20 Jul 2016

The Good Oil: Bookmarks with Peter Garrett

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 2:18 pm on 20 July 2016

Formerly the lead singer of Midnight Oil and an Australian politician, Peter Garrett is releasing his solo album this month. He talks to Jesse Mulligan about some of his favourite things.

Midnight Oil had a string of hits around the world and was known for its songs protesting the treatment of indigenous Australians and environmental degradation.

Garrett went on to become a Labour MP and cabinet minister in the Australian government.

He's now left politics and, at the age of 66, has his first solo album coming out this month, A Version of Now.

"I never really saw myself as a solo artist," he says.

"And I always saw myself just as a person who's in this band creating music with others. And it wasn't until I sort of stopped and started to put my pen down and got away from the screen when I was doing my memoir that I just found music arrived and I thought well, you've got to honour stuff when it arrives you can't just let it lie there.

"I don't see it as a solo career as such, I just saw it as an unbelievable spontaneous eruption of organic music and I was able to grab it and do something with it when it was there."

Peter Garrett and Jesse Mulligan

Peter Garrett and Jesse Mulligan Photo: RNZ

Today, however, Garrett shares the music, books, films and places that have inspired and influenced him.

Book - Tim Winton's Cloud Street

"I've always liked Winton's writing, he's about my age ... but it's such a rambunctious tale of a family in this big house in an Australia that I still recognise but it's partly an Australia that's slipping away a bit.

"He was criticised a little bit by the sort of literati for being a bit too naturalistic a writer, a bit too obvious a writer and I don't cop that at all, I think it's a very fine book.

"This idea that everything was sort of happening in backyards and families were essentially not able to light out and continue some upward climb of more and more modern houses and flats and on waterfronts or whatever it might be, you know this was how you lived, and granny might be out in the backyard or whatever.

"For me it resonates a little bit more with the way Aboriginals live in Australia nowadays, in modern Australia, because it is all family and it's the many generations of family in one place at the same time, and that's pretty rich.

"Social change and economic change is very rapid in the period that we're living in and in some ways home becomes an anchor."

Book - Charlotte Woods' The Natural Way of Things

"It's a really dark but readable tale, which reflects very much on the underlying attitudes that we have towards women and the role that women play in society still.

"A group of women find themselves transported by an edict of the government or some authority and they're subject to some cruel behaviour in this place ... They're essentially prisoners in some outback location, you're never entirely sure where it is.

"And it's a very deep meditation on things like misogyny and this almost ineradicable hatred that men have towards women that arises in domestic violence and violence towards women generally but it's not preachy at all, it's not a proselytising book.

"I think it's part of a bygone cultural and social era but it's also something deeper at play there and she's had a good go at wrestling with this in this book and yeah, it's a really fine novel."

He said in part he thought Julia Gillard had lost her job because she was a woman.

"I thought it was one of the most unedifying spectacles that we've ever seen where she was subject to a level of criticism and commentary that was based around her being a woman, that a man would not have been subject to - I don't think there's any doubt about it at all."

Podcast - Monika Lewinsky

"I'm not a big TED Talk person, I've seen probably 20 of them or so, but her's really bowled me over.

"It was the scarifying experience that she went through ... in which she ultimately ended up becoming the demonised figure and [Bill] Clinton, despite impeachment and the political imbroglio, ended up being more popular than ever before.

"When you're an elected figure or a public figure and something goes wrong, or you make a mistake, or you get caught up in a scheme - there's a turning of the public response sometimes inflamed by media and other times by people in the online community.

"And that happens on a much smaller scale to kids in schools, they get bullied online ... and of course online bullying is much more predatory and difficult to deal with than physical bullying.

"And I think we've really got to re-encounter, rediscover, renew our understanding of how to engage online and Lewinsky was sort of, almost, you know a pioneer in a way - a terrible experience for her - she was almost the sacrificial lamb of the troll world."

Music - Warumpi Band, My Island Home

"They're the Rolling Stones of the desert, really, the Aboriginal Rolling Stones of the desert.

"Two brothers and another fellow who were living in Pupunya and a school teacher went to teach there and they essentially wrote and recorded the first rock music that an Aboriginal band had recorded.

"When Midnight Oil headed out to tour these desert communities many, many years ago in the '80s - long before we recorded Diesel and Dust - we took them with us, and in some ways they took us with them," he said.

Garrett said he would have loved to get the guitarist Sammy Butcher, who was now the leader of the Pupunya community to play on his solo album, he said.

"But he's a difficult man to track down to be honest."

Music - Cold Chisel, Flametrees

"We're mates, Jimmy and I are mates.

"I think Don Walker is one of our very fine songwriters, he's a great chronicler of culture and character and this particular song is a bit of an anthem in Australia.

"The flame tree is a tree that grows in Australia and flowers at a certain time of the year.

Television - Breaking Bad

"I didn't watch TV literally for 15 years - I watched news and current affairs and maybe a bit of sport but when I came out of the Parliament - Netflix and the whole thing was starting of this renaissance of American drama particularly on television.

"And someone said 'you've got to watch this show, it's about ice and meth' and I though 'oh it sounds terrible'.

"But it's beautifully scripted and incredibly tense."

Movies - Krzysztof Kieślowski's Three Colours: Blue, White and Red trilogy

"It was such an ambitious bit of filmmaking that it's just always stayed with me and I just think to hold together a trilogy in cinematic terms is very hard - it's not an easy set of films to describe on the radio becuase it's pretty slow-moving in parts.

"And it's sort of melancholy in this European moody broodiness that sometimes doesn't translate that well to film, but it's utterly watchable."