You’d be hard pressed to find a bloke more passionate about our state than Cosi. It’s written all over his home – we take an exclusive look at his renovation…
Cosi stares at his fish tank. A lot.
It is the biggest in Adelaide.
Over half a tonne of 16-millimetre glass was used to make it and 10 blokes (including Cosi) hauled the custom-made beast into the wall cavity. The tank holds two-tonne of water and is home to a beautiful collection of fish including African cichlids and piranha-like silver dollars.
“We built this for a pet crocodile we had called Agro. He was so cool. He’s in heaven now… buried out the front.”
He looks long and hard at the aquarium.
“In hindsight I wish I’d gone a bit further and made it bigger.” He laughs.
The television host is proud to report that Mark Ricciuto’s fish tank is two thirds the size of his. “He’s got yabbies and Murray cod in his. Classic Ricciuto – he’s a funny bugger.”
So too, is Andrew ‘Cosi’ Costello. When he’s not travelling to the far corners of the state filming episodes for Channel 9 travel show South Aussie With Cosi, he can usually be found working at a large wooden table with a fishy view.
“I sit here and tap away. It’s bloody good. It’s like a campfire, you’re drawn to watch it.”
He and wife Sam have been renovating their Fullarton home for two years.
“It’s a work in progress,” he says, leading us down a hallway lined with photos of Sam and their three children.
“I worked in radio for 12 years and it was so negative. Every time I turn the news on, it is doom and gloom. How can we function well if that’s all we see and read?”
“We’re doing it room by room. When we bought this house it was pretty run down. We knocked the back lean-to down and built the back area onto here.”
The back area is an open-plan kitchen, dining room and living room, overlooking a pool.
“With a body like mine, you don’t get in the pool too much but the kids love it. Geeze, we had some fights about that pool. My wife desperately wanted one and I didn’t think we had enough room. We had a mob come out and measure it up and they were on her side, which made it even worse.”
Framed black-and-white photos were taken during a trip to Africa. A striking black feather piece is from One Rundle Trading, “Where my wife goes and burns my money”. Cosi laughs.
“I just wanted a fish tank and a decent-sized TV.”
He got both. The large flat-screen television swings out at a 90-degree angle and is visible from the pool.
The dining table was made by a mate using pieces of wood from the Sir Donald Bradman room at the old Adelaide Oval. The floorboards were salvaged from the demolished Julia Farr Centre, formerly behind the house.
“It was like the Bronx – fully trashed. When we bought here we were really worried because it was a dive. On Friday and Saturday nights, carloads of kids would go in there, drink and graffiti.”
The site is now a retirement village.
“It’s like a five-star la-de-dah joint. It’s really good. We figure we’ll get old and walk straight over there.”
When the couple purchased their house five years ago, it was also a bit of a dump.
“It was so poorly presented. Dust and shit everywhere.”
The transformation is impressive and the majority of it is SA-made.
“We’ve spent a lot of money but we’ve done it all as South Australian as we can. From the builder [Scott Salisbury], to the kitchen [Farquhar Kitchen Centre] and the tank [Elite in Mount Barker] – it’s all South Australian. That fits the mantra of my business.
“The South Australian thing is addictive. Even with South Aussie With Cosi as a business, there have probably only been three times in six years where we’ve used non-South Australian suppliers or employed non-South Australians.”
One was a camera from Sydney, another piece of kit from New Zealand, and an ill-fated delivery of stubby holders from China.
“I got 3000 of them and it was supposed to say ‘South Australia, who’d want to be anywhere else!!’ and instead of exclamation marks they put ‘l’s. So on each stubby holder it had ‘South Australia, who’d want to be anywhere elsell’.”
Have they hosted any parties here?
“We’ve had a few corkers. I’m not allowed to do very much in this house but my wife had her cousin’s hen’s night here – complete with strippers. In my house! Some guy stripped down to his jocks or less in this very room.”
A grey furball darts across the living room.
