Castle Hill’s Angels of Love

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“When we first arrived, my wife and I spoke very little English,” Anh said.

“Often Mr D’Arcy would come down to our flat in the evenings and just watch television with us.

“On one of those evenings, we watched a documentary about refugees and there were scenes of an overcrowded fishing boat being flooded with water, on the verge of sinking as all those on board panicked in sheer terror.

“I looked at Mr D’Arcy and he shook his head in sadness and could not stop the flow of tears.

“I realised that here was a man with a gentle heart and kindness like no other.”

Anh is one of hundreds of Vietnamese refugees whose life was “saved” by Brian and his wife Nanette D’Arcy.

The long-time parishioners of Castle Hill’s St Bernadette’s Catholic Church were farewelled recently at Brian’s funeral Mass, who died just six months after his beloved wife.

Nanette and Brian D’Arcy

Even in death he was a gentleman … waiting for his wife to go first before gently joining her. Tears and laughter flowed as members of Sydney’s flourishing Vietnamese community spoke of the remarkable couple and their three-decade legacy of establishing many generations of refugees to the Australian way of life. And there were no party pies or sausage rolls at the reception following the funeral.

Instead, tables of spring rolls, noodles and the deliciously fragrant Vietnamese soup known as Pho were provided by the multicultural congregation and – according to his family – that’s just how Brian would have wanted it.

One sentiment offered by a mourner but repeated by so many, said Anh, was the remarkable empathy displayed by the Darcy’s: “Brian held my hands and said ‘God creates and God will provide’. Nanette and I will be there to support you”, an expression of support and love conveyed to all who came in their presence.

Son Simon said his parents were a constant inspiration due to their family, friendships, fellowship and, just as importantly, their faith.

He said when the Archbishop appealed for parishioners to take refugees into their homes in the late 1970’s, his mum and dad were the first to open not only their homes but their hearts.

Madeleine Hoang

“No matter how many there were, or what they needed, mum and dad just made do and always found room for them,” he said.

“There was never a time when there was less than 20 people in our home, it’s just the way it always was.

“They mostly came with nothing, so mum and dad took it on themselves to ensure they had what they needed to start a new life in Australia.

“Our family is so much richer due to the Vietnamese community, many are like our brothers and sisters, many we have become godparents to and most are now part of our extended family.

“Over the years mum and dad assisted hundreds and hundreds of families start a new life here in Australia, typically our family get-togethers can involve hundreds of people, we have stayed in contact with so many.

“Quite simply mum and dad would go to Mass every week and read the Gospel, and then go and live it and for that I am so incredibly proud.”

In 1958, Nanette and Brian D’Arcy happened upon the community of Castle Hill. They arrived with two girls and would continue to have six more children to form a family of ten.

Brian built their home and in the years that followed, their family would become permanent fixtures and active members in the community of St Bernadette’s Parish, where their children attended school.

Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser had just made the bold decision to open Australia’s doors to the “boat people” fleeing the tyranny of the communist regime after the 1975 fall of Saigon.

In response, Archbishop Edward Clancy appealed for Sydney Catholics to lend their hands to resettle Vietnamese refugees and of course Brian and Nanette complied.

“No matter how many there were, or what they needed, mum and dad just made do and always found room for them,”

Fleeing in leaky, rotting fishing boats, over one million Vietnamese refugees were forced by the fallout of the war to leave their homeland, with no fixed destination but with the hope of future freedom.

Strangers in a strange land, completely isolated from their customs, language, family and friends, many like Nanette and Brian helped with the successful integration of Vietnamese refugees into the community which is believed to be the true beginning of multiculturalism in Australia.

The Darcy’s 30-year journey began at the Westbridge Hostel in Villawood where they met the Hoang family and so would begin an incredible life of giving and service.

A caravan in the backyard, the flat downstairs, even their family home became a safe place for the displaced community. It was not uncommon for the D’Arcy boys to find themselves exiled to sleep in the family room making way for the latest refugee family.

