Thursday, 24 May 2018

RIP - Brian Frank Darcey

9 August 1928 – 14 May 2018.

Brian, Christmas, 2017.
Our much-loved father passed away peacefully in his sleep. Widower to Ivy; elder brother to Gwen and Gilbert; father to Susanne, Judith, Belinda and Frank; grandfather to Janna, Jackson, Skye, Jasmine and Gryffyn; great-grandfather to Bowie, Violet, Finn, April and Noah; and uncle to Debbie, Robyn, Peta, Linda, Helen and Prue, he was 89 years young.

Brian was raised in Perth and the family moved to Melbourne in 1949. In 1951, he moved as a young man to Sydney, where he met Ivy, and married her in 1955 before relocating permanently to T.P.N.G. (Territory of Papua and New Guinea) shortly after; initially to Port Moresby for 1 year; then to Rabaul, where all 4 children were born; and later in 1971 to Kieta on Bougainville. The Darceys officially left PNG in 1978 for Australia and moved to Cairns, Far North Queensland.

Brian and Ivy, Rabaul, 1957

Brian worked initially in Rabaul for D.C.A. and H. Green & Co. but soon established his and Ivy’s own business B.F.Darcey & Co., buying and selling cocoa, copra, timber, crocodile skins, bêche-de-mer, and shell to buyers in Europe. They were also Providor agents for Bougainvlle Copper mine, during the initial exploratory period. The offices were located above the Newsagents on Mango Avenue in Rabaul, and in Toniva, Bougainville. For some years during the 1960’s he was Chairman of the Rabaul Town Council (R.A.T.C.) and also a commercial Representative of the Australian Navy in New Guinea. It was in this decade that he established and planted the Rabaul Orchid Park at the base of Namanula Hill, with physical assistance from his 4 young children, which still flourishes today.

As the business grew in Toniva, a variety of sidelines —a dress shop, jewellery, perfume— were added to the mix, along with an increasing number of genuine artifacts, collected by Dad on his many flights in and out of remote areas to source agricultural products. And let’s not forget the legendary ‘Buin Lodge,’ purchased to give Dad somewhere to sleep on his frequent trips to Buin, and then to accommodate tourists willing to brave a 4-wheel drive ‘safari’ from Kieta to the Southern tip of the island.

But without a doubt, his favourite destination was Fead Islands (Nuguria Atoll) and Malekolan, the family home of his closest friend, Graeme Carson. It didn’t take much of an excuse to detour out there en route between Kieta and Rabaul. Many happy hours were spent supervising the constant running repairs of Graeme’s outboard engines, while nursing a cold beer, followed by the obligatory dose of ‘snake-bite medicine’ (whiskey).

The artifacts were to become a mainstay of the business in later years. His vast library included many volumes on Oceanic art and exploration. His keen interest in Pacific art combined with his ongoing research resulted in him being recognized by international museums as a leading authority on Melanesian Art. Brian staged exhibits of curated genuine Melanesian artifacts in England, Germany and New Zealand, and facilitated exchanges with several museums, including London’s British Museum.

In his 70’s, he worked as a commercial skipper of both the 35 metre ‘Altlantic Clipper’ charter yacht, and the ‘Ocean Spirit’ catamaran tourism boat operating out of Cairns.

A Latin scholar, he was always a keen linguist, in his final week he was speaking French for over an hour in his nursing home room, much to the astonishment of the nurses. He quickly learnt Polis Motu as a young Skipper working in the Papuan Gulf and mastered Tok Pisin in Rabaul.

Classical music was his passion. He enjoyed opera, admired and followed Joan Sutherland throughout her illustrious career. As a graduate, his first ‘job’ of any note was as a radio announcer/disc jockey in Perth. Horticulture, particularly orchids was another lifelong interest. Boats and aircraft were his obsession but his real love was sailing.

His first boat ‘Leeuwin‘ was a small 12 foot plywood dinghy, which he built himself, over the course of a year, 1949-50, in the family garage, and then learned to sail in Melbourne’s Port Philip Bay. The sale of this little boat allowed him to purchase a BSA Bantam motorbike, which he rode north to Sydney.

During his 20’s, between multiple stints as a labourer’s assistant in Sydney, he built a small steel hull ketch with 2 male friends, over 2 years on a vacant block in La Perouse. During this period, Brian also twice finished the Sydney-Hobart yacht race, as crew.

The yacht ‘Kylie’ was launched in Botany Bay and her maiden voyage was to sail around into Sydney harbour. Shortly afterwards ‘Kylie’ and her 3 young  crewmen set off to circumnavigate New Zealand before returning via New Caledonia, and Lord Howe Island to Sydney Harbour, where she was sold on a year later. She remains afloat today! This bold approach— find first, train later—was to become a signature pattern throughout his life.

