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» On The Road To Morocco
by David Syme

May 3, 1997

Rebecca Gibney has been trying to find out about the decade of her birth, the 1960s. She was born in 1964 in a small town called Levin, on the north island of New Zealand.

The reason is that she has extended her acting career into production. Rebecca is executive producer, as well as playing a major part, of a new Seven Network mini-series called "Kangaroo Palace".

The idea is about as obvious as "Snowy" (which she was in also). So obvious that no one thinks about doing it until decades later. The Snowy Mountains project was something that all Australians knew about, particularly migrants, and there was a tremendous story to be told that someone thought about only a few years ago.

So it is with "Kangaroo Palace". How many young Australians took off in the 1960s to live in London "for a couple of years''. Probably thousands. And most of them ended up in Earl's Court.

"Kangaroo Palace" looks into that period: the shared cabins on economy liners, the London pubs, the Beatles, Carnaby Street, the Australian ghetto, and so on.

So Rebecca Gibney has been combing second-hand book stores, buying up 1960s magazines, and rather than finding everything quaint and odd, she has found an age that she rather envies. Her perception of the 1960s is that it was a time when things were more simple and more open, willing to try new things. She also feels that the innocence and freedom of those times has been somewhat replaced by violence and anger.

"I think the older I am, the better I deal with things like violence and anger. We are not in a great state right now. We seem to be full-scale into this new computerised age. But I have a mad desire to buy 25 acres and devote myself to animals and growing vegetables. I'd like to try to find simple things. I also think of how much more difficult it must be for children today to handle these times.''

Rebecca Gibney is known for her fine acting abilities and good looks. Her appearance at 32 is really splendid even though she doesn't seem to do anything special to maintain it except go to the gym about three times a week. She has gone through a rough year or so, having split with her husband. She and rock musician Jack Jones were together for six years.

"We separated about a year ago. It has been tough. We're still friends and I've dated other people since then. I'm really OK now.''

They had no children, but Rebecca is not exactly childless. It's well known that she has worked for World Vision for some years. The work is important to her, if harrowing. Along the way she has picked up two children whom she sponsors. She is in touch with them constantly and receives regular information bulletins.

Her World Vision association is a big part of her life and it is quite clear that it is connected to her religion. Gibney has a wariness of organised religion but her own brand of faith plays a big role in her life.

"It means a lot to me. I guess you'd call it a Christian faith. I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe in God. And I rely on that faith in times of despair or distress. It's just something that's there and hard to describe.''

"But no church?''

"Actually I do go to church sometimes. The trouble is, people will come up to me, people who have seen me on television perhaps, and say something like `I've got a special message from God for you' and I can do without that. My family are all Christians. I was talking with a girlfriend just last night about the saboteur and the angel that are within all of us.''

"Do you ask for assistance?''

"Yep.''

"Do you get it?''

She laughed. "Yep.''

"Can you give me an example?''

"Well, World Vision is an example. I've really had to struggle at times. There are things I've seen that have been very difficult to deal with. I've held dying children. I've returned from a refugee camp to my comfortable hotel, then back to my comfortable home.

"You know I get really pissed off with people saying, how could any God let this sort of thing happen, like children dying, refugee camps. God didn't do it. We did. Mankind did it. It's because of greed. There's enough to go round now but greed prevents it.

"It's the same with people who say charity begins at home, and clean up your own place before you try cleaning up anywhere else. Well I hope that if we were in trouble in this country, people would come from elsewhere and help us. And that doesn't mean I'm not aware of problems we have in this country. I've been with World Vision six years now. I want to concentrate on helping that one organisation.''

She told me about the two children who have become part of her life.

"Weena is from Bangkok. She's about 11 now. I first met her scouring a rubbish dump for food. She lived on the rubbish dump with her mother. Now, a few years later, I get reports of her at school and how she's going. People wonder about this. They suspect the money doesn't get through. Well it does.

"Blastone is four and I met him in Malawi. We ran into him when we were filming in a village. He had holes all over his clothes, sores on his feet and a great big smile on his face. He ran around hitting us all with a gourd. I offered to sponsor him on the spot. I get reports every couple of months.''

Gibney has just returned from New Zealand, where she was filming a series of commercials for a beer called DB Draught. The commercials take the form of a soap opera, in which she plays the barmaid at the Stony Creek Hotel.

"I try to maintain a relationship with New Zealand. I really love New Zealand. I think it's a wonderful place where people are more laid-back, softer. I feel very comfortable there and it's a big part of me. But I don't know if I could live there now.''

