Midnight Oil a Band Forever Fuelled by Activism

Midnight Oil

Midnight Oil. Courtesy of Daily Review, 2022.

There are few musical ensembles that are as dedicated to speaking out about social justice and environmental issues as Midnight Oil. Over the last 40 years they have been outspoken, uncompromising and fearless in the way they share important messages. With the band beginning their final tour Resist, we thought now would be the perfect time to share about the incredible impact Midnight Oil has had on Australia.

The band initially formed in 1976 in Sydney where they steadily acquired a fan base through gigging the inner-city pub scene. It was their classic album 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 released in 1982 that broke through, and brought their music into the mainstream. The album explored themes of war and the impact it has all around the world. With anthems including Power and Passion and US Forces, the album spent 177 consecutive weeks on the Australian charts (Louder Sound, 2017). 

Blackfella Whitefella Blackfella Whitefella Tour documentary. Courtesy of Rakuten, 2022.

Midnight Oil's music then began focussing more on issues facing Indigenous Australians. In 1986 they embarked on a trip of a lifetime, travelling through remote Indigenous communities on their famous Balckfella Whitefellla tour with the Warumpi Band. The Warumpi Band from the remote community of Papunya pioneered Indigenous rock music, singing in Luritja language and English. Together the two bands brought incredible rock’n’roll music to many remote Aboriginal communities including Mutitjulu, Docker River, Kintore, Papunya and Yuendumu in the Western Desert, and Maningrida, Galiwinku, Yirrkala, Umbakumba, Numbulwar, Barunga, Wadeye and Nguiu in the subtropical wetlands of the Top End. The tour was intended to promote closer ties between Indigenous and non-Indigneous communities (Daily Review, 2017).

In an interview with Louder Sound (2017) Midnight Oil front man, Peter Garrett spoke about the profound and continued impact the tour has had on the band:

“No other band of our size had ever been to any of these places. It was an eye-opener. It affected our music, our politics and our way of seeing things. And it stuck to us. Diesel And Dust was one result of that.”

Diesel and Dust Diesel and Dust album, Midnight Oil. Courtesy of Great Song, 2022.

It was this incredible tour that sparked the creation of Midnight Oils 1987 album Diesel and Dust which spread to a global audience, selling 4 million copies worldwide. The opening song of album, Beds are Burning made a particular impact. The protest song is about the theft of Indigenous land, saying ‘It belongs to them, let's give it back’. This song is a reminder of Australia’s brutal colonial history, and conveys issues of land rights that we continue to face today (Inner West Review, 2022). These are issues that many Australians would prefer not to think about, and Midnight Oil brought them front and centre. 

Midnight Oil has never shied away from politics, the span of issues they have shed light on has included Indigenous land rights, reconciliation, workers rights, refugees, environmental issues and climate change. One of Midnight Oil's most memorable moments was at the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympic games in 2000. In front of a stadium audience of 115,000, the band performed Beds Are Burning wearing simple black outfits with the word ‘sorry’ across the front. This was done as a direct comment on Prime Minister John Howard's refusal to apologise Indigenous Australian on behalf of the government (Louder Sound, 2017). 

Front man and singer Peter Garett himself has had a second career in federal politics. In 2002 Garett quit the band to devote himself to politics full time, and went on to serve as the Minister of Environment, Arts and Education in the Rudd and Gillard governments. When the band came back together in 2017 there were some worries they would have lost some of their infectious energy and passion. There was however no need to worry, the bands performances remained a visceral experience, brought to life by Garett's unique and incredibly energetic dance steps (Louder Sound, 2017). 

Midnight Oil - Resist
Midnight Oil's new album and final tour ‘Resist’. Courtesy of The Senior, 2022.

In 2020 Midnight Oil released the Makarrata Project, a mini-album and tour created to support the Uluru Statement from the Heart, an advocacy campaign for a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous voice in Parliament. The project was created in collaboration with a number of Australians strongest Indigenous voices and musicians including the late Gurrumul, Dan Sultan, Jessica Mauboy, Bunna Lawrie and Frank Yamma (Aljazeera, 2021). By bringing both Indigenous and non-Indigenous voices together the project was aimed at educating Australia about the ongoing injustices suffered by First Nations people, and the importance of the Uluru Statement from the Heart

Just last month Midnight Oil released their final musical offering to the world, Resist. The album delivers messages of resistance as we continue to face global injustices and issues such as climate change. The songs convey hope for the future, while also acknowledging that their generation could have already failed the youth through inaction on climate change (The Guardian, 2020). This farewell album is a final message to Australia, and the next generations to keep fighting for social justice and our precious environment. 

Midnight Oil have begun the Resist Tour and will be performing all around Australia, you can find out more here