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Australian of the Year 2015, South Australia
Dr Gill Hicks MBE is a peace campaigner whose work concentrates on ending violent extremism and building global sustainable peace.
When a bomb exploded in her carriage between London’s King’s Cross and Russell Square tube stations in July 2005, Dr Gill Hicks’s injuries were so severe that paramedics couldn’t even identify her gender. The last person to be rescued alive from the train, Gill was given a tag describing her as ‘One Unknown – estimated female’. Trapped in the chaos, her legs destroyed, Gill was close to death but made a vow to survive and make a difference. In the nine years since the explosion that resolution has never weakened, and Gill has dedicated her life to working for world peace. The founder of the not-for-profit organisation M.A.D. (Making a Difference) For Peace, Gill’s work concentrates on ending violent extremism and building sustainable peace. She is an inspiring motivational speaker, author, curator and trustee for several cultural organisations. Gill’s memoir, One Unknown, was the catalyst for a powerful play which premiered at the 2013 Adelaide Arts Festival. In January 2013, Gill gave birth to her daughter Amelie, an achievement she calls ‘the second miracle’ of her life.
Black leather briefcase and contents
Gill Hicks was carrying this briefcase when a suicide bomber detonated his device on a London tube train at 8:50 am on Thursday 7 July 2005. There was only one person between Gill and the bomber. Gill’s life, as she then knew it, ended at that moment. The briefcase remained unopened until November 2014, when preparations began for this exhibition.
Nurtured by black coffee, gin and cigars
'I’d left Australia 13 years prior on a quest to find out who I was and what I was made of … I was on a mission. Completely driven to succeed, to be all I could be, measuring my progress by the title on my business cards.
I was Gill Hicks.
I was 5 foot 1 inch. I was never without my briefcase."
'In the moments after the explosion what was on my business cards was irrelevant. I was without an identity. Within an hour, I was found and labelled "Priority One" by the rescuing paramedics. By noon that day, my identity was recorded at the hospital as a rather chilling, "One Unknown, estimated female".'
'Injuries so profuse, including the traumatic amputation of both legs, that I wasn’t expected to live. No one gave up. People had risked their own lives to save mine. It didn’t matter what my name was, nor colour of skin, religion or bank balance – all that mattered was that I was a precious human being.'
Transcript of video
Jeremy Lasek: Gill Hicks from South Australia, our South Australian Australian of the Year. Please welcome Gill. Like all our finalists, Gill has an amazing, remarkable story. Gill was caught up in the 2005 London bombings. She was the last person pulled out alive from that awful scene. Gill, I guess if we reflect on the events of the last 48 to 72 hours here in Australia and obviously overseas more recently, your message for peace is as important now as it’s ever been.
Gill Hicks: Absolutely. For me, there was an absolute vow and recognition that, if I was to survive, then I must devote my life to making a difference. I didn't know what that difference would be so I created an organisation just called ‘MAD’. I thought actually I quite like this because it could be mad crazy; it could be mad angry; but equally it could just be a fantastic acronym for Making a Difference.
As the years unfolded, it became very clear to me that the difference I needed to make was to, I think, be a symbolic idea of a bridge that can go between division in society so that's how I started my journey. Then more recently it's been really looking at extremism within our societies and how to create very particular communication to counter the very destructive narratives that are coming through and that are susceptible to so many of our young people.
Jeremy Lasek: You’ve been pushing out a message about peace. What’s your message today?
Gill Hicks: That peace is a verb. So if we thought about it as something that wasn't just an ideal of something we could all strive for this idea of Utopia but if we thought about peace as a verb and something that we all consciously did, then it changes the whole face immediately.
Jeremy Lasek: You’ve got a remarkable special object. It was with you in London at that time. Tell us about it.
Gill Hicks: This is the third time I’ve seen my object. It's my briefcase I had with me in the carriage at the time of the bombings. I’ve only ever opened it briefly and then closed it back up again. I remember when the forensic team brought it back to me and I said, ‘I don't want it cleaned. I want it preserved so I will never forget that moment.’ For me it's the symbol of the end of life as I knew it, the end of what I call life number one. There are some particular objects in there that I am not proud of, one of which is a cigar case that clearly says ‘smoking kills’ but I am no longer a smoker. It's a great reminder of how I was devoted very much to my career rather than looking at really how I could make a difference as a person. That’s the demarcation line for me of life number one compared to life number two.
Jeremy Lasek: Thank you for providing it. Would you thank Gill Hicks.