What Hanabeth Did Next
When Hanabeth Luke was photographed helping a bloodied victim of the Bali Bombing out of the flaming wreckage of the Sari Club in October 2002, her image was plastered on the front pages of newspapers around the world. She was dubbed the Angel of Bali and became a symbol of selfless heroism in the face of the dire threat posed by terrorism.
Now, two decades later, Dr Hanabeth Luke, an environmental scientist, academic, Marine Rescue volunteer, and three-time Evans Head longboard champion, is applying those same traits of courage and service to the swirling, hazardous world of politics. Standing as an independent candidate for Page, in northern NSW, the epicentre of recent devastating floods, Dr Luke is running on a platform of strong climate action, affordable housing, integrity in politics, and strong representation for the region where she lives, works, and surfs.
A senior lecturer at Southern Cross University, Hanabeth’s an expert in the social and economic effects of coal seam gas development and the founding coordinator of the world’s first undergraduate degree in Regenerative Agriculture. She works with farmers and rural industries to ward off inappropriate development like coal seam gas and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
Full disclosure: Ten years ago, I edited Hanabeth’s memoir 'Shock Waves', documenting her life leading up to the Bali Bombing and the devastating reality of that unthinkable event and its shocking aftermath. What impressed me most about Hanabeth back then was, far from seeking vengeance, she used that awful tragedy as fuel to campaign for peace and tolerance and to call out the scourge of Islamophobia that arose in its wake. Hanabeth famously took then-UK PM Tony Blair to task on live TV over the planned invasion of Iraq.
When helping to launch 'Shock Waves' ten years ago I commented that, as remarkable as her story up to that point was, the thing I was most interested in was what she might do next. What she did next was spend years charging big waves in Indonesia and Margaret River as she healed from the trauma of Bali, launch an academic career examining the impacts of coal seam gas and climate change on her community, start a family and, ultimately, a grass roots political campaign, as part of the 'teal wave' of independents demanding climate action.
If you’re already feeling jaded about the shallow theatrics of the election campaign, a chat with Hanabeth might just be the antidote you need to ward off despair at our broken politics.
Tim Baker: You’re three-time Evans Head longboard champ. You’ve got a great academic career and a beautiful family and a home by the beach. Why would you leave all that to hang out with a bunch of sociopaths in Canberra?
Hanabeth Luke: I’m a scientist and I know we’re on the brink of absolute climate catastrophe. Humankind has to do anything in its power to avert disaster and do it right now and that means how you vote matters. We’ve got to stand up for political candidates who have the political will to fight for this. The floods tell us this is bleak. Many people are still living in huts with dirt floors because they can’t deal with the government bureaucracy to access emergency funding. Our governance is in a terrible state. The political system is so skewed to the major parties it’s really hard to break in.
When I saw the Climate 200 movement funding independent candidates it gave me hope. When I got sufficiently angry at the National Party over their failure at the Glasgow climate summit I jumped up from my desk and threw down my pen and said, enough is enough.
How has the response been? You’re a political novice – how have you found the reality of the campaign trail so far?
People have been amazing. It is exhausting, but I can count on my fingers the number of people who have been negative. Most people I meet say, ‘Yeah, I would vote for you. I really like your approach. This is doing politics differently. You’re not preferencing major parties.’
We were just getting the movement going when the floods hit so hard. Not just the region but also my team. One of my team, his house literally skidded down the hill. This is so, so real now. I found myself in a tinny on a lake where my daughters pre-school used to be, just sticking out of the water.
How have your life experiences prepared you for this? You survived the Bali bombing and rescued people from the burning wreckage. You confronted UK PM Tony Blair about the Iraq War on live TV. You spent years charging big waves in Indo and Margaret River. In academia you’ve tackled coal seam gas and climate change and re-generative farming, working with local farmers and landowners. Does it feel like your whole life has been building to this point?
Some of them have prepared me well. Bali, it reminds me that you’ve got to have courage to change things. It is scary. A lot of people think it [climate change] is hopeless, so you’ve got to have courage to give it a go. There’s so much at stake. The system is stacked against you. A lot of people think in blue and red only [the major parties]. But yesterday 200,000 voters enrolled. That gives me hope.
What do you think it will take to get surfers more politically engaged, because from the conversations I’ve had many seem really disengaged?
We have Surfers for Climate, Surfrider Foundation, and local group the Clarence Catchment Alliance holding an event and call to action on May 7 in Yamba. With carpark convos on climate change, and a screening of the remastered ‘Morning of the Earth’ the local crew is certainly engaging.
The young guys in Evans Head, they’re fired up. They were already struggling to find rentals, and now their rentals are flooded. Life’s tough for them. This government has taken away their penalty rates. House prices are out of reach. Everyone’s living with their parents and now their parents are moving in with their cousins because their house has been flooded. It’s a really really desperate situation.
Is charging big waves a good preparation for the rough and tumble of politics?
It's just like a wave. I feel like if you go surf a big wave, you don’t paddle out with noodle arms. You’ve got to be able to hold your breath. You’ve got to have the right board. You have to be fit for it. I feel a little bit under-gunned, there’s some big craft out there. I’m trying to paddle in when there’s guys on jet skis. But I’ve done that before out at Burleigh and got the wave of my life.
What would you say to surfers who aren’t interested in politics?
Your vote is your golden ticket - don’t throw it away. We determine the future of our country when we vote and it’s not just our country. Being a leader in this space is something we can do. Politicians are meant to be the voice of the people; many feel they don’t represent them at all anymore. But there is hope and that’s where independents come in. We’ve got solar resources in this country like nowhere else on earth. There are private companies building cables to Singapore without any government support. We could be a net exporter of clean energy, but we need the political will. How do we get the political will? The voters.
Where do you think young people can find hope in the political world of shallow sound bites and petty point scoring?
Look locally. We’ve got some great candidates. We’re in the middle of a revolution. This wave of teal independent candidates, it’s all about the young people saying, 'We’re here to do a different sort of politics'. I’m here to act with integrity, to speak for the community. The speaking is done down in Canberra, but the listening’s all done at home. People say, I never see my local member. They never see them apart from photo opportunities. There’s something pretty awesome happening here. I’ll be here and I’ll be listening. I’ll not just be listening in the weeks leading up to an election. It’s time to use that courage again. It’s a hard thing to do. There’s a lot of power being exercised to resist change. That’s what I’m here to do, we’ve got to speak truth to power.