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50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time – #6: Midnight Oil

Birds of Tokyo’s Adam Spark reflects on of Australia’s most powerful, impactful, and political rock bands, Midnight Oil.

50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time - Midnight Oil

Tony Mott*; Cybele Malinowski*

In December of 2020, Rolling Stone Australia released a special edition issue which looks at the 50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time, paying tribute to the best and most impactful artists in Australian music history. While it would have been easy for the editors and writers of the publication to profess their love of the listed artists, the decision was instead made for those who found themselves inspired by these world-renowned names to share their own testimonials of why these artists deserve to make the list.

In celebration of the issue’s release in December, we’re counting down the full 50 artists and their accompanying testimonials in this ongoing online feature. If you want to get your hands on an physical copy of the magazine, be sure to subscribe now to experience the double-length edition featuring some of Australia’s best and brightest discussing the finest names in local music.

50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time – #6: Midnight Oil (by Adam Spark of Birds of Tokyo)

As an Australian boy in the late Eighties, the Oils were a ubiquitous musical presence when your life was tethered to your parents’ suburban social activities. Saturday afternoon drinks after tee-ball and backyard BBQs fuelled by cheap sausages and bottles of Rosella were always musically awash with their desert hues.

I was drawn to the sound of their work before I even understood what it meant. As a ten-year-old, I had no idea what “Beds Are Burning” was about – but I knew it was powerful. I would begin to understand the scope and definition of that power over the next 30 years. 

“No other band has so respectfully diarised our unique Australian challenges.”

The power of great art is in its ability to find you and stay with you by any means necessary. My journey with the Oils has been one which has morphed from initial musical resonance to a far more meaningful cultural appreciation. They have shared their ideologies with us for five decades and with each new zeitgeist there is always reason for their work to find relevance again and again and again. This is real power as an artist.

As a songwriter you often seek inspiration in other artists’ work. You search for a meaningful connection. You need to trust the material, the intention, and the execution. This takes time. You gain this trust by having your songs transcend single moments and build a catalogue that defines many moments. That’s at least how I see it, and that’s what the Oils relationship is for me now – one of trust.  

No other band has so respectfully diarised our unique Australian challenges, our frustrations and existence as these Northern Beaches icons. I think Midnight Oil are the most important Australian band, period. Powerful. Passionate.