Midnight Oil’s first new song in 18 years will be broadcast worldwide as part of the National Indigenous Music Awards this Saturday from 7pm.
Gadigal Land, named for the traditional owners of a large swath of Sydney, is flagged as “a provocative recount of what happened in this place, and elsewhere in Australia, since 1788.”
The song features singers Kaleena Briggs, Bunna Lawrie, Dan Sultan and Gadigal poet Joel Davison. It is the first taste of the band’s seven-song mini-album The Makarrata Project, created in collaboration with a number of First Nations artists and slated for October release.
“We’ve always been happy to lend our voice to those who call for racial justice, but it really feels like we’ve reached a tipping point,” the band said in a statement.
“We urge the federal government to heed the messages in the Uluru Statement From The Heart and act accordingly.”
The band, fronted by former Labor minister Peter Garrett, will donate their share of the proceeds from The Makarrata Project to “organisations which seek to elevate The Uluru Statement From The Heart in particular and Indigenous reconciliation more broadly”.
“Hopefully this song and The Makarrata Project … can help shine a bit more light on the urgent need for genuine reconciliation in this country and in many other places too,” the band said.
Midnight Oil has been prominent in raising mainstream awareness of Indigenous history and issues since early ’80s album tracks such as Maralinga and Jimmy Sharman’s Boxers.
Under the Rock Against Racism banner in 1983 they united with pioneering Aboriginal band No Fixed Address, and then with central Australian rockers The Warumpi Band for the groundbreaking Blackfella/Whitefella tour of northern outback and top end communities.
That experience was a catalyst for the Oils’ international breakthrough with Diesel and Dust and its hit singles The Dead Heart and Beds Are Burning in 1987. Four years later, Garrett was among the co-writers of Yothu Yindi’s Treaty, the first song in an Australian Indigenous language (Gumatj) to hit the world charts.
Midnight Oil took the issue of overdue atonement for stolen land and stolen children to the world again in 2000, when they performed at the Sydney Olympics closing ceremony in black suits emblazoned with the word “SORRY”.
Two years later, the band embarked on an open-ended hiatus as Garrett pursued his political ambitions, ultimately serving in environment, arts, education and youth portfolios in the Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard governments.
Midnight Oil reunited for a massive 16-nation world tour in 2017. They returned to play Europe and limited Australian dates last year, but no new material had been forthcoming since their Capricornia album of 2002.
“Clearly this mini-album has ended up being timely in ways nobody could have anticipated as the Black Lives Matter movement surges globally and renews local focus on Aboriginal deaths in custody,” said Sony Music Australia, which has pledged to match the artists’ contribution to Indigenous rights lobbying organisations.
In addition to The Makarrata Project, Midnight Oil had announced another album of original material under construction before COVID-19 derailed a projected 2020 world tour. Sony has confirmed that the results of those sessions are still scheduled for release in 2021.
Midnight Oil’s pre-filmed contribution to the live-streamed National Indigenous Music Awards will screen alongside performances by Archie Roach, Thelma Plum, Miiesha and a tribute to the Warumpi Band on Saturday. The show will be telecast on NITV and simulcast on Double J, National Indigenous Radio Service, TEABBA, Facebook, Youtube and Twitter.
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Michael Dwyer is an arts and music writer