Sunday May 27, 2007 -
Reporter: Tara Brown -
Producer: Stephen Taylor
They were ignored, largely forgotten. In all the hand-wringing, all the furore about David Hicks, how often did you hear about his family. About Bonnie and Terry, the little kids he left behind.
Jodie Sparrow and her children with David Hicks, Bonnie and Terry
It must have been hard enough accepting they'd been abandoned. But then came the knock-out blow, their dad was a public enemy. To many, a dangerous terrorist.
God knows what it was like at school with all that going on. And now, there's yet another upheaval. Hicks has been back in contact, writing to Bonnie and Terry asking for a second chance.
The surprising thing is, they and their mother Jodie, might just let him have it.
TARA BROWN: It's hard to imagine anyone would be desperate to get into this cold, hard place, Adelaide's Yatala jail. But, as we all know, last Sunday, David Hicks willingly moved into 'G' Division, maximum security, alongside South Australia's worst of the worst.
JODIE SPARROW: Your dad's on the opposite side of that building right there.
TERRY SPARROW: How do you know?
JODIE SPARROW: Because that's what I've been told. He's on the opposite side of that building.
TARA BROWN: Long before he took up arms with the Taliban and al-Qaeda, David Hicks was a dad.
JODIE SPARROW: He's closer to you now, that's all. I've got butterflies for yous.
TARA BROWN: With their mum, Jodie Sparrow, this is as close as 12-year-old Terry and 13-year-old Bonnie have come to their father in the past 10 years. Did he tell the kids that he wouldn't be back?
JODIE SPARROW: No, I remember the day he was supposed to come get them. They were all ready. They had their little bags on their backs, waiting for him, and he just didn't turn up.
TARA BROWN: It's a heart-breaking image to think of little kids with backpacks waiting for Dad to show up. And then he then he never does. I mean, that's as a mum, does that break your heart?
JODIE SPARROW: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It gets you angry.
NEWS REPORT: Good evening. He was locked up for five years in Guantanamo Bay, much of that time in solitary confinement. Tonight, David Hicks is back in Australia.
TARA BROWN: It's been an emotional and confronting week for this family.
JODIE SPARROW: Can you see him, kids?
TERRY SPARROW: Yes. He's still got those things on his legs though.
JODIE SPARROW: No, he's walking free, look. He hasn't got shackles on.
TARA BROWN: See it through their eyes, no matter his crimes nor how long he's been away, this detainee will always be their dad. And what was it like seeing him on the tarmac there, Bonnie?
BONNIE SPARROW: Surprising that he's back. I didn't think he'd come back for like a few more years.
TARA BROWN: Do you think he should be in jail?
BONNIE SPARROW: Nuh, he's been in jail for long enough, I reckon.
TARA BROWN: Terry was just a toddler when David Hicks left. He's grown into a quiet boy with his father's looks. Footy is his passion but too much of the time he practises on his own. These are the moments when dads come in handy. What is it like not to have a dad around?
TERRY SPARROW: Not fun, because Mum never plays or fights with me.
TARA BROWN: Is she any good at football?
TERRY SPARROW: No.
TARA BROWN: So, how are you coping then with all the fuss about this bloke David Hicks who does happen to be your father?
BONNIE SPARROW: Oh, I'm coping.
TARA BROWN: Are you?
BONNIE SPARROW: Hasn't affected me really, nah.
TARA BROWN: Bonnie is a stunning girl, but she's also a very troubled teenager and is reluctant to open up. Do you consider David Hicks to be your dad?
BONNIE SPARROW: No, I call him David.
JODIE SPARROW: She's been acting up more since all the publicity with him being caught.
TARA BROWN: And she says she doesn't care.
JODIE SPARROW: Yeah, she says that, but you know, like, she does. I know she does. She's just not going to tell anybody how she feels.
TARA BROWN: And how much of that is about being a 13-year-old and how much of it is about being abandoned by her dad?
JODIE SPARROW: I think it's a lot about her dad. I mean, I love her so much but she's really yeah, she makes parenting really hard, really hard.
TARA BROWN: Jodie Sparrow and David Hicks became parents very young in life. She was 20. He was 17. And it's clear she still has a soft spot for him.
JODIE SPARROW: He's got a heart of gold. He'll do anything for anybody.
TARA BROWN: They'd met at a local rodeo where he was competing. But, four years on, they'd drifted apart and Jodie ended it. For a while, David had access visits to the kids but they stopped suddenly and so did any financial support.
JODIE SPARROW: And he just said his life wasn't suitable for children, and that was it.
TARA BROWN: And did he explain to you in any way what his life was?
JODIE SPARROW: No, he wouldn't tell me anything. He just said, 'It's not suitable' and 'You wouldn't understand' and all that sort of stuff. So, maybe that's when he decided when he converted to that, um, religion.
TARA BROWN: To Islam?
