EVEN without fame, Peter Robert Garrett was built to stand out from the crowd.
Miles north of six foot tall in the old money, his long face was an unusual slash of masculine angles well before he took the decision to shave clean a naturally blond head.
He did it, as he says in his newly released memoir, Big Blue Sky, because his hair had been getting in the way taking surf photos from the water.
But it was also a sign that the band he was in - a fledgling Midnight Oil - was serious about what it did.
Almost 40 years later, the bald Garrett pate, together with a whip-crack physique leaner than any 62-year-old has the right to own, is an instantly recognisable image.
Its owner has had three separate but overlapping careers - rock singer, activist and federal MP - over five decades.
He says he is yet to decide his next move, but right now he is promoting Big Blue Sky - a galloping run of 440 pages through a life lived very much at full clip.
Having read the book on Tuesday, I spoke with Garrett by telephone for 20 minutes on Wednesday morning. I also asked Paula Jones, Midnight Oil's long-time Newcastle-based publicist, to pen a few words about the Peter Garrett that she has come to know.
In our interview, Garrett said it was for others to judge his record, but he nominated Labor's education reforms and a successful International Court of Justice case against Japan's "scientific" whaling as the highlights of his parliamentary career.
Despite the great fears he clearly holds for the environment - and for the welfare of Indigenous Australians - Garrett is extremely optimistic about the future for Australia.
"Yes, that's why I called the book Big Blue Sky, and that's what the last epilogue chapter is about," Garrett says.
"[I'm] very optimistic. There is stuff I think we need to get very serious about but the potential for Australia to continue to be a wonderful place to grow up in, work in and live in, and a force for good around the place, I think, is limitless."
That's the now. But let's go back to the start.
Details of Garrett's birth certificate, recounted in the book, show he was born on April 16, 1953, at Wahroonga on Sydney's lower north shore.
He grew up to the sounds of ABC radio - the cricket and Gwen Meredith's long-running serial, Blue Hills - at a time when school kids got a bottle of warm milk each morning at recess.
The eldest of three brothers in a church-going family, he was a boy Scout who went to Barker College - an expensive Sydney private school - gaining a law degree from Canberra's Australian National University after studies there and at the University of NSW in Kensington.
He was at ANU when his father, in declining health, died from an asthma attack.
His mother died a few years later in a house fire when he was "the only other person home". It had a "searing" impact on him.
"Make the most of life, she'd exhort us, and that is what I've tried to do," Garrett writes.
Music was an early passion. His first band, Devil's Breakfast, at ANU, morphed into Rock Island, which eventually "started to plod" before running out of steam altogether.
At 21, Garrett saw a newspaper ad for a band wanting a vocalist.
The band was Farm. A few line-up shuffles and a head shave later and Midnight Oil was born, ready to roar from the very start.
Like other top-notch Australian bands, the Oils had to choose between a successful, but eventually limiting, domestic career, and a shot at the big time, via the United States.
Midnight Oil did draw international attention: their 1990 performance on the back of a truck in Manhattan after the Exxon Valdez grounding, in front of a banner proclaiming "Midnight Oil make you dance, Exxon makes us sick", is a perfect example of rock as agit-prop.
The band also made big inroads in Europe, and for a long time managed to balance its touring and recording needs alongside Garrett's increasingly high-profile status as an environmental and Indigenous issues activist at large.
But their final tour, in 2002, saw the band "returning to venues we'd played 20 years before . . . a reminder of how tricky it can be to keep things fresh when the setting is so familiar". Garrett says the final song of the final show, at Tweed Heads, was Redneck Wonderland, a newer track that left the audience "morose and confused".
Garrett writes that fans always "like your old stuff better than your new stuff". Not for the quality of the songs, but the memories.
"When you are young and chafing at the bit and you fasten on to a song, nothing a band does later will come close," Garrett writes.
"Your memories are vivid and you still want to hear that song years from then, and remember - that's an iron law of getting older."
GARRETT had been a two-time president of the Australian Conservation Foundation and a member of Greenpeace's international board - among many other activist roles - before entering federal parliament in 2004, replacing Laurie Brereton in the southern Sydney seat of Kingsford Smith.
He was Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts in the first Rudd government, and Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth in the Gillard government.
He resigned from the ministry as soon as Kevin Rudd regained the prime ministerial reins from Gillard in June 2013, and did not contest the subsequent federal election.
More than a few people were surprised at Garrett's decision to enter parliament through the ALP, thinking his natural home was in the Greens.
But as Garrett points out, he was "too much of an economic dry and too allergic to utopianism to side with the Australian Greens".
"I couldn't envisage years of playing a dishonest song to the bleachers, promising a nirvana that couldn't be delivered and castigating everyone else as moral inferiors," Garrett writes of the Greens.
Garrett's first attempt to enter parliament was in 1984 as a candidate for the Nuclear Disarmament Party, where he almost certainly would have won a seat had the Hawke government not introduced "above the line" voting to hide their decision to preference the Liberal Party as a means of shutting Garrett out of the Senate.
As Garrett writes, he also fell out with the NDP over the presence of Socialist Workers Party members who he believed "had aims, which I, and many others, did not share".
Garrett married his German girlfriend, Doris Ricono, in 1985, with the ceremony at a Presbyterian church in Manly. Despite the "many absences" necessitated by his lifestyle, the Garretts are still firmly together, with three adult daughters: Emily, May and Grace.
Garrett mentions his church-going habits at various points in the book.
Asked about his religious beliefs, he says he had moved away from "formal religious practice over time".
"I haven't gone into it a great deal [in the book] but I think there is an imminent presence and purpose to which we can aspire to, look to, depend on, have a relationship with- describe it in whatever language that you wish - and that certainly backs up my life," Garrett says.
"I am not an agnostic or an atheist but I am certainly not what you'd describe as a formal going to church type of Christian."
He's a believer, then, and he's also a person that many people - this writer included - have believed in over the years.
I wrote a column in December 2002, just after he pulled the pin on the Oils, wondering then whether he would enter parliament and make it all the way to the top.
As it happened, his impact in Canberra was probably not as great as his fans had hoped, coinciding as it did with the global financial crisis and the relentlessly negative politics of the Rudd, Gillard and Abbott years. But somewhere, somehow, you can be pretty sure that Peter Garrett will be back in the saddle soon enough.
By PAULA JONES
I first met Peter Garrett in 1984, a brief encounter when volunteering during his run for the Senate on a Nuclear Disarmament Party ticket.
My first impression was of this giant of a man with a daunting, almost formidable presence.
I soon learned that beneath his towering stature Peter was gentle, humble and earnest, deeply committed and always striving to put something back into the community.
Having worked with the band through their record label, Midnight Oil became my first client when I set up my own publicity company in 1998.
Over nearly 20 years, I’ve been fortunate to get to know Peter well, a man who constantly tunes into the positives in life. We’ve shared opinions on the latest music, cricket scores, a mutual love of the desert… and throughout our friendship he has taught me a great deal about strength and tenacity, focus and energy and the importance of always remaining polite, respectful, sincere and optimistic.
Peter is not one to blow his own trumpet and lots in his colourful life has remained private until now with the release of his frank and in-depth memoir ‘Big Blue Sky’ in which people will gain a deeper insight into the man I have been honoured to call a friend.
PAULA JONES lives in Newcastle and has been Midnight Oil’s publicist since they became her first clients in 1998. She is still their publicist – ‘‘whether they are playing or not’’ – and her company, Jones PR, looks after some of Australia’s highest-profile musical artists.