Ever wondered what became of the crew onboard Greenpeace’s legendary Rainbow Warrior ship, sunk by the French secret service in 1985?
Look no further than Waiheke Island, New Zealand, unofficial Greenpeace retirement village, and home to six of the ship’s original crew.
“We actually call it the People’s Republic of Waiheke Island,” former Greenpeace activist Susi Newborn told the Georgia Straight by cellphone from a busy Auckland street. The 60-year-old cosigned for the Scottish trawler renamed Rainbow Warrior ahead of its maiden voyage in 1978.
Newborn, born in London, England, and of South American descent, was a crew member on the ship, along with her ex-husband, Dutch navigator Martini Gotjé. The two are now divorced, but live on the island with their respective blended families. They are joined by Henk Haazen, Rien Achterberg, Bunny McDiarmid, and Hanne Sí¸rensen. They all protested French nuclear testing in the South Pacific. They all now live on Waiheke. Dutch director Suzanne Raes caught up with them there for her 89-minute documentary, The Rainbow Warriors of Waiheke Island.
“I thought it was different to the usual angle, which is the bombing story and the cloak-and-dagger stuff, whereas this seemed to be more human,” Newborn said of Raes’s film, which features lengthy segments and snippets on all six crew members, spanning three decades.
According to Newborn, Raes restored original Greenpeace International footage showing Newborn passed out on a Zodiac boat as it’s tossed about in the raging ocean swell following a direct action. Newborn could not recall being knocked out until she saw the footage.
Watch the trailer for The Rainbow Warriors of Waiheke Island.
“Over the years you begin to think, ”˜Did that really happen? Did I imagine that?’ ” Newborn said. “One of the scenes that brought tears to my eyes was looking at myself with a rainbow-coloured woolly hat in the mess room, threading little beads onto a necklace. The innocence of that, really—we were totally innocent at that time. We had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for.”
This July 10 will mark the 25th anniversary of the ship’s demise. Raes said she has picked this weekend to get the film aired in her soccer-mad home country, although this will clash directly with the 2010 FIFA World Cup tournament in South Africa this summer. The sinking resulted in the death of photographer and crew member Fernando Pereira.
“The time is right to pay tribute to the guys who put the environment on the political and public agenda,” Raes told the Straight by phone from Amsterdam.
Newborn said she finds it hard to reconcile herself with the idea of using the bombing as a landmark, and asks that people instead remember May 2, the day the Rainbow Warrior set sail from London on its maiden antiwhaling voyage, in 1978. She also has a message for activists in 2010.
“We don’t have the shoulder-to-shoulder people power anymore, because we are all at home doing our cyberactivism, communicating to each other about the revolution on-line,” she said. “We’re not actually doing it on the street. So what we need for climate change is, we need a mobilization akin to what happened in the Second World War.”
The Rainbow Warriors of Waiheke Island will screen on Sunday (May 9) at 9 p.m., at the Vancity Theatre, as part of the DOXA Documentary Film Festival.