Hilari Anderson

Interviewed by Sam Yurjevic


Photograph: John Miller/Eyes of Fire


Sam Yurjevic, a Year 13 student at Rangitoto College in Auckland's North Shore, interviews Hilari Anderson, one of the foundation crew members of the original Rainbow Warrior, on her experiences. Hilari was based in London when she became first cook of the Rainbow Warrior. She was involved with eight Greenpeace campaigns between 1978 and 1980 and also worked as a volunteer in the French Greenpeace office. She returned to NZ in 1983. She teaches Drama and is currently Head of the Performing Arts at Marist College.

Ship leader

Was working on the Rainbow Warrior something you were passionate about?

I knew the galley job was mine – instinctively. I had the cooking skills and experience from working in Food for Thought, a busy vegetarian restaurant in Covent Garden. I was in my 20s, adventurous and open to new experiences. I wrote a long letter of ‘application’ and I was deeply committed to the work rather than being initially ‘passionate’ about the issues. Seeing more dead than live whales motivated a passionate connection to the Rainbow Warrior's first campaign, as well as an appreciation for the legacy of Greenpeace actions to save the whales in Canada and North America. I learnt so much from crew briefings as we had the campaigners on board rather than separate in a distant office. So whole crew decisions were made on board the ship during 1978 – as we were reading situations ad hoc; we responded to challenges as they came up, such as the Spanish Armada trying to arrest us.

The work was hard as I was initially seasick but I made bread, cooked lunch and dinners every day for a crew of 23 and every 24 hours I also did a watch in the wheelhouse on helms duty. This extra task gave me an official document: a Midshipman’s Steering Certificate which involved steering the ship in and out of Reykjavik in Iceland. So I am proud of that! (I was happy to do the job as a volunteer but I withdrew my NZ Superannuation in order to pay for things like stamps or an ice-cream when we were in ports so I had some cash.)


How did the nuclear testing in Moruroa affect your decision to help on the ship?

My decision to join the crew of the Warrior was not directly linked to Moruroa. I was a young teacher of French at East Otago High School in 1973 when teachers gathered around the staffroom radio to listen in to the news about Vega sailing into the restriction zone at Moruroa. I remember the ‘Madman’ kind of responses, (little knowing that I would become a trusted friend of David McTaggart, later killed in a car accident, and of Anna Horne, who now lives in Whitianga in the Coromandel). However, I had heard about low levels of radiation affecting New Zealand milk supplies after each test … and there were 66 bombs at Moruroa and Fangatau`ufa in the ‘air’ of the Pacific before tests went underground.

Over the next decade I read widely about the impact of French testing through a sharing of research, particularly by Elaine Shaw in the Auckland Greenpeace office. Over the winter of 1978/79 I worked in the Paris Greenpeace Office where whales, seals were more favoured topics with the French public than the nuclear issue, given that France had domestic nuclear power as well as has being deeply implicated in superpower one-upmanship that impacted on the health and welfare of indigenous Kanak and Tahitian people. Hence my support on returning to Aotearoa for a Nuclear-Free and Independent Pacific.


Is there anything from your experience you will remember forever?

A day in Spanish waters when whales escaped from the harpoons of the Spanish pirate whalers on the left bow of the Warrior then hundreds of dolphins danced around our rubber boats. I had a penny whistle to play. The Spanish Armada arrived – 3 extra ships positioning like a chess game, waiting for the next move. When they finally moved off I played a triumphant Vivaldi tune on my violin at the prow of the Rainbow Warrior.

I also remember being 400 nautical miles north of Iceland and the radar system breaking down. We did longer watches on the top deck with telescopes looking out over the horizon for whales and whalers, between 2-4am as it was never dark in the land of the midnight sun.

I also remember being in the first Zodiac that rode 5 miles over the horizon to bear witness to the ship Gem dumping nuclear waste in thousands of barrels into a deep shelf in the Bay of Biscay. I remember the surprise on the faces of the ‘boys’ who were winching and dropping the barrels into the sea. I saw a lid come off. My camera got so wet it never worked again.

