Australia's Greatest Export
In my life, there aren't too many regrets. However, one that lingered was that in 2001, I had the chance to see Midnight Oil play live, and didn't take it. I guess I figured that the opportunity would come again some time soon. History shows, of course, that it didn't. However, thanks to Wave-Aid (the Tsunami Relief gig) and Triple J, I was able to relieve some of that regret by listening to their reunion performance. Musically, they absolutely creamed every other act there, including some that were quite good -- and this from a band that hadn't played together in three years! However, there is so much more to Midnight Oil than this.
There have been a number of singers, musicians and bands who have made their living on the old "singing about Australia" line -- many of them have been country singers (John Williamson, Slim Dusty and Rolf Harris come to mind), and some short-lived rock bands back in the 1980's. However, none of them managed to do it in the way Midnight Oil did. The key difference being that the Oils covered all the bases, and believe me, not all of them were pretty.
Growing up in the 1980's and early 1990's as I did, I was able to witness quite a few changes in both lifestyle and the landscape; I had witnessed The rich get richer, The poor get the Picture, doing so in a country town, I had realised that The old world is not as safe with the new world closing in. However, our elected representatives didn't seem to care: everything's set, everything's fine, you've just gotta stand in line. Other times, I've seen beautiful landscapes threatened by reckless development: your dreamworld is just about to end.
Indeed, it's surprising how late I came to Midnight Oil, it was 1990 and Blue Sky Mine before I really discovered them -- although upon hearing their earlier records, I realised they had already been entrenched in my psychology for a long time. However, it was the video clip to Blue Sky Mine that really stuck with me -- coming from the working class background that I did. Here was someone prepared to stand up for the workers risking their lives in a mine while the suits raked in the fruits of their labour, not caring about those making it happen, or indeed the surrounding landscape; the company takes what the company wants, and nothing's as precious as a hole in the ground.
In time, of course, they would open my eyes to other issues; we've seen US Forces give the nod when market movements call the shots. We've seen the genocide committed against the aborignal people of Australia, how white man came, took everything. I found it quite ironic from the country that refuses to offer so much as an apology for this, to "celebrate" the aboriginal culture at the Sydney Olympics back in 2000. Of course, it was the Oils, during the closing ceremony, who sent out the message that so many of us wanted to convey, but didn't have the means.
It wasn't the first time they sent out such a message, who could forget their hit and run concert in front of the Exxon building in New York back in 1990? Indeed, last night they mentioned "our friends in Timor", then sung the following:
Now we don't live with an absent master; we don't live on an island divided, don't want my kids to grow up in shame; in a country with a different name
However, it wasn't always doom and gloom. Songs such as In the Valley, Capricornia and Surf's up Tonight (just to name a few), showcase some of the beauty that this country has to offer. Sometimes it's the sense of escapism (and much of their earlier work seemed to be themed on this), sometimes it's just the feeling that comes from the place without a postcard. Either way, often after listening to some of these songs, I have the temptation to jump on the bike and just go, accompanied only by the Stars of Warburton.
Ultimately, it was the combination of these messages that identifies them, sets them apart from pretty much every other musical act ever produced by this country, or indeed the world. It also tells us that if we do things right, there is a future, and a positive one: In the end the rain comes down, and washes clean the streets of a blue-sky town.
However, there is one thing that cannot be denied, whatever that future holds: Forget about your cheap "souvenirs" at those stupid Duty-Free stores in Surfers, if you want a real taste of Australia, of my country, right or wrong, just pick up a Midnight Oil CD, and turn the volume up to 11.