by CHRIS GILMORE

Daryl Te’Nadii is a living testament to resilience. A survivor.

Well known to many around the Coast for his fitness training, Daryl is a popular and well-respected figure. But beneath his steely exterior, his life has been marred by abuse and tragedy.

Now he is telling his story in his autobiography The Orphaned Soldier, which details his journey from the horrors of life in a boys’ home in his native New Zealand, to living on the streets, to a successful career in the armed forces, and to his triumphant forays into the world of powerlifting.

The book is an emotional ride that took 13 years to complete, but Daryl says he felt his story had to be told. 

“The world needs to know the truth and accept it’s not right to hurt others, especially children,” he says.

He admits putting his memories down in a book was a challenge.

“It was very daunting,” he says. “If you look back on my history I didn’t finish my first year in high school, so trying to get around how a book is written was challenging because these were the kind of things I didn’t learn.”

Daryl’s earliest years were spent at an orphanage in Waikato, where he suffered many forms of physical and emotional abuse. He was hospitalised on three occasions, and attempted suicide aged just eight.

“They would sexually assault us, beat us near to death and take away any dignity we had left as humans,” he says. 

“Later in life, I learned that drugs, alcohol, depression and suicide were among the biggest reasons many of the children from the boys’ home days never made it. The pain of what they went through … just got too much to live with. I hope by telling our story it in some way helps to heal the past.

“Through my story they have a voice they were never allowed to have.”

Aged 11, Daryl made the move to Australia and was was reunited with his biological mother, only to suffer more abuse from his alcoholic stepfather. Then at 14 he was abandoned again by his mother. 

“My stepfather didn’t want anything to do with me – I wasn’t his child – so he kicked me out that night,” Daryl says. “From that day I lived on the streets for over a year, and in and out of foster homes. I just couldn’t find foster homes that were relevant in my life so I’d shoot through until I got pulled up by the police again and taken back.”

Living on the streets of Geelong, he was forced to sleep on dirt covered with cardboard to stay warm and dry at night, and fossick in garbage bins for food to stay alive. “Not a proud moment,” he admits. He dropped out of high school in his first year but eventually, through courage and determination, found his way into the armed forces. 

“It was pure coincidence that I ended up joining the service,” he says. “I went in support of a friend who wanted to join … I went up to Melbourne with him and this guy in a green uniform said, ‘Are you going to do this test?’ and I said, ‘No, I’m only here to support a friend.’ He said, ‘Why don’t you do it?’ and I said, ‘I don’t have my first year education in high school, I wouldn’t qualify.’ He said, ‘That’s not true.’ I went inside and did the testing in four areas and my pass rate was 98.7.

“At the end of the day I was never dumb, I just never had the support to get an education. I always felt that without the education I wouldn’t get a job or anything in life, but that wasn’t the case – the army took me on and three weeks later I was in the armed forces at 1 RTB Kapooka (outside Wagga Wagga).”

Daryl later married and had a son and daughter. He was also chosen to complete the elite training course with the SAS but decided instead to become an instructor in physical education. At 28, he completed his high school studies before obtaining a degree in exercise sport science four years later. It was the same year he met Janet, who would later become his second wife and mother of their daughter Baila Rae.

“I met Janet when I was in the services when I was 28 on training deployment,” Daryl says. “By coincidence I went into a barbershop to get a haircut but they said they didn’t have any barbers available and I’d have to go back to base, but they did have an apprentice and asked me, do you mind if she cuts your hair? That was Janet. I don’t know why but something about her just connected straight away. She was a lot younger than me and I was in the service so I left, but we ran into each other 10 years later and from that day we’ve been together ever since.”

The couple married in 1998, the same year they moved to the Coast and opened DJ’s Fitness Studio in Maroochydore. It was here Daryl would pass on his wealth of fitness knowledge that helped him win multiple powerlifting and bodybuilding competitions.

“I got injured in rugby really bad and my coach said I could never play halfback again unless I put some size on, so I started doing some weights and for some crazy reason my body started to grow,” Daryl says. “I never got back to rugby because the injury was too bad, so I kept up the weight training and I grew and grew. I got talked into competing in this bodybuilding show one day and I won it, shock and behold, so it grew from there. 

“At the end of the day I competed in 29 regional and national events and I only placed second once, all the other events I won. I only came second thanks to Maltesers – I have a fetish for Maltesers and after eating six bags on the road to my next show my body blew up like a balloon, too much sugar causing mass water retention. I looked like the Michelin Man.”

Now aged 63, Daryl is hoping his book – which producers have said is a movie in waiting – can help end violence against children, and to inspire men who are suffering to seek help and talk about life, hardships and the pain they carry.

“My life lessons are very simple: you’ve got people in your life – children in particular – and you just don’t know when it’s going to end,” he says. “You’ve just got to take grip and love them for what they are. It doesn’t matter what they do in life, everybody makes mistakes, but at the end of the day turning your back on your children is the cruellest thing you can do. 

“It took me years to get out of the protective wall that I put in front of me – I wouldn’t let anyone in, I didn’t believe in love, I didn’t believe in friendship, and I didn’t believe in those things because I’d been hurt too much. 

“As much as you’re hurt, you’ve got to accept there’s people out there that want to help you. You’ve just got to be prepared to put your hand out and say, ‘I need help.’

“I lost my son 10 years ago and that crippled me. I’ve only just come out of that. No parent should outlive their child but to lose my child to suicide was tragic.

“Life is what we make of it. I have battled many demons over this time, lived painful moments in memory, but I have never let that take away my chance to help others.”

The Orphaned Soldier was produced by Rachael Bermingham from Bermingham Books. It is available in print and eBook from all major bookstores. On the Coast it is available from Harry Hartog in Sunshine Plaza and The BookShop in Bulcock St, Caloundra.

If you need help phone Lifeline on 13 11 14.