Barry Bethune: The worry and pride of having an eco-warrior for a twin

It’s not always easy being Pete Bethune’s brother.

Not for the first time, Invercargill man Barry Bethune has been worried about his swashbuckling, controversial, eco-warrior sibling.

And, simultaneously, proud of him, defensive of him, entertained by him, and looking forward to giving him the sort of hard time that only a twin can.

Pete has hit the headlines once again, this time for being snake-bit while making his way through a Costa Rican jungle in search of wildlife poachers and illegal miners.

Meanwhile, Barry’s been on holiday up Nelson way, and trying not to think too hard about his brother’s groin.

“Yes, I was quite worried’’ he says. “Yesterday I was out diving and found it quite hard to concentrate . . .’’

Turns out it’s not all that easy to push to the back of your mind a message that the poison from your brother’s alarmingly swollen leg has been spreading in unwelcome directions.

Mercifully, a more recent update was more reassuring, the poison had stopped progressing further.

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* National Portrait: Pete Bethune’s long road from oil explorer to enviro campaigner
* ‘I thought I was going to die’: Eco-warrior Pete Bethune knifed in Brazil

In a Day 4 Facebook post from his hospital bed, Pete’s latest report is a cheerful assurance that the swelling in his leg has gone down, the pain has lessened.

Slightly less reassuringly he acknowledges changes to the size, colour and texture of his testicles, which he says have his doctors perplexed.


Brothers in arms. Pete Bethune, left, and his twin Barry during a 2013 get-together.

Pete’s not entirely uninterested in the prognosis himself. (Going back to that intro, fair to say it’s not always easy being Pete Bethune either.)

Back in NZ, Barry’s used to having various shades of concern about Pete’s exploits.

The brothers were born 10 minutes apart (Pete being the pushy one) in Hamilton in 1965.

Barry took up the farming life in Southland while Pete, who was a well-qualified science, engineering and business administration graduate, found his own vocation only after launching a career in oil exploration, before determining that the future lay in biofuels.

Typically, he didn’t content himself with writing 20,000 word academic papers on the subject. He also, as a publicity stunt, underwent liposuction and then, in his kitchen, turned some of his own extracted back-fat into fuel.

Christel Yardley/Stuff

Pete Bethune.

But Barry knows his brother puts his body on the line in ways more alarming than that.

The deadly fer-de-lance snake that has laid Pete Bethune up with a swollen leg hasn’t necessarily been his most venomous assailant. In his time he’s also been stabbed in Brazil with a large and – he couldn’t help but notice – rusty knife. He’s been shot at in Central America, water-cannoned, and famously imprisoned.

Captain Pete Bethune was a central figure in the massively controversial conflicts between the Sea Shepherd group and Japanese whaling vessels in the Southern Ocean. In early 2010 he was the skipper of the biofuelled trimaran Ady Gil, which sank after a collision with the whaling fleet security ship Shonan Maru II.

He later climbed aboard that ship’s anti-boarding spikes, cut through protective netting, and tried to conduct a citizen’s arrest on her captain. Detained and arrested, he was indicted in Japan, sent four very solitary months in a Tokyo jail and received a two-year suspended sentence.

All of which has gained him a host of admirers – and detractors, some of whom clearly abide in New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industry where he was sneeringly described in leaked emails as a clown, a lost cause, Captain Buffoon and mad as a box of frogs.

Here’s where Barry would like a word.

“When I see keyboard warriors making negative comments about whatever he’s doing, I want to ask them – what have you ever done? Have you ever stood up for something you believe in?’’

Public record shows Pete Bethune has severed ties with Sea Shepherd, critical of the honesty of senior members.

Barry accepts that in the past Pete may have made a couple of comments people might have taken as big-headed, and that some of his methodology may have been “um…sort of dodgy’’ when judged on the basis of strict legalities. But he upholds his brother’s integrity as well as his passion.

“He’s just driven. Whatever he’s involved with, he does it 100 per cent. He’s not afraid – he’ll always lead from the front.’’

Pete was now working closely with them governments of South American and island nations, helping train official personnel to protect resources and the environment from illegal exploitation.

“A lot of these countries they don’t have a lot of money to put into that sort of stuff,’’ says Barry. ‘’He’s helped them for nothing.’’

Pete Bethune has led a team on missions covered by a television show, The Operatives, and his work has led to prosecutions and imprisonments.

His once considerable personal wealth has gone to investment in ecological causes, to the extent that Barry says his brother doesn’t have a car and when he heads down the South Island its by hitchhiking..

Meanwhile, Barry tries not to worry about Pete, or dwell on criticisms. He also draws encouragement from the increasing number of people alert to ecological imperatives that compel his brother and will affect all of us.

A man doesn’t want to be too gushy about his brother. But still . . . .

“Good on him, for standing up for what he believes in.’’

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