Midnight Oil's Gadigal Land is an uncompromising song of rage

"Don’t you bring your poison/ Don’t you bring your grog/ Don’t you bring your smallpox/ Sure to kill our mob." Midnight Oil's first new song in 18 years, Gadigal Land, was introduced to the world by drummer and songwriter Rob Hirst on Sydney's Redfern-based Koori Radio station on Thursday morning.

"We can live without your gallows/ We can do without your chains/ We can do without the massacres/ The sorrow and the pain," Peter Garrett sings in harmony with Dan Sultan on the first track from the band's coming mini-album, The Makarrata Project.

Propelled by the Oils' unmistakable brass-studded attack, it is an uncompromising song of rage on behalf of the First Nations people acknowledged in the song's title and represented more broadly by the guest performers.

Midnight Oil perform in Sydney's Domain in November 2017.

Midnight Oil perform in Sydney's Domain in November 2017.Credit: Brook Mitchell

Sultan, the Stiff Gins' Kaleena Briggs and co-writers Bunna Lawrie and Joel Davison contribute to a climactic shout-out from their various homelands: Arrernte, Gurindji, Wiradjuri, Yorta Yorta, Mirning and Gadigal.

Hirst told Koori Radio that he lives on Gamaragal land on Sydney's north shore, but most of his schooling was on Gadigal turf, south of the Harbour.

"I love the place, and the more I read about its history and discover middens close to where I live … the more I'm drawn to the fact that over 232 years, Europeans have just been here a fraction of the time and we’re only still catching up," Hirst said.

"Hopefully this song will spread the Gadigal name a bit further and people will start to understand that the Gadigal people, part of the larger Aboriginal Nations, are the original Australians here and we've got to pay more attention to that."

Midnight Oil's Rob Hirst hopes the band's first song in 18 years "will spread the Gadigal name a bit further."

Midnight Oil's Rob Hirst hopes the band's first song in 18 years "will spread the Gadigal name a bit further."Credit:Mick Tsikas

Lawrie is a senior Mirning elder, whale songman and pioneering indigenous rocker with his band Coloured Stone. Invited to the Makarrata sessions by Hirst late last year, Lawrie found himself contributing clapsticks and the refrain of "wenyo, wenyo, wenyo", a welcoming greeting in his language.

"Midnight Oil, we've been brothers and friends for a long time, since the time we started playing, 1983 onwards," Lawrie said from Adelaide, where he is deeply engaged in the fight to defend the Great Australian Bight and its whale sanctuary from commercial oil drilling interests.


"We love rock music," he said. "Music is healing to us. When we play we heal the land, we heal our people, we heal anyone who wants to get up and dance with us. That's what our passion is and also our culture. It's looking after country and doing the right thing by planet Earth."

Midnight Oil and Sony Music have pledged proceeds from The Makarrata Project to organisations seeking to advance the Uluru Statement from the Heart: a call from First Nations people for greater representation and autonomy in government affairs.

Lawrie said recent challenges presented by bushfires, floods and the COVID pandemic could benefit from consultation with the country's original owners.

"I can show you a letter that my grandfather wrote to the government more than 100 years ago, to work together in harmony, but they never answered him back and to me that's not fair," he said.

"I just hope that one day the government's going to do the right thing. It's unfair that Aboriginal people don't get a right and an opportunity to look after their own affairs and do it their way, because they do it in the right way. These are people who know the land, who hold the wisdom … We're saying, 'Can't we work together in harmony and be friends?'"

Bunna Lawrie is a senior Mirning elder, whale songman and pioneering indigenous rocker with his band Coloured Stone

Bunna Lawrie is a senior Mirning elder, whale songman and pioneering indigenous rocker with his band Coloured StoneCredit:Bill Doyle

Hirst told Koori Radio there may be other songs previewed from The Makarrata Project prior to its scheduled October release. "It's dedicated to a greater awareness of what is contained in the Uluru Statement From the Heart. We really need to get behind it, especially the 'makarrata' part of it," he said, referring to the Yolngu concept of truth-telling, resolving conflict and moving forward.

Gadigal Land is released on Friday. Midnight Oil will perform the song as part of the live-streamed National Indigenous Music Awards on Saturday night from 7pm.

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