Peter Garrett by Daniel Linnet Issue 4

Celebrity Camper: Peter Garrett

Hitting the road again

Peter Garrett is looking forward to spending more time in the bush now life as a Federal MP has come to an end.

Whatever you might have thought of his time in Canberra, there’s no denying this giant man has left his mark on the country over decades in public life including his time as a celebrated musician and environmental activist.

Tucked away in his former electorate office, Peter always kept a swag ready to go camping under the stars when the opportunity arose. In fact he’s had one at the ready since his early days touring with Midnight Oil.

Now he’s dusted it off and ready to take some time out. His post-politics bucket list includes the goal of swimming in every one of the world’s oceans.

Did you go camping when you were young?

I love being outside and camping, especially in remote Australia, is one of my great joys.

In my early years, I lived on Sydney’s North Shore and began camping with the local cubs and boy scouts. We used to go to Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park – Coal and Candle Creek was a favourite camping site. We carried old heavy canvas tents to and from our camp sites.

These early camping experiences taught me the basics about site preparation, fire safety and how important it is to choose your gear carefully.

During Midnight Oil’s Blackfella/Whitefella outback tour in the mid-1980s, we travelled by road from Mutitjulu near Uluru to Docker River, Warakurna, Kintore, Papunya and Yuendumu. The road trip continued in the north of the NT, and we drove and camped at lots of places including Maningrida, Yirrkala and Wadeye.

This outback tour had a strong influence on the band and its music and strengthened my deep appreciation of remote Australia.

My first swag was knocked up by a Chinese man who toured with the band in the 80’s as a roustabout. I used that swag for a few years until it wore out. Even as a Federal Minister on occasions I would hive off into the bush and sleep in the swag instead of staying in a hotel -much to the consternation of my advisors.

Where do you go camping today?

I retain a yearning to spend time in the Australian outback and go there as often as possible.

Nowadays, I like to go camping with a group of close friends. We usually swag it and cook on a camp oven, with Jack Absalom’s cook book in hand – and I like to have a decent map of the stars handy in the glove box.

My favourite camping destination is anywhere alongside the Great Sandy Desert in the north of Western Australia. The Laramine trail and the Western McDonald ranges are also among my favourite outback destinations. Just incredible. I love stargazing and watching out for supernovas. I wish I could lie out and do that all the time.

I try to keep my eyes open as long as I can when I’d go to sleep because your
eyes adjust to the light you see more of the stars

How important do you think ecotourism is to conservation.

I think ecotourism is going to be increasingly important in both understanding how to live in a way which doesn’t damage the environment and also in expanding people’s interaction with our natural areas and it’s also an area of tourism that is very attractive to young people and also people who don’t necessarily want a high-end short term tourism experience. They want something a little more like ‘slow food’ like ‘slow tourism’. It’s actually pretty enjoyable to go at that pace.

The final thing is that Australia has such extraordinarily diverse and unique natural landscapes and so there are huge opportunities. Local communities in these areas can build sustainable economies on the back of hosting people in environments that require a high degree of ecological awareness and sensitivity, but that’s a good thing. I think many people who visit Australia would like the opportunity to be in those sorts of places, whether it’s kayaking on the Myall Lakes, up in Kuranda rainforest or skirting around the bottom of the Simpson and a whole heap of other places I can think of from the top of my head. The opportunities are there. I think that it’s really essential for people to recognise that Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people who are living on ‘country’ are bringing a heavy weight of disadvantage with them and that travelling through ‘peoples’ country talking with them and having a good experience needs to be done with a high awareness of the cultural connections that people have to the land. I’ve had some tremendous cultural experiences through programs and projects that local people have running. It’s brilliant.