JODIE SPARROW: Yeah, yeah, that's it, yeah.
TARA BROWN: In 1999, Hicks trained with the Kosovo Liberation Army but peace broke out before he made it to the front line. He came home, converted to Islam, and then headed to Pakistan to fight in the war in Kashmir. He crossed the border into Afghanistan, signed up with the Taliban, trained with al-Qaeda, and met with Osama bin Laden.
Back home in South Australia, Jodie and the kids just thought he was a deadbeat dad. When did you first learn he was in trouble?
JODIE SPARROW: Um, well, I'd heard a rumour that he was fighting for this Taliban, but you don't always believe, like, common gossip.
TARA BROWN: Did you know what that meant?
JODIE SPARROW: No, I had no idea who, what they were, or anything, and then, like, the way I sort of got explained it, is like he was, a um, soldier on the back of a camel. And then we're sitting there and, like, they said they'd captured an Australian and that and, um, yeah, I thought, 'No, no it can't be', and then ASIO had come over and, yeah, opened up the folder and there was a mug shot. I just couldn't believe it.
TARA BROWN: What did ASIO tell you about what he'd been doing?
JODIE SPARROW: They didn't. They just said he was training under, um, that al-Qaeda.
TARA BROWN: al-Qaeda.
JODIE SPARROW: Al-Qaeda, yeah I can never pronounce it.
TARA BROWN: al-Qaeda.
JODIE SPARROW: Yeah, they just said he was training under that. That's all they said really.
TARA BROWN: He has said that he has met Osama bin Laden, that he trained with him, that he worked for him. To know that he is that closely linked to al-Qaeda ...
JODIE SPARROW: Yeah, it's a bit surprising, especially to actually speak to that man and be that close to him.
TARA BROWN: And to support him.
JODIE SPARROW: Yeah, yeah, and to support him too, yeah. I don't know. I honestly don't know what was going through his head.
TARA BROWN: David Hicks was one of the first terror suspects imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay. It's taken a controversial five years to convict him of providing material support for terrorism.
JODIE SPARROW: I'd say that he, he's a follower. They would have seen a vulnerable person, I think, from the whole beginning. My belief is that he's been brainwashed. That's what I think. I think that he's gone to them because he's craved for this family environment.
TARA BROWN: It's fine to say he craved a family. He had a family back here, in Australia.
JODIE SPARROW: But, yeah.
TARA BROWN: He had two beautiful kids.
JODIE SPARROW: No, I mean, yeah you know yeah, it's weird, it's …
TARA BROWN: And he didn't go off and join the peace corps or the UN.
JODIE SPARROW: That would have been a lot better.
TARA BROWN: You know he armed himself ... J
JODIE SPARROW: Yeah.
TARA BROWN: … and he trained with the enemy. He trained with terrorists.
JODIE SPARROW: Yeah, yeah.
TARA BROWN: This is not a peace-loving, family-craving man?
JODIE SPARROW: No, it's not really, when you point it out like that. I don't know what to say, really. I don't know why he done it. I don't know why he stopped seeing his children.
TARA BROWN: There are many Australians who are very angry with what he's done.
BONNIE SPARROW: Yeah.
TARA BROWN: Should Australia be angry?
BONNIE SPARROW: Yeah.
TARA BROWN: Why is that?
BONNIE SPARROW: Because he fought against us and decided to go with the Taliban people.
TARA BROWN: But do you think your father is a terrorist?
BONNIE SPARROW: Nuh, well, no, not really.
TARA BROWN: If I was to say to you, 'What is a terrorist?
TERRY SPARROW: Oh, they're people with tea towels on their head, they kill people, they're suicide bombers. That's all I know.
TARA BROWN: Do you think your dad's a terrorist?
TERRY SPARROW: I got told that he went and trained with the terrorists.
TARA BROWN: Well do you think it's a good thing or a bad thing?
TERRY SPARROW: Bad.
TARA BROWN: And what do you think about your dad doing a bad thing?
TERRY SPARROW: Disappointed.
TARA BROWN: Disappointed. It must be confusing because you obviously love him, don't you, because he's your dad?
TERRY SPARROW: Yeah. 'Dear Son, how are you, Terry? I am very proud to see that you are boxing. I saw you with your gloves on'.
BONNIE SPARROW: 'Hello, my little daughter. Thank you for your letter. You looked very pretty and I liked your hair'.
TARA BROWN: While David Hicks is a stranger to his children, over the last couple of years they've been getting to know him through his letters.
JODIE SPARROW: 'Thank you for doing a great job of bringing them up. You've always been an excellent mother. As soon as I finish writing this I'm going to write to the children. It's going to be the hardest thing I've ever had to do all my life'.
BONNIE SPARROW: 'I miss you, Bonnie, and I think about you all the time. I can't wait to hold you in my arms and give you a big hug and kiss'.
