Aussie rock legend Peter Garrett has opened up about an unthinkable family tragedy in the latest episode of Anh’s Brush With Fame.
Having lost his father to an asthma attack when he was still at school, Peter then lost his mother in horrific circumstances in April 1977.
At the time, Peter was a 23-year-old university student and lead singer in a fledgling band that would eventually become one of Australia’s biggest music acts, Midnight Oil.
Peter was sleeping downstairs in the family’s home in Sydney’s north shore when a fire broke out at 2.30am. He fled the house – then realised his mother, Betty, was still trapped upstairs inside.
“I realise what’s gone on, I try and get back in the house to go up the stairs … it’s all alight, and I can’t …” Garrett, 68, explained to host Anh Doh, the memory clearly still raw almost 45 years on.
“Something like that has a big impact on you. The fact I couldn’t rescue my mum, and get her out of a burning house, stayed with me, and is still with me. That’s quite a difficult thing, even though I know rationally that I wasn’t able to (save her). I was certainly comforted by the police and fire people about that,” he said.
In a 2004 Sydney Morning Herald article looking back at the terrible night, a neighbour recalled seeing Peter “in the middle of the road, shouting and screaming ‘My mother‘s in there’ through the pain of burns to his own face and hands.”
Peter told Anh Do the events of the night had affected him to this day.
“There’s the trauma of it, and then there’s how you cope with it. That’s been something that’s been ongoing. Even though it meant more than anything imaginable could to me and my brothers, and it affected me in very deep ways, it hasn’t defined me, and I don’t think my mum would’ve wanted it to,” he explained.
“It was a case of, OK, this has happened. It’s difficult and hard. How can you then go on and live your life fully, to honour her life as a son?’
Incredibly, he was back on stage performing the night after her death. He said that at the time he looked at it as a test, ensuring his life could carry on.
“I felt at the time that if I could do that, I wasn’t going to be marked and beaten down by the loss of someone I probably loved more than anyone else at that time.”
He said the early death of both his parents had informed his career as a musician, environmentalist and politician. He’s not driven by ambition, he insisted, but rather “by the knowledge that someone can be here one day, and the next they’re not.”
Anh’s Brush with Fame airs 8pm Tuesdays on ABC.
Originally published as Aussie rock legend’s unthinkable tragedy