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Midnight Oil – telling our stories

The Silver River: A memoir of family – lost, made and found … from the Midnight Oil founding member.

It’s 1985. My mate Joe Touma (blazer-wearing hipster Leb) hands me a stack of bootleg cassettes he thinks may spark some interest. Among the titles are INXS’s The Swing, U2’s Under a Blood Red Sky and Midnight Oil’s 10-1.

From this day forward Midnight Oil inhabits my heart, mind and soul. This is our band, from our city, telling our stories through a ferocious punk-rock lens.

Also around this time school mate Peter Feeley suggests we form a band and name it after our two favourite groups – Midnight Chisel! (we never got any further than the name).

By now the Oils have been on a relentless writing, recording and touring schedule which brings them local and international recognition.

Midnight Oil has become a “movement” straying from the original dream, suddenly radio friendly and afraid to loosen the grip on success, writes Jim Moginie (songwriter, guitarist and keyboard player of the band).

Record label interference with album covers, song mixes, music videos and pressure to provide the next big hit result in albums that don’t connect, with diminishing audiences and a lack of confidence within the band.

The Sydney 2000 Olympics “Sorry” protest brought admiration and condemnation. Everything became surreal, disconnected from the music, even the love of the music.

“I saw I had abandoned my wife, family and children on an odyssey to conquer the world.”

Then eventually the inevitable tall poppy backlash – “Here come the Oils, every year the Christmas shows, the album, the big clean up, yawn!”

The 30-year slog ultimately takes its toll. Singer Peter Garrett pulls Moginie aside declaring, “I can’t do this anymore”. Secretly, Jim feels the same.

Garrett quits the band to pursue political aspirations, band members splinter into side projects and Jim decides it’s time he deals with the long-suppressed bombshell that he was adopted at birth.

His book, The Silver River, deals delicately with the doubts, hurt and trauma associated with adoption, the love and admiration for his adopted parents and brother and the longing for true identity.

Neil Finn, among others, had observed an Irishness about Jim – his look, his obsession with music and love of the drink. The long search provided the answers he was looking for, a reunion with his parents Brian and Anne and the four siblings he knew nothing about, plus a rich Irish heritage he explores at the drop of a dusty Akubra.

Midnight Oil reforms and releases what Moginie considers to be the band’s greatest album,  The Makarrata Project, which features collaborations with Indigenous artists. This is followed by their final release, Resist.

The band announces a final world tour. I get to see them in Wollongong with fellow Oils tragic Maxi (the King). The highlight of the show is when a teenage girl catapults out of her seat as they start playing the song she’s been waiting all night to hear, “No Time for Games”, released 20 years before she was born. She aligns with every stomp, jerk and nuance of this early classic. They play way too many new songs for my liking.

I knew deep inside we’d meet again. At the end of the world tour they announce two final shows in their home town. I was lucky enough to get a ticket to their second-last show at Luna Park where they played the 10-1 album in its entirety plus every hit you needed to hear. Full circle or what?

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For a chance to win a copy of The Silver River, email editor@ssh.com.au – tell us about your favourite Midnight Oil album. Why is it your favourite?

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