I have always been amazed at how many of the founding activists of New Zealand’s anti nuclear and Greenpeace movements have ended up tucked into Waiheke’s leafy enclaves. It’s a specific measure of who we – on a small island at the bottom of the world – know ourselves to be.
Here, you’ll find literally scores of people who sailed on the ancient Baltic trader Fri and subsequent shoestring flotillas that navigated across half the Pacific to protest nuclear testing, others who found and managed to purchase the first Rainbow Warrior and many who manned the ship on the night she was mined and sank at an Auckland Wharf. We threw ourselves at sinister black American submarines, marched and camped for peace and arrived – bloody but unbowed – at global recognition of a Nuclear Free New Zealand and a long and symbolic standoff with the US.
In the 1970s, we ourselves sailed Pendragon 26,000 sea miles under a peace flag bequeathed to us by crew aboard David Moodie’s Fri in Whangarei.
Mesmerised by the magnificent spectacles of Tahiti’s Polynesian music and dance festival during the voyage home across the Pacific, I returned (by air) in the 1990s for the annual Quatorze Juillet celebrations. In an eerie segue, I found myself sitting in the dawn by Papeete’s docks, surrounded by a vast and silent vigil of mostly French Polynesian women seated gracefully on mats.
They were waiting for the arrival of the Greenpeace ship that was due back in port after having landed activists (including a Waiheke friend and fellow yacht owner) on an island booked for resumed nuclear testing that week.
The July festival had connotations of Polynesian dissatisfaction with French rule but it was still sobering that the backstreets leading down to the port were, that morning, filled with French foreign legionnaires – and tanks.
This week is the anniversary of the infamous sinking of Greenpeace’s first Rainbow Warrior by the French military security service (DGSE) alongside a public wharf in Auckland in 1985, killing Portuguese Greenpeace photographer Fernando Pereira.
This year, the date has been emphasized by the release of the name of French spy Christine Cabon who infiltrated the Auckland Greenpeace office in April 1985 as Greenpeacers from Pacific-rim countries arrived in Auckland to discuss the upcoming “Pacific Peace Voyage.” Among the new arrivals were American Steve Sawyer and Greenpeace New Zealand’s directors Elaine Shaw and Carol Stewart.
In Israel by time the French frogmen detonated mines under the Rainbow Warrior in July, Cabon escaped extradition and disappeared until recent weeks when, aged 66 and the holder of France’s Legion of Honour, she was discovered in a small country village.
Now a Waiheke resident, Carol Stewart had only one short conversation with Fernando Pereira on the day the Rainbow Warrior arrived and that was about where he should shop for presents for his kids, she recalls.
However, she had much more to do with French spy, who stayed with her for the first week of what is now known to have been a reconnaissance assignment for the DGSE’s bombing mission.
Cabon, Carol says, stayed at her house in Grey Lynn with herself, her 16-year-old daughter and a German Greenpeace staff member who was working with her at the Greenpeace office.
“We three felt rather uncomfortable with Cabon as she made no effort to fit into the household and made no offer to replace food she ate or do any cooking or cleaning,” recalls Carol as Cabon’s part in the bombing made news headlines here this week.
“My daughter, Rochelle, was very upset when she discovered that Cabon had eaten all her favourite yoghurt! And Renate, the German woman, was fed up with her trying to speak French all the time.
“In the end I asked Jane Cooper if she would have Cabon at her place as Jane spoke French, so we off-loaded her,” she says.
“What still riles me though (apart from her part in the bombing) is the acting on her part – we all took her out for lunch on the day before she flew to Tahiti, and she actually had tears in her eyes when we said goodbye.
“Obviously a great actor, but I felt completely betrayed and angry when we were told by the police that it had all been an act.
“So totally unnecessary on her part – there were no secrets to discover as all the plans about the route and action had long been public knowledge, and one look at Auckland Harbour would have told her there weren’t exactly secret or secure spaces for the ship to be docked.”
As she says, while it is easy someone to write off her part in such acts of inhumanity as ‘duty’, the fact remains that Fernando’s children still have no justice for a life without their father. Liz Waters.