the focus of both properties.

It might be their quiet natures or a generational thing but both men are nervous while being interviewed and find it hard to put into words what makes a successful friendship.

"I'd say honesty and trust," Ray says.

Angelo: "We didn't set out to become best friends, it just happened.

Angelo in the 1970s.

Angelo in the 1970s.

"We've never had to force it. It just is. It's who we are and it's genuine.

"It's a beautiful relationship, we don't tread on each others' toes, there's a deep respect there."

At ages 77 and 73, the story of the mens' 65-year friendship has been made into a short film called The Narrabundah Boy, made by Nick Bolton as director and Jess Milne as director of photography.

The premiere screening of the film takes place at Palace Electric on Saturday night.

For Ray and Angelo, the filming of The Narrabundah Boy included meeting much younger versions of themselves: actors Rory Carroll (as a young Ray) and Eamon Carroll (as little Angelo).

"That was special," Ray says.

Angelo: "It was a reminder that two little boys from Canberra do have a wonderful story."

Bree Element is the life and entertainment editor at The Canberra Times

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