NUKES AND AUSTRALIAN MUSIC
Australian music and politics have been intertwined since Vietnam and its aftermath. Khe Sanh is sometimes called the alternative Australian national anthem. Only Nineteen, by Redgum, continued the tradition set by Don Walker and Cold Chisel, in the Eighties.
THE OILS IN THE EIGHTIES
The early-mid 1980s saw the rise of People for Nuclear Disarmament in Australia. Midnight Oil played strong songs that sold the anti-nuclear message and toured the country widely, educating a generation about nukes. This laminate, from the collection of Marshall Cullen, dates from that time. Hobart was a focus for the anti-nuke protests of the mid 1980’s after the controversial visit of the U.S.S. Enterprise – Peter Garrett was there.
STOP THE DROP, 1983
U.S. FORCES GIVE THE NOD
U.S. Forces lyrics which the crowd sing word-for-word in the Stop The Drop clip can be found at Midnight Oil’s official website . The song was written by Jim Moginie and Peter Garrett.
The anthem U.S. Forces name checks Shakespeare (‘dogs of war ‘) as well as the Wall Street TV-speak of the early Eighties (‘market movements call the shots.’) You can see the crowd mouthing the lines “People too scared to go to prison” at Stop The Drop which was also a reflection of the times. This T-Shirt, below, is in The Powerhouse Museum collection in Sydney.
Stop The Drop Concert 1983 Powerhouse Museum T Shirt
INXS, GOANNA AND REDGUM
The Stop the Drop concert held at Melbourne’s Myer Music Bowl on Sunday 13 February 1983 was attended by the T-shirt donor you see responsible for the Powerhouse Museum archive donation on this page – Kevin Fewster – who also happened to be one of the organisers.
The 1983 concert was attended by 8000 people. In 1984 Peter Garrett was to run for the Australian Senate in NSW for the Nuclear Disarmament Party but was not elected.
Also at this concert, members of Goanna, Midnight Oil and Redgum recorded an impromptu song to protest the proposed damming of Tasmania’s Franklin River. Released as ‘Let The Franklin Flow’ by Gordon Franklin and the Wilderness Ensemble, it reached number 15 on the charts in May that year.
The line “Superboy takes a plutonium wife” might just be one of the most mis-heard in Australian music, but ‘sing me songs of no denying’ is something most Australian music fans would automatically attribute to the band. The album was huge in the early 1980’s and together with Red Sails In The Sunset (which shows Sydney after the bomb) politicised part of a generation.
THE RANGER URANIUM MINE
Between 1979 and 1984, the majority of what is now Kakadu National Park was created, surrounding but not including the Ranger uranium mine. The two themes for the 1980 Hiroshima Day march and rally in Sydney, sponsored by the Movement Against Uranium Mining (MAUM), were: “Keep uranium in the ground” and “No to nuclear war.” Later that year, the Sydney city council officially proclaimed Sydney nuclear-free.
The Nobel-prize winning Australian novelist Patrick White led one such march, and was photographed with Tom Uren, pictured with dark glasses, bag and stick. This is his novel The Eye of the Storm.
RUBBERY FIGURES, RONALD REAGAN AND MIDNIGHT OIL
By 1982, there were 350,000 Australians at anti-nuclear rallies, focussed on halting Australia’s uranium exports, removing foreign bases from Australian land and creating a nuclear-free Pacific. The visits of U.S. nuclear warships – as far as Hobart – was also a major early Eighties issue and Midnight Oil sang the soundtrack.
The comedy puppet series Rubbery Figures (ABC-TV 1984-1990) satirised U.S. President Ronald Reagan in the same period. To put Midnight Oil’s anti-nuclear albums 10, 9, 8 and Red Sails in context, it’s also important to remember that in 1984, shortly after both records (still vinyl) were released, President Reagan joked in a soundcheck on National Public Radio, ‘My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.’
Rubbery Figures – Ronald Regan re Anzac Day
THE BOMB AND THE EIGHTIES
Writing in Meanjin, Simon Castles remembers, ‘In 1984 the Doomsday Clock kept by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was moved to three minutes to midnight, its most dire position since the invention of the hydrogen bomb. Midnight Oil released Red Sails in the Sunset the same year, an album whose cover shows Sydney after a nuclear strike.’
‘In the eighties there was a stack of pop songs about the bomb. To name just a handful of tracks on a list that ran long, as if to a mushroom cloud on the horizon: ‘Breathing’ by Kate Bush (1980), ‘1999’ by Prince (1982), ‘Seconds’ by U2 (1983), ‘99 Luftballons’ by Nena (1983), ‘Walking in Your Footsteps’ by The Police (1983), ‘Two Minute Warning’ by Depeche Mode (1983), ‘Forever Young’ by Alphaville and then Laura Branigan (1984–85), ‘Two Tribes’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood (1984), ‘Russians’ by Sting (1985), ‘Guns in the Sky’ by INXS (1987) and ‘Everyday is like Sunday’ by Morrissey (1988).’
RED SAILS ART
Red Sails in the Sunset was a title more associated with Bing Crosby and Fats Domino in the Eighties – until Midnight Oil took it over with the help of a Japanese artist who was years ahead of his time. American blogger Sam Wade, writes at The Vinyl Odyssey:
“Japanese artist, Tsunehisa Kimura, created the post-apocalyptic vision of Sydney Harbor – no water only craters from nuclear bombs and a giant fireball near the bridge. It’s one of the coolest photomontages I’ve seen and it stuck with me even more because I have family in Australia. But remember, this record came out in 1984, six years before Photoshop 1.0 would ever hit the streets. In this digital age, it’s easy to forget that this type of art was much more painstaking and analog to create.”
Dr Sarah Engledow, Historian and Curator at the National Portrait Gallery of Australia, wrote in Portrait magazine.
“In 1983, in an international climate of increased public involvement in protest, the Australian local news was dominated by environmental demonstrations on two fronts. The first was the Tasmanian NO DAMS campaign, making highly professional and effective use of photographs by Peter Dombrovskis,a wilderness photographer mentored by Olegas Truchanas. The second was the anti-nuclear movement. In February 1983 Midnight Oil helped organise the Stop the Drop concert in Melbourne, and headlined the event. That year, Tom Uren and Peter Garrett marched together at the head of an anti-nuclear protest. In 1984, when Tom Uren and Patrick White walked side by side at the front of an Australians for Nuclear Disarmament march and Peter Garrett stood unsuccessfully for the Senate on behalf of the Nuclear Disarmament Party, Midnight Oil released the album Red Sails in the Sunset, featuring sinisterly surreal cover artwork by Tsunehisa Kimura of the Sydney Harbour Bridge spanning an expanse of cratered red dirt, a bomb-like ball glowing lava-hot beside the Opera House. The following year, the Oils’ EP Species Deceases came with album notes on the theme of Hiroshima forty years on. Including the great track ‘Hercules’, Species Deceases was an exasperated exhortation to action: ‘Come to your senses and care/16 million I can’t hear you at all’, Garrett cried.”