Australian Immigration Projects      by Hannah Jager

The Life of Fernando Costa

Fernando Costa is a 72-year-old Australian, born in Angola and now living in Birkdale, Queensland. He has been married to Filomena for 48 years, has two daughters and four grandchildren.

He is now retired after spending most of his professional life working as an Electrical Engineer in the area of power generation, paper manufacturing, mining operations and as a specialist consultant around the world.

Fernando escaped war-torn Angola in 1976, living in four other countries before settling in Australia in 1986 and taking out citizenship three years later.

The Life of Fernando 1

Fernando Manuel Leal Costa was born in the family home in Silva Porto, Angola in 1949 and life with his family was fantastic. However, in 1961 the three major tribes in the country started a war to liberate Angola from Portugal. Angola had been a Portuguese colony for over 500 years. In 1970, Fernando was conscripted into the Portuguese Army where he was required to serve for four years, two of which were spent fighting a guerrilla war. Then in 1974 a revolution in Portugal gave independence to all colonies and in 1975 the three main Angolan tribes started a civil war that lasted over 30 years, killed in excess of a million citizens and destroyed the country.

It was at this time that Fernando chose to leave Angola. He had married his childhood sweetheart Filomena in 1972, with their first daughter, Erica Paula, born in the middle of one of the many battles in Lobito where they lived in 1975. Despite the troubles in Angola, Fernando, Filomena and Erica lived a comfortable life, which made the decision to abandon their birth country exceptionally difficult. Fernando felt that Angola needed him, but he knew that he could not let his young family live in the conditions that were rapidly developing. So Fernando started researching where they should make a fresh start. The European lifestyle did not appeal to Fernando, but from the many newspaper articles he had read about Australia, Fernando felt that it had many similarities with Angola. So in 1976, the Costa family started their decade long struggle to obtain an entry visa to Australia.

Given the political regime in Angola, it was illegal for the family to leave and they felt trapped. Having made up his mind to leave, Fernando was so desperate that he started to build a boat to flee across the Atlantic Ocean to Brazil, but fortunately with the help of some friends, Fernando, Filomena and Erica fled to Portugal, leaving with only two suitcases, hardly any money and no identification documents. Upon arriving in Portugal, the family applied for citizenship and Fernando received a job offer from the Macau Electricity company. While waiting for the citizenship documentation, Fernando and Filomena’s youngest, Ana Rita, was born in September 1979 and as soon as she could travel, the family moved to Macau.

The Life of Fernando 2

Macau was the oldest permanent European settlement in East Asia, with a blend of the Portuguese and Chinese cultures seen everywhere, especially in its architecture. The Costa family started rebuilding their lives after fleeing Angola, living there for two years. Life was good for Fernando and his family and they would have stayed longer, but the shadow of another de-colonization scared Fernando, so he started looking for other opportunities. In 1981, the family left Macau and headed to Nauru.

Nauru was the first English speaking country that the Costa family lived in, but the 6 years spent in this country gave them all the opportunity to learn the language reasonably well ahead of their move to Australia.

The family moved to Australia in June 1986, firstly arriving in Melbourne. Fernando knew a small number of colleagues that he had worked with while in Nauru and one particular family welcomed the Costas at Melbourne airport and offered them temporary accommodation while Fernando looked for work.

An offer of employment came within three months of arriving in Australia from the Burnie Paper Mill. The only hesitation in moving to Tasmania was the cold weather as they had lived most of their lives in the topics. Before accepting the offer, the family visited Burnie and were very impressed with the friendliness of the people and the city. They were assured that the weather in Burnie was mild and it didn’t snow there. The family accepted the offer of employment and moved to Burnie. The day they arrived, it snowed to sea level!

Because a large number of colleagues from the phosphate mine in Nauru were Australian citizens, Fernando already had a good idea of what Australia looked like. However, the first impressions of Australians were that they were friendly and the welcome received exceeded Fernando’s expectations. On the family’s arrival in Burnie, their neighbours welcomed the Costas with open arms, inviting them to share meals, provided and stacked wood for heating and cut their grass until they were able to purchase a lawn mower.

The one thing that surprised Fernando the most about Australia was Australian society. For the first time in his and his family’s lives, they were accepted socially without any discrimination. Professionally, Fernando was also accepted without discrimination. Fernando was soon promoted to higher positions within the Burnie Paper Mill and this continued throughout his career. This would not be possible in Angola and Portugal.

The Life of Fernando 3

As soon as the Costa family were able, they applied for Australian citizenship and became Australians on July 26, 1989. He was pleasantly surprised with how easy the process was compared with the complicated system he had faced in Portugal after fleeing Angola. It was on this day that Fernando felt like a “true blue Aussie”.

Now that he was an Australian citizen and the warm welcome his family continued to receive, Fernando had no desire to return to Angola. The country has been through 30 years of civil war and even today, it has not recovered. The Angola of today does not resemble his country of birth. When he lived in Angola and prior to it being ravaged by war, Fernando had a very large extended family and just like Fernando and Filomena, the majority of their family escaped Angola and are now spread around the world.

The Life of Fernando 4

One of the hardest things that Fernando has had to overcome with immigrating to Australia is the sudden cutting of ties with family and friends. In the beginning, not having a support network made it harder to ride the lows. Migration can be very hard, but Fernando found strength in difficult times through their tight and united family.

When asked what he would tell someone who was planning on migrating to Australia, Fernando says that there are times where the adaptation to a new society and new ways of life can raise challenges that can be hard to overcome. He says that, as hard as it is, immigrants need to leave behind most of their old ways and embrace the new culture.

Fernando Costa is an inspirational Australian and has proved that immigrants add value to their new country. Although he has faced some unimaginable experiences in his life, he has always remained positive, hopeful and continues to look forward. To this day, family and friends remain Fernando’s focus in life, allowing him to draw strength from them and he is also there for them to offer support. While he has not forgotten his heritage, Fernando is now a proud Australian and our country is lucky to have him as a citizen.

“I lived a carefree life in Angola, believing that nothing could go wrong. Then suddenly, I had to leave my country with only the clothes I had on me, with a family to provide for but no money. I realised then how naïve I had been to be caught in such a situation. From then on I made my main objective in life to always have a fallback plan so that I would never be caught again in the way I was in Angola. That has been my main motivation and a guiding principle: always strive to achieve the best you can.”

-Fernando Costa.

The Timeline of Fernando`s Life