Growing up in Moorebank in Sydney's western suburbs, a young Barry Du Bois didn't have far to go when he felt the need to escape. Across from the family home flowed the Georges River.
"The happiest times in my life were just exploring, dreaming, going up and down that river in a little tinny my dad bought us," The Living Room star and Harris Scarfe ambassador recalls.
In the years since, he's continued to live within a stone's throw of open water – being on the water, he says, plays an important role in balancing his emotional, spiritual and physical wellness.
"I always say that for us, on a boat, it's a little love fest," he chuckles, while watching his seven-year-old twins Arabella and Bennett scamper about the yacht we have boarded for today's photo shoot and interview.
"Everything is polarised – you can get cabin fever, or you can embrace it. It's one or the other. For us, we embrace it. With two young children and your family on a boat, it's a 24/7 connection."
Being a dad is something that Barry never fails to remember is a gift.
When he married his wife, Leonie Tobler, in 1999, fate seemed keen to thwart their wishes of starting a family. Thirteen rounds of IVF had only served to produce a series of tragic miscarriages.
The final round led to twins but when Leonie suffered another miscarriage in 2005, losing both babies, she was handed even more bad news – she had an aggressive and severe form of cervical cancer and would need a radical hysterectomy.
Cancer had already almost broken the Du Bois family. Barry was still reeling after losing his beloved mother Margaret to bowel and breast cancer just months prior. In addition, he was in pain after breaking his back and, as a result, he says, had fallen into a deep depression.
It was around this time the water once again came to his aid. First, he bought a small boat for his dad and brother to "bond, and get our minds off Mum."
Then Barry sailed "about 1500 nautical miles in a year" delivering yachts around the world which proved a huge boost for his mental health.
"When you are on the ocean you get a lot of time to think," he explains.
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Life, it seemed, was getting better. But in 2010, cancer once again returned to the Du Bois household – and this time Barry was in the frontline, as he was diagnosed with plasmacytoma myeloma, a cancer of the immune system.
He underwent surgery, radiation and received a titanium implant in his spine. But, in typical Barry fashion, he enlisted the healing powers of the water – as well as overhauling his diet and exercise routine – to regain his health.
In 2011, re-energised, he made his TV debut as a judge on short-lived reality series The Renovators. Then in 2012 his life changed in two major ways. First, he landed his spot on The Living Room couch. Second, and even more joyously, Barry and Leonie finally achieved their dream of having children.
The pair turned to surrogacy and, using a donor egg, an Indian surrogate and Barry's sperm, on June 1, they were "crying, smiling and screaming," as they finally welcomed their much-longed for twins into the world.
"Arabella came out first and she struggled a bit so she had to go into a little oxygen chamber. She had a bit of fluid on her lungs and we were nervous wrecks," Barry recalls.
"Being a dad is one of the most amazing things that can happen. There are 75 billion cells in your body. The job of every one of those cells is to procreate and create a legacy of the next generation. It's what we're here for, it's what I was meant to do and I'm going to spend the rest of my life seeing that they're installed with the legacy of honesty, integrity and self-belief."
Certainly, it seems he's doing his job. Bright, incredibly polite and quick to laughter, the pair engages easily in conversation, clearly confident. Their eyes light up as they watch their dad working on the boat and beam when he's asked to describe their innate qualities.
"They're both very caring, that's for sure," he says. "They're very close, they're both creative. I see my mum and dad in them. Arabella is competitive. Benny is an incredible little sportsman and he has a soft nature, which I love."
The family has had many seafaring adventures on their own yacht "all over Europe, North Africa, the Middle East – as far as the Straights of Gibraltar right up into the Suez and everything in between. Maybe it's all in our imagination but we've seen pirates and pirate ships and giant whales," he chuckles.
Last year, the Du Bois family was forced to miss their annual trip. Barry's cancer had returned – this time far more aggressively as multiple myeloma.
Announcing the news during an emotional episode of The Living Room, he vowed he would fight back again. True to his word, he has.
"I'm in great shape at the moment," he says."There are no odds against us, I don't see things like that," he adds firmly.
"You can see my children running around on this yacht – I'm the luckiest guy on earth."
"If it wasn't for these things that have happened in my life, some tougher than others, those guys wouldn't be here. You're a sum of every day of your life added up and I'm happy with my sum, I don't resent a second of it."
To read our full interview with Barry, pick up a copy of the September issue of The Australian Women's Weekly, on sale now.
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