A man with a cracker English accent stood behind me and proudly declared to his friends he had a small jar of sand from Sydney on his lounge-room table at home.
The two men (both at least in their 50s) lent in and the first bloke continued; “it’s the same sand that Pete Garrett walked on..hallowed ground…just try and prove me wrong.” Laughter and curious questions about the band follows.
How is it that a band who last had a big hit almost 30 years ago are still sailing along picking up both survivors of the 80s and unfamiliar older rockers all these years later? What kind of enchantment must be falling them? Is it Pete Garrett, the whirling dervish of North Sydney whose dance style has been fully reported and documented by studious reporters more academic than me? Or maybe it’s the not so quiet drummer Rob Hirst, whose impassioned pleas for land rights and a fair go are blasted from the drumming high-rise with his trademarked water tank, who appeals to today’s audiences?
Without doubt, guitarists Jim Moginie, Martin Rotsey and bassist Bones Hillman are all consummate professionals who show such discipline that the songs retain the edgy tension and release that got them the applause back as far as the late 70s and continue to wow audiences old and new alike now.
Full of hits and a couple of lesser known tracks – they were probably largely unknown to my English mate yet he expressed they reached him in a way that he felt fully-connected with the band (granted, after many 2pint cups of lager).
Up the front, up the back; it didn’t matter where you stood. The opening track, Diesel and Dust’s ‘The Dead Heart’, had the audience singing before the band even got a guitar riff in. They played in the same key as they recorded the studio albums in, a luxury not always afforded to live gigs, so my ears too, were singing.
The formidable frontman, Pete welcomes us after the fourth song on the setlist, 1982’s ‘Power and the Passion’: “You may have come by Tube, by boat, by Uber, by jet aeroplane crossing continents or even by foot from round the corner, and maybe you’re working tomorrow. Well, we’re working tonight and we feel like sticking around for awhile.”
Pete, as always, doesn’t shy away from sharing his often contentious opinions, wrapping up the evening with: “Don’t let the yuppies and self-indulgent get their way. You might be in your 30s, 40s, 50s, or 60s…get out there and vote! Otherwise shit happens – shit like this…” and the opening strums of 1989’s ‘One Country’ filled the Academy.
Midnight Oil rocked the place. They gave our nation’s sons and daughters, and our British hosts, one hell of a show. After two hours with the ‘Oils we all felt connected. We all felt a common bond of awareness for our indigenous brothers and sisters and a keen sense of where to place your feet on the right side of history that is hard to shake off.
Much like the older men who had taken a curious first step to come see the mighty ‘Oils and undoubtedly left converts, I felt reconnected to something bigger than myself and a renewed love for my country. It yielded Midnight Oil and that in itself is something Australia can be immensely proud of.