TERRY SPARROW: 'We will be just like best friends'.
BONNIE SPARROW: 'Be a good girl for your mother. I love you so much. Bye, bye. Love, Dad'.
TARA BROWN: David Hicks is no ordinary dad.
JODIE SPARROW: No, that's what I try and say to the kids. 'You're gonna hear a lot of things and people are going to say things. Just hold your head high, just walk away and just ignore what they say because you know differently. You know. You read the letters from your dad, you know he's not this monster that everyone thinks he is', so, you know …
TARA BROWN: Are you sure that he's not that monster?
JODIE SPARROW: Yeah, I reckon I can't see him being like that, not at all. Hi, my name is Jodie Sparrow. I'm just ringing up regarding visits and phone calls with David Hicks.
TARA BROWN: Contrary to reports that she doesn't want to have anything to do with him, Jodie plans to visit Hicks in jail as soon as she's allowed, and eventually she wants to take the kids with her. And how is he? Do you know if he's doing all right? Yep, oh, that's good.
TARA BROWN: But there will be conditions.
JODIE SPARROW: I don't want to take the kids in there if he's all mucked up in the head and I don't want the kids going in there if he's still got the slightest belief in what he was involved in.
TARA BROWN: Okay, where do you reckon we go, frog hunter? David Hicks has seven more months in jail a long time for a son to plan their time together. In his letters, Hicks has said he wants to do exactly this with Terry. For Terry's sake, you hope he means it. Do you believe that if you walk out on your kids and you don't talk to them for 10 years that you have a right to come back?
JODIE SPARROW: You don't have a right. I don't think you have a right because you didn't you never bothered with them. I mean, he has since he's been caught.
TARA BROWN: And if he wasn't caught do you reckon …
JODIE SPARROW: It does make me wonder, yeah, that does make me wonder and the kids have asked me that if he wasn't caught would he be writing to us now, would we hear from him. My answer is probably not, I don't think so.
TARA BROWN: Do you think he owes you and the kids an apology?
JODIE SPARROW: The kids deserve an apology.
TARA BROWN: As a baby, Bonnie was Daddy's princess. Today, Bonnie's in two minds about seeing him. So have you forgiven him yet for leaving?
BONNIE SPARROW: Nah.
TARA BROWN: Will you ever forgive him?
BONNIE SPARROW: If I get to know him and trust him more, then maybe.
TARA BROWN: And what does he have to do to earn your trust again?
BONNIE SPARROW: Prove to me and my brother that he cares about us and that he's going to, you know ...
JODIE SPARROW: I think she wants to see him but I think she's so scared of getting hurt again, 'Daddy walking out and never seeing me again'. I think that's her biggest fear. Have you worked out yet what you want to do when you leave school?
TERRY SPARROW: I want to be a doctor.
TARA BROWN: At school, Terry's been tormented by some of the other kids about his father. Rather than being ashamed of Hicks, Terry has defended him, using his fists and ending up with a suspension. Can anything he does in the future or, or his past will that make you stop loving him?
TERRY SPARROW: If he walks out again, then yeah.
TARA BROWN: If he walks out on you again?
TERRY SPARROW: Yes.
TARA BROWN: So, he gets one more chance?
TERRY SPARROW: Yes.
TARA BROWN: For these kids, the issue is bigger than terrorism, and it's much more personal. The plain fact is David Hicks doesn't have much to boast about except, perhaps, Bonnie and Terry and their willingness to give him another go. For these two, and their mother, his greatest crime would be letting them down again. What about your hopes for him and for you and being a family one day again. Could that ever happen?
JODIE SPARROW: No, I don't think so. I just want my kids to have the opportunity. It's all about them, it's all about them, and I'm glad he's back here and I'm glad he's out of that place.
TARA BROWN: Most Australians see David Hicks as a terrorist.
JODIE SPARROW: Mmm.
TARA BROWN: In your eyes, who is David Hicks?
JODIE SPARROW: He's, um, the father of my kids and, yeah, I just really can't see him as a terrorist. I'm sorry, but I just can't. I can't see him meaning to hurt anybody, you know, not the Dave I knew, anyway.
TARA BROWN: Today for the first time, Jodie got to visit the man she hasn't seen in 10 years. So, is he the Dave you remember?
JODIE SPARROW: Yeah, he is, actually. It was fine, he seems pretty normal.
TARA BROWN: And does it feel like 10 years since you've last seen him?
JODIE SPARROW: Yeah, yeah, we've both aged a bit, even he said that, yeah. So, yeah.
TARA BROWN: What message did you take in there from Terry and Bonnie?
JODIE SPARROW: They said they love him and they miss him and they're looking forward to seeing him.
TARA BROWN: And how did he react to that?
JODIE SPARROW: Emotional, yeah. I think he was really excited and emotional knowing that his kids are gonna be there to support him.
David Hicks Case Information