RESIST

Midnight Oil

RESIST

There’s a deep sense of urgency throughout the Oils’ 13th album—for good reason. The central focus of Resist is the climate crisis, rising sea levels, and the exploitation of land and people—particularly First Nations communities—by the Australian government. The Aussie rock icons have always been deeply political, but it’s never felt more vital, anguished, or timely than here. The album has been a few years in the making, with some tracks written back in early 2019, before The Makarrata Project, a collaborative album released in October 2020. “So, when it came time to do the album with producer Warne Livesey, we could record them quickly, without fuss,” guitarist Jim Moginie tells Apple Music. “Twenty songs down in five eight-hour days over eight weeks, and our last sessions with our brother Bones,” he says, referring to the Oils’ late bassist, Bones Hillman, who passed away from cancer in November 2020. Below, Moginie, frontman Peter Garrett, and drummer Rob Hirst explain the stories and themes behind each song on this powerful, provocative album. “Rising Seas” Jim Moginie: “It’s a hypothetical reality, a glimpse into the future. The water levels have risen. The captains of industry and the rich have abandoned the ship for higher ground. The poorest countries will be the ones left at or below sea level. It’s already happening across the Pacific. Governments sacrifice lives and homes when they deliver policy for big polluters, whether they be mining companies, oil drilling, cotton farming in the desert, or destruction of rainforest ecosystems.” “The Barka-Darling River” Jim Moginie: “The entire Barka-Darling is either dammed or siphoned off for town water or irrigation, or diverted for the benefit of mankind in this driest of landscapes, but there’s a limit to what she’s left with downstream. When the fish-kills hit the news, we saw it for what it was—buck-passing and conflicting decisions made by state and federal governments that serve big cotton or other irrigators. When precious water can be bought and sold as a mere commodity, the environment and First Nations people get shafted.” Rob Hirst: “The storyline is based on one of Pete’s greatest challenges from when he was Minister for the Environment: the future of the much-exploited Murray-Darling Basin. The song’s gestation coincided with my artist daughter Gabriella’s ACMI exhibition Darling Darling in Melbourne. Her travels to Menindee and along the then-drought-ravaged Barka brought her into contact with artist Uncle Badger Bates and other strong custodians of this once mighty river system. Droughts, climate change, water-thirsty crops, water theft, political favors, water trading, and the arrival of giant, international companies have literally drained the life out of our great national treasure. The Barkandji, who rely on a clean, flowing river for their food, have suffered the most.” “Tarkine” Jim Moginie: “Tarkine is such an evocative word. It’s the name of an Aboriginal tribe in north-western Tasmania, high in sacred Aboriginal sites and unique cool-temperate rainforest species. Evelyn Finnerty’s violin part is an unsettled background akin to wind catching the mist of deep forest. Or a glimpse of Allana Beltran’s Weld Angel protest, the queen of the forest coming to life high in the trees to protect this threatened area with terrible anger. If we let governments and overseas interests roll the dice, a plastic snow cone containing the Tarkine forest could be all we have left.” “At the Time of Writing” Rob Hirst: “This one fell together quite easily and quickly. It illustrates the deliberate urgency of the song’s climate change theme. The verses are set in the present and reflect our current hopes: ‘We better get together/Our ocean moat protects us/A chance, we’ve only got one.’ The choruses are set in the future, looking back: ‘We were good as dead; we were fast asleep.’ The bridge reverses the narrative halfway through: People blame elected leaders for doing nothing and boasting about it—then those same leaders head for the hills when things go horribly wrong.” “Nobody’s Child” Jim Moginie: “A rocker with a riff that I had lying around for about ten years. I was waiting for Midnight Oil to reform and play it because I knew it wouldn’t sound right done any other way. Beauty, love, and compassion are central themes to our music and are in short supply in the world today. Pete supplied the verses and added the most incredible vocal on the demo I’d ever heard him sing, especially in the middle section, which made it onto the final record.” “To the Ends of the Earth” Jim Moginie: “‘Every creature drinks from the same cup’ sums this one up, where trees, animals, humans, fungi, or insects all share the same terrarium. As Greta Thunberg says, ‘Some people make it seem as if we’re not doing enough to stop the climate crisis. But that’s not true. Because to not do enough, you have to do something.’ And the truth is that we are basically not doing anything apart from ‘creative carbon accounting’ and creating loopholes. What some call ‘climate action’ is actually outsourcing and excluding consumption, setting vague distant targets, burning biomass instead of fossil fuels and excluding the emissions, offsetting, switching from one disastrous energy source to a slightly less disastrous one.” “Reef” Jim Moginie: “When we visited the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef in 2017, Dean from GBR Legacy memorably said, ‘It doesn’t belong to the government, it doesn’t belong to Clive Palmer, it belongs to the people,’ a sentence that stuck in my mind. In 2021, the Australian Government succeeded—with much lobbying and flying around the world in private jets—in taking this endangered and dying reef off the UNESCO endangered list to cover up its own lack of climate action. The song is a tongue-in-cheek look at the bizarre decision-making around the issue. But such a serious subject is no laughing matter. Our governments have often fallen over themselves in giving away our assets to overseas interests, here allowing the building of a coal port and associated dredging in a World Heritage site. A railway between Abbot Point and the mine was proposed. Indian-owned Adani, now rebranded as Bravus Mining & Resources, have a terrible track record in other countries, and here were caught pouring toxic sludge into adjoining wetlands in 2017 and 2019, among other breaches. ‘The sky is a mirror to self-interest and greed,’ indeed.” “We Resist” Jim Moginie: “The history of resistance should be taught at school. Without it, we wouldn’t have made the progress we have. The Freedom Ride and Rosa Parks turned the spotlight onto racial issues, which then changed. John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s ‘War Is Over If You Want It’ campaign, hand in hand with the fallout of the Kent State shootings and worldwide mass demonstrations, ended the Vietnam War. Suffragettes marched for women’s rights and undertook hunger strikes, which both Gandhi in India and Irish Nationalists undertook to achieve self-sovereignty. These people were brave enough to ignore the conventional orthodoxy of the time and speak out, often risking their lives in the process. The irony is that successful protesters never worked alone—they were part of strategic, highly connected networks.” “Lost at Sea” Rob Hirst: “Australia has a shameful record when it comes to our treatment of refugees escaping wars we’ve been involved in—Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Sri Lanka. I wanted to personalize the issue: Imagine you’re in a leaking boat overloaded with sick, thirsty, desperate people seeking safety on the open ocean. Hope briefly appears, but you’re intercepted by an armed patrol boat and diverted to a hot, crowded prison camp on a remote, tropical island. Now, you’re in a kind of perpetual checkmate—you can’t return to your war-ravaged homeland where you’ll be tortured and/or killed, nor can you ever expect to escape confinement and lead a productive life in a new country. You and your family are the unfortunate victims of opportunistic, racist politicians and their unscrupulous media attack dogs, pursuing policies which are little different from the infamous White Australia policy of a century ago.” “Undercover” Peter Garrett: “A thrown-together flood of disparate images in a quick, drive-y song the Oils can get their teeth into, designed to pull us out of the great Aussie torpor. Autumn colors seen out the window, followed by others in the mind’s eye, like the queues of Uyghurs lined up outside Chinese re-education camps, backed up with slinky riffing and a heads-up chorus.” “We Are Not Afraid” Jim Moginie: “Fear as a form of psychological control determines the behavior of citizens. It can determine election results, it can take the form of fear of immigrants, new ideas, terrorists. Psychological warfare is as powerful as real warfare. I wrote the song in Spain on a flamenco guitar in 2017. I was surprised when the band chose to take it on. Pete added lyrics that turned it into a Midnight Oil song, especially the lines ‘The rights of those that follow and the living things that feed us/Are greater than the principles of those that lead us/We must be fearless, we must be fearless,’ which were improvised and added on the final day of recording. The song has a spooked-out atmosphere to evoke paranoia—just a nylon-string guitar with wobbly, stuttering echoes and remnants of electric guitars from the demo sitting behind it, and Julian Thompson from the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s beautiful cello part.” “Last Frontier” Peter Garrett: “I love being outside, and wide-open spaces in songs is where the listener’s imagination takes over. So, as befitting an album closer, ‘Last Frontier’ has a slow soundscape build, with a few clues to get you into the song’s narrative about an ‘everyman’ trying to make sense of their lives and, holding onto their agency, exercising control in the wild ride we all find ourselves in.”

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