4 October 2022

Power, passion and politics - Midnight Oil's return to Canberra

| Chris Johnson
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Midnight Oil on stage in Canberra in 2017

Midnight Oil on stage in Canberra in 2017. Photo: Michael Weaver.

Peter Garrett brings his band and his politics back to Canberra tonight (1 October) for the very last time in one of Midnight Oil’s final shows of their farewell tour.

Fellows Oval at the Australian National University will come alive with bright lights, loud music and thousands of fans screaming along to rock anthems that have long been embedded in Australia’s culture.

It won’t only be the old classics from decades ago being pumped out, though. Midnight Oil is touring their new album Resist, which is instantly recognisable as an Oils record and quickly reached number one on the ARIA album charts.

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It’s been a long journey for the band, from their struggling 70s roots to massive worldwide fame and critical acclaim to this ‘absolutely’ final tour.

Their music has been deliberately entwined with their politics, always using their platform to build awareness of injustices and to push for reform.

Reform in attitudes and policy towards the environment, First Nations people, human rights, international conflict and corporate greed. It’s part of their appeal.

Enigmatic frontman Garrett – a controversial (polarising even) figure across the Australian community – took his politics all the way to federal Parliament, joining the Labor Party to the great chagrin of the Australian Greens who wanted him in their ranks.

But Garrett believed that more good could be achieved for the nation if he was a government minister and the Greens were never going to form government.

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Garret was recruited to the ALP in 2004 by then leader Mark Latham; served under Kim Beazley’s leadership after Latham’s implosion; then voted against Beazley to install Kevin Rudd as Labor leader.

It was a decision Garrett would come to regret.

After Labor’s election win in 2007, Rudd installed Garrett as the federal environment minister.

It was as if some backroom Labor kingmakers got together and posed the question of how best to compromise a high-profile lifelong campaigner for the environment. They decided that the easiest way to do that was to make him the minister for the environment.

Confined by party rules and roadblocks within government, Garrett was a frustrated minister.

Internally he fought the party’s position on uranium mining (his first tilt at federal politics was for the Nuclear Disarmament Party). It was a battle he couldn’t win. And he would have to toe the party line. He was a Cabinet minister, after all.

As minister, he approved a new uranium mine in 2009 – the Four Mile mine in South Australia. He lost some respect and more than a few fans that day.

But it was the ill-fated pink batts home insulation program that brought him down. Rudd made Garrett the scapegoat after the scheme attracted shonky business operators and led to the deaths of four installers and house fires in the hundreds.

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Garrett was demoted and felt bullied by Rudd. He enjoyed a better working relationship with Julia Gillard when she became prime minister, but he still lost battles inside the party.

And he lost his taste for Labor Party politics altogether when Rudd returned to the leadership.

Since leaving politics, Garrett has reverted to his own style of campaigning.

Reunited with the band that made his fame and fortune, Garrett – who once sat on the frontbenches of political power and was one of the richest men in Parliament – returned to using his microphone the way he used to.

Surrounded by band members equally committed to activism, advocacy and just causes, Garrett sings, speaks and dances like a man on a mission – just like the old days.

Whether it’s the protection of the Great Barrier Reef, supporting the Uluru Statement from the Heart, or calling out corruption, Midnight Oil has once again been at the forefront of political campaigning.

Their connection with Canberra goes way back, and it is not at all surprising that when their last scheduled concert in the capital was cancelled in April due to awful weather that a new show was rescheduled as soon as possible. That’s tonight. They kept their word.

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Garrett sometimes tells the story of his fledgling unknown band supporting an act at the Harmonie German Club in Narrabundah.

He had hair then and says he was jumping off walls and speakers and “doing anything to compensate for my singing” to a small but enthusiastic crowd.

After their set, the headline act approached them and said: “We don’t know what you were all doing out there, but keep it up – you’ve really got something going on.”

With those words of encouragement, Skyhooks took to the stage leaving the young Oils inspired to find their own level of greatness.

For tickets, visit Midnight Oil.

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Ha ha that fledgling unknown band act at the Harmonie German Club. I have never seen Peter Garrett with hair. Pure Gold!

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