There were families, single mothers, young couples, old couples, brothers and sisters, and even orphans who had managed the treacherous boat trip on their own.

Some stayed a few weeks as they sought assistance or a temporary abode whilst finding their feet. Others stayed for months and even years, choosing to raise their children within the safety, security and warmth of the D’Arcy home.

“Uncle Brian” as he was known would come home from a long, hard day of building, and Aunty Nanette would send him, with van and trailer, to pick up an old bed, refrigerator or furniture for the new refugee family.

Aunty Nanette would constantly be up at the local school office, challenging principals into enrolling the resettled refugee children, despite being repeatedly told that the schools were at capacity.

“Brian held my hands and said ‘God creates and God will provide’. Nanette and I will be there to support you”

She would stand in at parent teacher evenings for those unable to speak English.

She’d arrange cleaning jobs for many of the women and factory jobs for the men, easing the way for those eager to make a start in their new life.

Some families were very quick to integrate into the Australian way of life and find their community. For others, resettlement and integration was a challenge, but Nanette and Brian were always patient and would hold their hands for as long as it took.

They would accompany visits to doctors, dentists, hospitals, schools, universities, banks, Medicare, Centrelink, airports and many more besides.

Brian and Nanette D’Arcy with Madeleine Hoang at her First Holy Communion in August 1980. Also in the photo are the couple’s children Simon and Naomi and Madeleine’s family.

Brian and Nanette’s generosity, compassion and empathy allowed three generations of Vietnamese refugees to successfully adopt Australia as their new home.

They neither sought gratitude nor acknowledgement, however in 1992 their work was recognised by the Governor General when they received the Order of Australia medal for their role in shaping Australia’s multicultural landscape.

Madeleine Hoang was just six years old when she arrived in Australia with her family. Her parents were barely 30 and her cousin, 12, and brothers three and five.

Despite arriving with little more than the clothes on their backs and leaving everything they knew behind them, they quickly realised that they were actually the fortunate ones being taken in by the Darcy’s.

Madeleine, now a mother of three and an Associate Director within Macquarie’s Banking and Financial Services Group, said she attributes her family’s successful integration into the Australian way of life to the acceptance, support, love and friendship that her family received from the parish and the D’Arcy’s.

“In uncountable acts of kindness, they shared their home with perfect strangers and in doing so, have enabled those displaced to call this lucky country their home.”

“In uncountable acts of kindness, they shared their home with perfect strangers and in doing so, have enabled those displaced to call this lucky country their home,” she said.

“When sleeping over at the D’Arcys, my favourite meal quickly became Aunty Nanette’s beef mince. Then, each Sunday on the drive home after Mass, Uncle Brian routinely dropped by the petrol station to fill up the van.

“I relished in the sheer delight of being allowed to choose a treat as he paid for his tank. In the early days my parents could not afford to spoil us with such treats!

“Playing hide and seek, I grew to know every nook and cranny of the D’Arcy home, including the hidden laundry chute in the ensuite, which enabled a quick escape to the ground floor.

How goodness can grow: Brian and Nanette with the wider Hoang family in June 2015, including Madeleine and her husband Tri Nguyen, to the right of Nanette. The occasion was the First Holy Communion of Madeleine and Tri’s son Thomas, at the front in grey uniform, almost 35 years to the day after Madeleine’s own First Communion.

“It did not occur to me that I was different from any of the D’arcy children.

“How perfectly normal it felt to be sharing the special dress previously worn by all the D’Arcy girls, on my First Holy Communion day. In the D’Arcy home, it was easy to forget that one had been a refugee.

“We came to Nanette and Brian with our complex stories, often unfamiliar, perplexing and even humorous to a white Australian, and they welcomed us.

“Nanette and Brian were happily married for over 60 years and no one who felt their touch could avoid the inspiration of their shared faith and unity. They will always remind us that despite society’s continuing and sometimes disruptive changes … faith, love, and compassion remain our foundation.

“On behalf of the hundreds of us, whose lives have been enriched because of Brian and Nanette, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your boundless generosity and constant compassion.”