Peter Milne's been shooting Australia's cultural heroes for 40 years.
Photographer Peter Milne grew up taking photos of his mates in the 70s. But when you're friends with people like Rowland S. Howard, Nick Cave, and Gina Riley, even the most casual shooter can find himself as an unofficial documentarian. Ahead of his show Juvenilia at Melbourne's Strange Neighbour gallery we thought we'd call him up to talk about the 70s and Melbourne's music history.
VICE: A lot of the people you shot like Rowland S. Howard and Nick Cave are pretty iconic now. When you were shooting them, did you have that sense of what they'd become?
Peter Milne: Short answer yes, but it's a bit more complicated. I went to school with Rowland—we went to a hippy school, one of these experimental schools that were very much part of the 70s. So you walked away with a fantastic education in socializing but not necessarily how to read or write. But the advantage of it is that I'm still friends with the people that I met there. And all the other stuff is easy enough to pick up. I was there with Rowland and Gina Riley, do you know her?
She's one of my heroes.
I was there with them and various people who were creative and interesting and fabulous in their own way. There was a sense of coming together, and Melbourne was doing that thing it does periodically and produces extraordinary bursts of creative energy. It was often, at least on a world level, pretty forgotten; a quiet, tucked-away town. But it's always produced a hugely disproportionate amount of talent.
I feel like your generation has really become a benchmark for people my own age, it's a hard act to follow.
Your generation is also producing its great talents. History has shown that at certain times, for whatever reasons, there is a happy collision of influences. So to finally get to your question: Yes there was a real sense in the late 70s and early 80s of particularly interesting things happening.
As someone who wasn't born yet, I think of 70s Melbourne as a very exciting place, but as you said it was it was a bit of a backwater. Was the lack of external stuff going on an element to all this productivity?
I think it was—in some ways positively and in some ways negatively. You argue New York and London were much bigger and more interesting places producing an explosion of music and other art at that time. But the 70s was a time of great freedom and also a lot of violence. People go on about how society is getting so violent—it's absolute bullshit. I used to catch the train from Hawthorn into the city and was beaten up maybe six times.
There must be some change that's been positive?
One subject I never get asked about in relation to the 1970s and 80s is the sexism that still prevailed. There were many very talented and strong young women who were centrally involved in the creative dynamics of the era. But it's striking to look back and consider how little of that was acknowledged. And of course how little is subsequently reflected in the historical record. This includes major co-songwriting credits that are still missing and all sorts of other uncredited contributions.
You've had quite a lot of involvement with the music industry, what's your relationship with it like now?
There's something wrong with the music industry. The corruption's been there for at least 100 years. It's not a generous industry, it's an industry where you will get cheated every single time. I don't find that in comedy. Hanging out with comedians is an uplifting experience. The comedians I like are those who speak the truth and can be funny while making a useful statement or questioning what it is to live a human life.
What's music about then?
If comedy is about truth, then music is often about putting on a mask and being mysterious. That to me is less interesting.
Would you want to be in your 20s now?
There's always more than one answer. Every age has challenges and great joys. I don't want to go back, when you're young you have no power. You have no perspective and you don't realize that none of the bullshit matters. You don't realize everybody's faking.
If you're young and sensitive and creative you worry far too much what people think and that everyone else knows what's going on and you don't. When you're my age you're fat and bald and covered in wrinkles but at the very least you have the power of knowing that a lot of that bullshit really is bullshit and if you want to do what you want to do, absolutely no one can stop you.
Curators Helen Frajman of M.33 and Linsey Gosper present Juvenilia at Strange Neighbour gallery from February 27 to March 28. The show will be open Wednesday to Saturday from 12 to 6PM.
Words by Wendy Syfret. Follow her on Twitter.