Peter Greste wants to enjoy beach, sunsets, stars

He’s the foreign correspondent who became the centre of an international story, but after 400 days in an Egyptian prison Peter Greste has a newfound appreciation for the simple things in life.

Flanked by his parents and two brothers in Brisbane on Thursday morning, just 10 hours after arriving in his home state, Mr Greste, a journalist for Middle Eastern broadcaster Al Jazeera, said, his mind always wandered to the same place while locked up in the Cairo jail.

“You always have your dark days and I often closed my eyes and just let my mind drift to where it wanted to go and almost invariably it went to the beach, to the coast, to the sea in some form,” he said.

“Me and Andrew, Mike and my sisters-in-law, we all went sailing in the Whitsundays in 2013 and I always went back to those days on the boat wandering along the beach, beach-combing, swimming and so on, so to stand there and feel it between your toes was awesome.

“To me, the thing about this is you realise how important those little things are.

“I didn’t see a whole lot of sunsets in the last 400 or 500 days or so. I haven’t seen the stars a lot.

Al-Jazeera journalist Peter Greste punches the air upon his arrival at Brisbane's international airport.Al-Jazeera journalist Peter Greste punches the air upon his arrival at Brisbane’s international airport. Photo: Patrick Hamilton/AFP

“I’m really keen to get out there and enjoy those little things. Those are the bits and pieces that really make life worthwhile.”

It was a beaming Mr Greste who fronted media in Brisbane, a stark contrast to the image of the solemn prisoner clad in a white, jail-issue uniform, caged in an Egyptian courtroom the world has become so familiar with.

Despite the smiles, his release remains a bittersweet affair, with his Al Jazeera colleagues Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed still incarcerated.

Al-Jazeera journalist Peter Greste speaks to the media with his parents Lois and Juris.Al-Jazeera journalist Peter Greste speaks to the media with his parents Lois and Juris. Photo: Patrick Hamilton

Mr Greste said he would continue to aid the diplomatic fight to have them released, saying the trio were like brothers after their ordeal.

“You can imagine, after 400 days in prison with these guys, we’re very close and it was very difficult to leave them behind,” he said.

“But I’m grateful to be out, I trust that they will follow in due course.

“It’s going to take time. It’s going to take some further efforts but we’ll see them out and when we do I’m going to have a party with them very, very hard indeed.”

Mr Greste described the day last year the trio were sentenced to lengthy jail sentences as the toughest, saying they all expected the trial judge to release them.

“That was the toughest day of the whole experience. I don’t think anyone, certainly none of us, expected it,” he said.

“We all thought that that would be the end of the process.

“Clearly the judges thought very differently.

“That obviously caught us very much by surprise. But then, as now, we were confident of our position, of our innocence, and we were confident that the process, if it was followed through to its logical conclusion, could only see us freed.”

Mr Greste was on temporary assignment in Egypt in December 2013 when he and his colleagues were arrested.

They were sentenced on charges of aiding the blacklisted Muslim brotherhood, after a trial widely regarded as farcical.

An enormous groundswell of support among the international media followed, with the phrase “journalism is not a crime” becoming the slogan used to lobby for his release.

Mr Greste said he was unaware of the extent of the campaign have him released, and said he completely underestimated it.

“These guys kept telling me, ‘you don’t understand. You just don’t get it. You can’t possibly conceive of it,’ and I realised that I had no idea when I was expecting maybe a dozen cameras last night,” he laughed.

“Clearly I got that wrong.”