“The cat [Poppy] is another one of my wife’s purchases. She is single-handedly stimulating the South Australian economy. I wish I was joking. She buys it for like $800 and I said to her ‘Darl, you know they’re giving them away on Gumtree?’”
Cosi was born in Murray Bridge.
“Conceived on the banks of the River Murray, I like to say. Mum was pretty wild in those days, bless her.”
The family moved when his dad, a policeman, was posted to Kadina.
“It was a really simple home. We had lots of animals: from parrots and finches to rabbits, guinea pigs, dogs, cats and lambs.”
Sometimes he looks around his home and pinches himself.
“I’m not very materialistic,” he admits. “I can’t believe we’ve saved enough and worked hard enough to live here. I bought my first home in Craigmore when I was 21, then bought a few investment properties. I’ve always worked hard and saved. We never had any handouts, so it’s wonderful to sit back and think about the hours we’ve put in since we were young.”
The hard work won’t stop any time soon. Filming of the seventh season of South Aussie With Cosi is underway. The series was born after he grew tired of negativity in media.
“I worked in radio for 12 years and it was so negative. Every time I turn the news on, it is doom and gloom. How can we function well if that’s all we see and read? There has to be some correlation between that, mental issues and people’s level of happiness.”
He decided to make a 30-minute positive television show.
“That’s what we’ve stayed true to. We’ve never bagged a business or said anything negative. It’s always ‘look what this person is doing – how good is that?’”
Viewers lap it up.
“We’re one of the biggest producers of TV in the state by a mile, apart from the news. We’ve been on the tourism bandwagon for seven years now, at a time where a lot of things are going backwards, with manufacturing and Holden closing.
“Tourism is one of the shining lights of our state. Tourism, education, food, wine and agriculture. It’s wonderful, at a time when there’s a bit of a downturn, to be part of something that’s [moving] upward.”
He is dedicated to shouting the praises of our state and its locals.
“I’m not very materialistic. I can’t believe we’ve saved enough and worked hard enough to live here.”
“People always say to me, ‘You’re going to run out of gear to talk about’ but I look at a map of the state and I’ve barely scratched the surface. There are whole regions I haven’t been to.”
Cosi’s charity Cows For Cambodia also has its own national television show. A third of his time is dedicated to the charity, which loans Cambodian families a pregnant cow and when the calf arrives, they keep it. It’s about breaking the poverty cycle. The aim is to have 1000 bovines involved and to establish a dairy industry in Cambodia.
It’s clear Cosi loves giving back.
“It’s lovely when you’re doing something and it’s not for the money. In my early twenties, it was all money, money, money but now I trust that things will be okay if I work hard, and don’t shaft anyone.”
He smiles. “My saying is, ‘If you look after Adelaide long enough, eventually it will start to look after you.’”
It’s about inspiring South Australians to explore their state – right now.
“They say that when you’re on your death bed, you never look back at the time you spent in the office, the work you didn’t get done, or your home loan. All that you’re thinking about is your memories. A bulk of the memories we create through our lives are when you’re travelling or on holidays spending time with the kids, family, friends.
“The flipside of that is it’s extremely good for the South Australian economy.”
Ironically, sitting around admiring renovations isn’t something Cosi gets much time to do. He’s too busy living.
“I love that our whole business is about encouraging people to improve their work/life balance. It irks me how people rack up their long service leave. Oh my god, why would you? Go and take a couple of weeks.
“The worst thing you can do is get a payout with your annual leave. Don’t – it’s like buying your life. We’re all heading in the same direction, so if you want to wait until you’re 65 before you spend your money or take your holidays, then you’re playing a dangerous game.”
He works hard but has a serious case of job satisfaction.
“I look through my camera roll and it’s full of everything I’ve wanted to do. You get to a point where you go, ‘If I found out I was going to cark it tomorrow, I’d be pumped with what I’ve done’.”
Photos: Mike Smith
Video: Aaron Nassau
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