He might just be a face in the crowd at Tuesday’s Melbourne Cup but Warrnambool’s Darcy Chandler is a standout when it comes to selflessness.
The 21-year-old strapper will lead Who Shot Thebarman into the mounting yard at Flemington for the $7.3 million race. For all the carnival’s trappings, Chandler has his feet firmly on the ground.
Just weeks ago he was working in an orphanage with children with special needs in an impoverished village in Vietnam.
It was an eye-opener for Chandler, who was raised by his parents Colin and Lorri in Warrnambool, and educated at St Joseph’s Primary School, Hamilton and Alexandra College and then Xavier College in Melbourne.
“I’ve had the most incredible life journey,” he said. “I was not sure what I wanted to do with my life so I contacted the careers people for the old boys at Xavier College. There are 75 people in the orphanage from the age of 18 months to young teenagers, they suffer with things like autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy. The orphanage has 45 nuns. A lot of the nuns are in their 80s and 90s. I just wanted to take myself out of my comfort zone.”
He said getting to the orphange in Hungo Phong involved a 10-hour train trip from Hanoi to Dong Hoi.
“I helped teach English at the orphanage and worked on the building of the new church,” he said. “The biggest surprise is to see people with virtually nothing but they are happy, they don’t complain about their lot in life.”
Nuns weighed him morning and night after eating a diet based mainly on rice.
“I missed eating chocolate and drinking milk,” he said. “I lost a bit of weight. I ate lots of rice while I was there. I really had no contact with the outside world for three months. I would speak to my family every fortnight but there’s no such thing as social media.”
A love of horses saw Chandler work for premier Victorian trainer Darren Weir while employed at Warrnambool’s Midfield Meats before he joined another leading trainer, Chris Waller. He led Waller’s Shillelagh to the winner’s stall after a Group 1 victory on Saturday and he will be at Flemington again for the Cup.
“It’s a great thrill that Chris is letting me strap Who Shot Thebarman,” he said. “I’ll be heading back to the orphanage for two weeks in February before going over to Newmarket in England to work for a trainer there.”