Gibney is the youngest of six children. She remembers seeing `Star Wars' every day for about two weeks when it came out 20 years ago. ``I never imagined I'd be up on the screen myself.''

Her eyes were sparkling as she recounted her childhood, despite the fact that there was a heavy cloud to those years. Her father, Austin, was an violent alcoholic. He's now dead. Her mother, Shirley, was often beaten up. Rebecca is very close to her mother.

"Yeah, my father was a drunk. I don't have huge memories of what it was like. There was yelling and banging. Sometimes my mother had bruises. She can't see `Once Were Warriors' because she says it's too close to what happened.

"It was very sad. He had a stroke and that left him partially paralysed. For the last months of his life I looked after him. I got to know him then, and I found a different man.

"He died of polycythaemia, blood clotting caused by an excess of alcohol and cigarettes. He knew he was going to die. He was 51. It was 14 years ago on Anzac Day.''

"Were you with him?''

"I was at my boyfriend's house when he died. His body was still in the house when I went home. I didn't want to see it.''

"Do you remember the conversations of those last months?''

"I do remember that he told me he loved me. I don't remember that he had ever told me that before.''

"Is your mother still scarred by those years?''

"I think so, but she hides it incredibly well. Her pain goes beyond my father to her own father. But when you meet her you can only think what a wonderful, kind, caring woman.''

Rebecca hooted with laughter when I, anxious of brow, inquired if this experience had affected her attitude to alcohol.

"Unfortunately, I love it! Oh look, I do tend to know when I've had enough. I stop. I don't think I've ever been a violent drunk or anything like it. I really enjoy a glass of red wine, but I don't have a problem.''

It's a busy time for Rebecca Gibney now. She has the part of Heather in `Kangaroo Palace' which has meant she has to wear two hats, actor and producer, often at the same time. And she has just returned from the United States where she did a series of interviews for the Eric Bana show. With the show being put on hold, she has no idea of whether they will ever be seen.

Among those she interviewed were Mark Hamill (from `Star Wars'), and Deborah Harry, from Blondie, who is now 51.

"She told me an incredible story. Years ago she was hitch-hiking and she got a ride with Ted Bundy. You know, the serial killer? She told me that when she got in the car she felt weird and cold. Then she noticed there were no door handles on the inside. But she managed to jump out by putting her hand out the window and opening the door on the outside.

"I also interviewed Denis Rodman, the Chicago Bulls basketball player. He was obnoxious. He was three hours late for the interview, and then all I got was 10 minutes of grunts and groans.''

"Let's talk about the happy times,'' I said. ``What springs to mind?''

"Always coming second to Tessa Coombes in running races. I remember Dad coming home with huge watermelons, and we'd all spit the pips onto newspapers. There was always a lot of noise.''

"And the worst times for you?''

"I tend not to dwell on them. Separating. My brother's brain tumors ...''

"What?''

"Oh yes, my brother, Patrick Sean Gibney. He had two brain tumors years ago. The possibilities were paralysis or becoming a vegetable. But in the end he lost the hearing in one ear and he's all right. He was a committed Christian, which probably affected me. They said that he was a medical miracle. He believes he is a spiritual miracle. He puts it all down to God.''

"What other happy times?''

"I WAS going to say my wedding day, but let's get away from that. Oh blimey, I don't know. Seeing a finished product is always a happy time for me. And also the AFI award I got for `Come In Spinner'. That was a really happy time. I found myself being interviewed by Steve Vizard, with Peter Weir on one side and George Miller on the other. And I thought, I've died and I'm in heaven.''

"At this stage, do you feel there are unfinished things you have to attend to?''

"No, I just keep going. I'm very much a one-day-at-a-time person. I think that my ability to adapt to different situations is one reason I might have survived. I'll give anything a go once. But I really want to settle down with someone eventually and have a family. But then there are so many other things. I want to go bungee jumping, I want to jump out of a plane. I want to go to Morocco. I really want to go to Morocco. I'll tell you one thing. One of my goals is to play women in their 30s and 40s and beyond who are still attractive and sexual. I'd really like to break through that barrier.''

"With someone like you,'' I said, "everyone assumes you want to end up in Hollywood, so I may as well ask it too.''

"Yes. Well, I couldn't afford the cosmetic surgery. I went to Los Angeles recently and I just found it was not a very nice place to live. Why on earth would I want to go anywhere else but right here? We've only just started.''

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