At age 27, Brian had completed his basic Ship’s Master certificate and went to work for the Steamships Trading Company in post-war Port Moresby as a newly-qualified Commercial Skipper, with his new bride. The ‘Doma’ was his vessel, a sturdy coastal workboat that sailed the routes all around the Gulf of Papua, the Sepik River, the Torres Strait, the Papuan coast and the Coral Sea. (You can read Dad’s highly entertaining account of his first days on Doma in this post.) The position of ‘Sea Rescue Boat Operator’ for the active Marine Base in Simpson’s Harbour in 1956, working with the Catalina flying boat service proved too great an opportunity to resist for the young couple and they relocated to Rabaul.

“Arsover’ was the small plywood ‘Sailfish’ class dinghy that he also built in Rabaul that provided the young family with many, many wonderful weekend hours of pleasure and racing at Takumbar Sailing Club in the 1960’s.

In 1970, at age 40 he decided that their business required more flexible transport schedules and routes than the commercial airlines could supply. After purchasing his first aircraft in early 1970 in Sydney, he then proceeded to take an intensive 1month Pilot’s training course at Bankstown Airport in that single-engine Piper Cherokee 160 ‘MSC’. Having qualified he then flew the small 4-seater plane northwards along the Eastern Seaboard and back to Rabaul taking 1 week, accompanied by his friend, decorated former NZ Airforce pilot Adam Anderson, a well-known commercial charter pilot in New Guinea at that time. A second single-engine Piper Cherokee, this time an upgraded Model 180 ‘PWD’ replaced the former aircraft.

Brian and Ivy in front of PWD.

After some years flying regularly, Brian surrendered to Ivy’s pleas for him to upgrade to a ‘safer’ plane. Again he flew down to Australia where he sold the Cherokee and purchased a twin-engine Piper Aztec as the replacement, taking the requisite additional lessons, to successfully qualify for his ‘twin conversion’ Pilot’s license at Archerfield Airport before making the return flight from Brisbane to Kieta in his larger plane, reregistered as ‘BFD’. In the ‘Darcey family-friendly’ 6-seater Aztec, he was able to fly both farther and faster between PNG, the Solomon Islands and Australia.

Brian flew a total of 3,700+ hours in fixed-wing aircraft and only surrendered his Pilot’s license many years later, long after the sale of the plane and after he’d been sailing again for a while.

After ‘going finish’ from PNG it wasn’t long before he bought ‘Nyalin’, a modest yacht that would see much ocean mileage under his helm in the following years, much of it spent exploring the Great Barrier Reef in detail.

Brian, astern. Tekani II.

After several years of cruising about the Coral Sea, Brian and Ivy commissioned a new Arends-33 model yacht from the yacht builder in WoyWoy, NSW, with a customised (much-improved) interior layout designed by Ivy who was, by now, also an experienced cruising sailor. ‘Tekani’ was launched in 1984 and sailed many, many blue-water nautical miles, including an emotional journey back to PNG and the Solomon Islands, visiting all the familiar places and faces along the way.

Recovering from a successful battle with cancer, Brian at age 74 resolved to ‘get back out there’ once he was declared a Remission case. This time he took up non-engine Gliding, taking his qualifying lessons in Charters Towers and membership later at the Gliding Club in Dululu, QLD. He was astonished at the thrill that gliding gave and habitually went there twice a year, for ‘a month of fun’ as he called it. His last solo gliding flight was on his 80th birthday.

Brian, gliding. Dululu airstrip, Queensland.

‘Bougainville Blue’ was the novel he published in 2008, an allegory based on the political situation in Bougainville prior to the Civil War there, which was critically well-received.

In 2010, Brian aged 82 purchased his final yacht, a Ketch SouthCoast 36, renamed as ‘Tekani II’. This beauty was a comfortable floating home for him for the last years, leisurely sailing solo along the Eastern Seaboard.

For us, his children, his values were very clear: respect for the individual, privacy and the elderly; kindness with the sick; lead by example; and adherence to the Rule of Law. He was against physical violence as a solution to any dispute. He was a dependable husband and a responsible parent who was determined to provide a stable, safe home for his family. He valued life experiences and learning above academia although his belief that as parents, they ought to provide for the best education that we children each strived for, was a strong motivational force for him in matters of business.

Content in his own company, he was known to many but friend of a select few. Those who were fortunate to know him as a friend, experienced his deep loyalty and wide generosity. An avid reader, feminist, environmentalist and outspoken advocate for justice, his most marked characteristics were his curious intellect and his fierce independence.

A staunch atheist, his instructions were for 'an unattended cremation', no service at all. He firmly believed, "Life is for the living." Accordingly, his ashes have been cast into the Pacific Ocean. Raise a glass in his memory.

Brian, at his happiest, sailing Tekani II to Michaelmas Cay, at 82.