I also remember a crewmate saying we had run out of milk coming down from the Shetland Islands near the end of 1978 and I thought, ‘good, we have dried and tinned left’. In other words, I had done well planning menus and supplies to last for at least 7-8 months on a budget of £2000.


When did you find out the news about the boat sinking?

I was on board the Rainbow Warrior all that day on 10 July 1985 with a chipping hammer doing a funnel I had worked on way back at the beginning of 78. The first mate, Martini, gave me the job about 8am - it was mid-term break so I was a volunteer again on my old home. I stopped working about 6pm as it was getting dark and went into the mess to join a birthday party and to talk with old friends.

Someone wanted a lift to Grey Lynn where they were staying so I left about 10.30pm. There had been a meeting earlier in the evening in the hold about safety for the flotilla boats that were going to accompany the Warrior on the campaign to Moruroa. I went to bed earlier than usual, as I was physically tired. My partner had a dream at 11.50pm about the mast of the Rainbow Warrior tilting … then a friend called Bob Tait came round on a bike to bang on our window with the news …  


What did you do once you had heard the news?

We went straight down to the Wharf Police Station and spent several hours till about 4.30am. I was interviewed and reported my attempt at conversation with a young Frenchman who was on his way to the airport. He turned out to be the son of a DGSE officer and was ‘casing the joint’. By 3.30 we knew that Fernando’s body had been found and hugged each other in grief and shock. We bought Martini, Hanna back to where we lived in Norfolk Street and then were joined by Bunny and Henk about 5.30am. No sleep … and the Herald had already published the front page with the boat listing with a big hole gaping in the hull.


Did you know the people that were on the boat at the time of the sinking very well?

I had met Bunny and Henk in Amsterdam in 1980. Martini I knew well, as I was godmother to his first daughter with my best friend Susi who was also an original Rainbow Warrior crew member. I spent the first afternoon that the Rainbow Warrior sailed in to the Waitemata meeting people like the deckhand Grace and listening to the stories of the most recent mission transporting the people from Rongelap to Mejato. (This story is told beautifully and in a heartfelt way by Hanna in Claudia Pond-Eyley’s documentary.)* We had all been dancing to live bands in a favourite music bar in Symonds Street the night I gave photographer Fernando a lift back to the ship in my yellow Fiat. He loved my car and said wanted to buy one day for his daughter, Marelle.

The following year the big house we lived in became a home for several who had been on the bombed Rainbow Warrior. We had big parties and every Sunday the Swiss doctor, Andy Biedermann, would make pancakes for everybody for brunch, with more than one household gathering.

I still have an extended Greenpeace family with a special connection with young people, especially Brenna Gotje and Naawie Tutugoro, Susi Newborn’s daughters.


Were you involved with the court case? Were you interviewed by police?

No … the court case did not last long due to the manslaughter guilty plea of the agents. A diplomatic deal between the French and NZ governments meant that they did not serve a full sentence.


Do you commemorate the anniversary of the sinking? If so, how?

You have seen on film the commemoration at Matauri Bay with the local iwi. The first year in 1986 we gathered on the ship as she was still tied up at the Basin near the Maritime Museum, awaiting a decision about her final resting place. (I took close-up photos of the deck and rusting iron.)

I have everyday reminders in my house, such as birthday gift from Ralph Hotere, a sketch of the Cavalli Islands near Matauri Bay. In my bathroom I even have a test-tube holder from the hold of the Sir William Hardy, the name of the original fisheries trawler from Aberdeen which was painted green and became the Rainbow Warrior.

Within the family network, my goddaughter who works for Greenpeace reminds us of that day on a Facebook post each July 10.

Privately, we all remember.



* Departure and return: the final journey of the Rainbow Warrior through the eyes of six women activists (2006)

Directed and produced by Claudia Pond Eyley.
Departure and return takes us through the story of the Rainbow Warrior – an old trawler, brought back into service by Greenpeace to campaign against whaling, nuclear waste dumping, and nuclear testing. In the film, Claudia Pond Eyley talks to six women who played a role in the nuclear free movement over the years: Susi Newborn, Anna Horne, Peggy Finlay, Margaret Mills, Bunny McDiarmid, Jane Cooper, Hanne Sorensen, Hilari Anderson, Brenna Gotje.