HomePeopleThe woman behind the politics

The woman behind the politics

Rebekha's family crossed bridges, closed gaps and started a new life in Australia.

She’s best known for bursting onto the political scene as an underdog who famously ousted the Liberal Party from its blue-ribbon Adelaide Hills stronghold of Mayo in 2016.
But behind her public face, Rebekha Sharkie is the daughter of migrants, who loves nothing more than to cook a Sunday roast for her tight-knit family and spend time in her garden with her great dane Lulu.
Politics was always a “natural, easy subject” for Rebekha in school, as the daughter of a British father and an American mother.
The Sharkie household was, in many ways, a microcosm of the enduring alliance between two democratic societies that represent different approaches to western government – the highly regulated and class-based UK versus the laissez-faire and decentralised US.
Because of these contrasting origins, Rebekha’s parents felt that a family was united when it discussed differing perspectives and sought common ground and respect, no matter the ideological divide.
“You know that saying, ‘we don’t talk about politics at the dinner table’?” Rebekha says.
“Well we did talk about politics at the dinner table.

It’s a life … she owes to her parents – who crossed bridges, closed gaps and started a new life in Australia…

“Even though my parents were never part of any political parties, politics was something they often talked about, so including me in those conversations helped me find my niche.”
Rebekha’s father, George, was a percussionist and session musician who found success in the 1960s and ’70s British music scene, performing with bands like The Who when Keith Moon needed the night off. To her mother, Tina, who came to England with her sisters for boarding school, George was irresistible.
“She saw him play and thought he was this rebellious rock star,” Rebekha says.
George and Tina married before welcoming Rebekha into the world on August 24, 1972, in the seaside town of Torquay, but soon afterwards they left the UK to start a new life.
“They wanted to find somewhere else to create a life for me,” Rebekha says.
“My mother found the class system in England to be very rigid, she found it to be a very ‘proper place’ – she was from Virginia, in the southern half of the US, so she was a very open and hospitable person, whereas English people tend to be more reserved – it was a real culture clash.”
They moved to South Australia, first settling in a house at Hackham.
George worked in a factory for Michelin and then Mitsubishi, did night shifts as a security guard and played in a band on weekends, while Tina worked 12-hour shifts as a nurse.
“When they couldn’t get a babysitter for me when my mother was working nights, I’d go along to dad’s gigs and put three chairs under the table and go to sleep,” Rebekha says.
“It’s given me the ability to fall asleep anywhere … on a plane, in a thunderstorm, music blaring on the same street – I could sleep through an earthquake and probably have.”
Having working class parents who risked everything to start a life for her and her younger sister Jessica – who today performs as a singer-songwriter under the name Jessie Che – Rebekha says she learned the value of hard work and caring about other people, no matter the differences she had with them.
In fact, between her love of books – describing herself as a “book hoarder” – and people, she believes she would’ve become a librarian, teacher or journalist had she not taken on a law and politics-focused career path.
“We have so many talented people, so many artistic, intelligent and skilled people right across Australia … I get such joy from hearing other people’s stories and that has been one of my biggest motivators for the work I do now,” Rebekha says.
But while she has represented the Hills, Fleurieu and KI in Canberra since 2016, she didn’t take the typical road to get there – her origins are working class and nothing was handed to her without being earned.

Rebekha Sharkie in her garden with her great dane Lulu.


Rebekha’s parents worked hard to keep a roof over their heads, with the family moving to Happy Valley when she was 16 and then enduring 17% interest rates, the State Bank’s collapse and all the other economic turmoil engulfing Australia in the ’80s and early ’90s.
She says things rarely went according to plan, but by following her parents’ example, she adapted.
“Even though I got a really good score in high school, I didn’t get to do what I wanted to do at university, so I packed up at the end of January 1991 and drove to Darwin in an old 1969 Capri,” Rebekha says.
“I studied in Darwin and started working in a law firm … but finding a job was really difficult – there was nothing really available and you would have 150–200 people turn up to put in their resumés for every job advertised.
“They were pretty hard times after I left school.”
She took night classes and built up her skillset to get the job, which she says may have also been offered out of “pity” for the fact she was living at “what was called the Transit Centre”.
“It was effectively a shelter,” Rebekha says.
In the harsh, humid heat of Darwin, she learned the ropes of the legal profession, endearing herself to senior colleagues through lively discussions about politics and current affairs, which she says must have “pleasantly surprised” and “impressed” them.
Eventually she moved back to SA, settled in the Adelaide Hills where her parents and sister had also moved and, as is more well known about her these days, worked her way through the political machine – working with different parties until branching out and going her own way – before her election seven years ago.
But while her career remains full-steam-ahead, Rebekha still finds time to enjoy life outside of politics, with gardening among her most beloved home activities.
She describes her garden as “very English country” on one end, with lots of fruit trees on the other.
“I like to have a very productive, but perfumed, garden,” she says.
“My favourite flowers are peonies.”
Cooking is also something she enjoys – and not just because it’s “something you do for the family”.
“I genuinely love cooking,” Rebekha says.
“I like to cook a really broad range of dishes … my mother’s American influence has helped me make, I think, the best peanut butter chocolate chip cookies – I’ve created my own recipe.
“But I’m also really happy to make a Sunday roast.
“I’d happily cook a Sunday lunch from 5am in the morning before getting on a plane later that day to go to work.”
But above all else, Rebekha is happiest spending time with her family – her parents, sister, children, grandson and great dane, Lulu.
It’s a life she’s loved, which she owes to her parents, who crossed bridges, closed gaps and started a new life in Australia, a multicultural nation filled with opportunity.

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