Kalgoorlie-Boulder’s Danny Ireland had an unconventional start to life.
Snapped up from an orphanage in South Vietnam after the fall of Saigon, he was brought to Australia in a cardboard box as a six-month-old in 1975.
While he has no idea who his parents were or if he might have siblings, his experiences have taught him compassion and he has a ready smile and hearty laugh.
The 44-year-old Goldfields YMCA acting centre manager has come a long way since his childhood spent as a wayward teenager in inner city Melbourne.
He says his experiences have shaped him to want to help others overcome adversity.
“I was probably a bit of a wayward child during my younger years and I think I know what it is like being in a position where you need extra services,” he says.
“I’ve seen from first-hand experiences how people have helped me and believed in me during my adolescence.
“It’s really those sort of people that have inspired me.”
Danny was adopted by an Australian family and grew up in Fitzroy alongside his five siblings naturally born to his adoptive parents.
His move to Australia was part of Operation Babylift, which saw the mass evacuation of children from South Vietnam to the United States, Australia, France, West Germany and Canada.
“Somehow along the first six months of my life I ended up in an orphanage with no official documentation of who my parents were,” he says.
“There was a lot of undocumented children during that time who left the country... with no specific paperwork or birth certificates.
“It was very much with the clothes on our own back that we got put on to a plane in cardboard boxes.”
Danny has never tried to track down any relatives that may still be alive.
But he has often returned to Vietnam and other South East Asian countries as a backpacker and to do volunteer work.
“It’s more or less to understand,” he says.
“I think things happen for a reason and I know there are a lot of adoptees who have that burning desire to find a family connection. I have never had that burning desire.
“I think some things are better left to be. But I have always taken an interest in the people and the culture, so I’ve regularly over the last 20-odd years gone back there every 12 to 18 months.”
Danny says he had a happy childhood growing up in Fitzroy and described it as an “exciting place” to be.
He enjoyed being just a half an hour walk from the CBD and would spend a lot of the time roaming the streets.
“It was still considered to be a working-class type of suburb,” he says.
“There was a lot of the high-rise commission flats. It was where a lot of the migrant boat people were put into high commission areas in tall buildings in the prime locations of inner-city Melbourne.
“These are the people I went to school with and these are the people that I mingled with and essentially became friends with over the years.”
But his wayward years and early life trauma cost him a good education.
“I did terribly at school,” he says. “I had significant learning difficulties.
“A lot of adoptive children — not all, but some — are challenged with learning difficulties and I had my fair share of that.”
He dropped out of school at 14 to take on an apprenticeship in a commercial kitchen.
Although he did not see it through, he carried on working in restaurants in Fitzroy and left Melbourne when he was 20 to travel and work in kitchens interstate and around the world.
He blossomed and took on jobs working as a head chef at five-star hotels and managing high-volume kitchens.
He met his Irish wife at a backpackers in South Australia and they married and moved to Ireland where they had a son and a daughter. “It’s often been the butt of many jokes,” he says.
“An adopted Vietnamese child who was adopted into a family with the surname Ireland who married a girl from Ireland and ended up having children while living in Ireland.
“It is quite a comical situation when you look at it, but some things are just meant to be, I guess.”
After three-and-a-half years in Ireland, they returned to Australia just over 12 years ago.
They headed straight for the Goldfields where Danny continued working as a chef at the Kalgoorlie Golf Club and Curtin University.
But the long and brutal hours, coupled with the responsibilities of fatherhood began to take its toll.
After four years in the Goldfields, Danny and his family headed for Perth. With his wife earning a reasonable salary, he made the decision to put hospitality behind him and study for a diploma in community services.
When his wife was offered a job as a geologist, they packed their bags and headed back to Kalgoorlie-Boulder and within three months, Danny took on a volunteering job at the YMCA.
“I jumped at the opportunity, thinking it might be a great way to engage with young people in the community and possibly start a career in the industry,” he says.
He was soon offered a casual position and then a full-time position and he was recently appointed to an acting centre manager role.
“It’s been a fantastic opportunity and I will always be grateful to the ‘Y’ for being able to give me a second-chance at a career change,” he says.
“I really enjoy working with the community and especially young people and seeing the small changes we can make for them.
“Just to hear some of the success stories of improvements to employment and families or even just their home lives, it’s a good feeling.”
Danny says he is not going anywhere else soon and for now the Goldfields is home.
“I could never have pictured the life I have today,” he says.
“I knew 10 years ago I wanted to do something different.
“I just couldn’t picture how I was going to go about achieving that because I had no set skills.
“The ‘Y’ has been a great employer over the last few years and we can’t envisage ourselves going anywhere at the moment.”