Beyond Rock. Social commitment and political conscience through Popular Music in Australia 1976 - 2002. The case of Midnight Oil


  • Roger Bonastre



Midnight Oil, Peter Garrett, ethnomusicology


The work and career of Midnight Oil illustrate a case of interaction between culture and politics in Australia. Furthermore they represent an example of social commitment from the sphere of urban popular culture. For a quarter of a century Midnight Oil offered a critical and ideological interpretation of the Australian social and political evolution. Aware of and sensitive to changes and events happening around them, five Sydneysiders thought about Australian identity in terms of what they considered to be their national challenges from a universal perspective. Hence, they approached issues like pacifism, Indigenous rights and environmentalism and developed a social and political discourse based on the defence of human rights and a condemnation of capitalist excesses. Through more than a hundred songs and almost two thousand gigs the band urged politicians to reassess the institutions. At the same time they criticized people’s apathy asking them for a deeper engagement with the development of the country’s welfare. Finally, in December 2002, Peter Garrett quit his singer-activist journey to launch a political career by joining the Australian Labor Party, for which he is the current Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth in the Julia Gillard Government. It is thus that now we can make sense of the extent to which the political and social message of a rock band can actually generate enough credibility to allow for the lead singer´s transition from the stage to parliament.