Midnight Oil

[Powderworks] More on PG

Ross Locket rosslocket at optusnet.com.au
Fri Jun 11 20:38:19 MDT 2004

The personal price of a political choice
June 12, 2004

Labor's star recruit accepts he may have to sacrifice the long-cherished
privacy of his family life.

Peter Garrett is elusive for someone who has spent most of his life on
stage, on TV and blaring from radios and sound systems. Garrett the man has
let his music do the talking.

Not for him the soul-searching interviews about his beliefs, the spreads in
women's magazines, complete with family photographs, or soft-focus
television interviews in the garden of the Mittagong home where he lives
with his wife, Doris, and teenage daughters Emily, May and Grace.

Garrett has always been fiercely protective of his family, partly because of
an inherent suspicion of the media. But Labor's latest recruit accepts the
inevitability of greater scrutiny of his private life as he pursues the
federal seat of Kingsford Smith: "It's just one of those less-pleasant
aspects of public life that stuff is going to get thrown at you that either
isn't true or relates to a period in your far distant past [and] bears no
resemblance to what you're doing now, or is exaggerated out of all

Garrett admits he has not lived "a flawless life". But two things make it
unlikely that there'll be any very frightening skeletons in the Garrett

First, he is a Christian, although not, as he puts it, "a brand attender" of
any particular faith. "It remains personal for me [in terms of] how it's
practised and what it constitutes. I was raised, I guess, generally
Protestant, and branched out through Uniting and ended up at home."

Second, although Garrett's adult life has largely been lived in and around a
rock band, his 1980s involvement with the Nuclear Disarmament Party meant he
had to be, as he puts it, "accountable and aware and observe the laws of the

Garrett's childhood was spent in Wahroonga, the oldest of three boys who all
attended Barker College. His father died while he was still at school,
leaving a teenage Peter to step into that role.

"The clearest recollection is reserved for the intensely savoured occasional
holidays spent mostly at the beach, where the whole family would gather
under a blue beach umbrella, swim all day and play games through the night,"
Garrett recalled in a 1997 book, Fathers in Writing.

"There were sport-filled weekends when my dad would sometimes coach the
soccer team. But mostly he wasn't around that much. Maybe his life was
typical for its time. You didn't see many other dads when you were a kid in
the suburbs.

"After he died, I saw that my father pretty much worked himself into the
grave, as they say, by sacrificing himself to his children, or at least to
his assumption of what was good for them. The school that he could not
attend, the holidays that he did not have, the life that he, as a war orphan
who left school at 15, would have liked to have lived. Instead, he and my
mother tried to fulfil this unrealised ideal for their children."

Garrett wrote of the "unspectacular dignity in a life lived in this way",
and could see many fathers continuing that pattern.

"Yet for me, and I suspect for many others whose fathers approached their
lives in this manner, there is a sense of melancholy that father and son did
not do more together, did not talk more, a sadness that I hardly ever knew
what my father was thinking."

Garrett's mother also died when he was relatively young; he was studying at
university when she died in a fire at the family home.

His own family now forms the centre of his life and he remains very close to
his two brothers. With Garrett's three girls reaching young adulthood, his
wife, Doris, who emigrated to Australia from Germany, has returned to work
as a psychotherapist. The Garretts have been caring, involved and strict
parents, setting curfews and filling the girls' hours with music lessons.

The move from Sydney to Mittagong was partly because of Garrett's
environmental beliefs; he wanted to get away from the pollution of the city
and he did not want his children to grow up thinking nature was something
you visited in a national park at the weekend.

For now, his family remain off limits to the media. Garrett maintains that
people are more "interested in what you're willing to do, what you have
stood up for consistently over time, even when people are trying to blow you
over, whether you're fair dinkum or not".

Whatever comes up in his more public role, Garrett says: "I think I've just
got to be truthful."