Tony La Chiusa is among that rare breed who move seamlessly between both hemispheres of the brain – a logical thinker capable of running a successful plastering business and becoming a highly distinguished country sports coach, while at the same time satisfying his strong artistic urges.
It is the latter that he has increasingly focused on. At age 55, he is still involved in the plastering business but has entrusted its operations to his son, North Tamworth Bears winger Colby, while he oversaw the last of his seven first-grade premierships at West Lions in 2013.
When he retired as a coach after winning five consecutive premierships, he farewelled a world that he says was equal parts man management and coaching, where “you’re a mother, you’re a father, you’re a doctor, you’re a friend, you’re a psychiatrist”, you’re a babysitter, you name it”, and entombed himself more regularly in the solitary existence of the artist.
At LaChiusa Art, he specialises in what he says is “large, bright colourful wall art”, with his works exhibited across NSW and Queensland. He has created a large portrait of Al Capone for a new bar being constructed at The Northern Daily Leader’s old premises on the corner of Brisbane and Marius streets.
In the profile picture of him on his art business’s Facebook page, he wears a stylish blue scarf. It is hard to imagine him having worn such a fashion statement on the sidelines of a Lions match.
La Chiusa is a renaissance man, a Tamworth High alumni who could have represented Australia in water polo at the Olympics had he moved to the city, but who shunned the din to remain home and create a rich and varied life where, despite his multi-faceted success, “it’s the little things that count – loving dad, beautiful family”.
He says his art business is “starting to pick up really good”, with a lot of commission work, particularly from Newcastle. “Once people start finding out about it, I get a lot of phone calls, and I’m selling it off the wall as well.”
It’s going so well that La Chiusa will expand the existing gallery at his home, where his workshop is also located, to cover the bottom floor of the property. He will hold exhibitions at the boutique space. Most of his exhibitions are for “classic” portraits, such as Marilyn Monroe and Amy Winehouse.
“The local people are getting into their arts these days,” he says. “All the arts, not just the painting – music and everything. It’s starting to adapt, Tamworth. It’s [the art scene] quite good.”
“There’s a lot of talented artists that get around Tamworth that you don’t realise,” he adds. “A lot of the young blokes I coached [in league] were pretty fair artists themselves – street art, mural art, all that sort of stuff. They’re doing really well, themselves.”
One such player is street artist Shane Salvador, who now plays for Kootingal-Moonbi.
Salvador is among a number of Kooty players who were coached by La Chiusa at Wests. La Chiusa remembers those days fondly, but also with a great sense of disappointment over the Lions’ demise following the 2016 grand final disgrace, when six Lions players were sent off.
“It was devastating to see,” he says. “You’ve put all that hard work in to build it up to where it was, and then, for whatever reasons, within a couple of years they were gone – no sponsorship, no nothing. It was really hard to watch.
“Hopefully one day we might get back up and be playing regularly in first division over at Scully.”
In 1980, La Chiusa was captain of the Australian schoolboys water polo team. A number of his teammates from that side went to the Olympics. The side recently held a reunion.
He then captain-coached the Australian country water polo side for “about a decade”. And when he stopped coaching in the sport, he began his "fulltime” league mentoring stint.
He believes that he coached during what may have been Group 4’s strongest ever period – 1999-2001. His first two premierships at West Tamworth came in 2000 and 2001, before they won the five straight from 2009.
“I miss the players a lot,” he says. “… I don’t miss the old part of coaching where, you know, you get hammered all the time, no matter which way you go. But I certainly miss the camaraderie, and all of that, with the players and bringing the players through and watching them develop.”