Midnight Oil Project Aims to Bring Indigenous Voices to the Center | Arts and Culture News

Melbourne, Australia – Peter Garrett, the two-meter tall bald singer of Australian rock band Midnight Oil, has never had much trouble getting attention.

But now the former outspoken MP is backed by some of the strongest indigenous voices in contemporary music on a new recording and tour – The Makarrata Project.

The goal: to educate Australia on the Declaration of Uluru from the Heart, an advocacy campaign for an indigenous voice enshrined in the Constitution in Parliament.

“Music is the number one education in this country,” said Indigenous musician Bunna Lawrie, who joined Midnight Oil on the project. “Thanks to music, young children hear it, they learn a lot of things and they begin to understand.”

Indigenous and non-Indigenous musicians have been at the forefront of reconciliation for decades with Lawrie’s own band Colored Stone, which met in 1977 on the Koonibba Mission in remote South Australia.

Using traditional instruments such as applause and the didgeridoo, as well as electric guitars and drums, indigenous groups such as Colored Stone, No Fixed Address and the Warumpi Band captured the attention of city listeners in the mid-years. 1980.

Sydney-based Midnight Oil is working with some of Australia’s leading Indigenous artists on the Makaratta Project [Courtesy of Daniel Boud/Midnight Oil]

“We love to visit this beautiful country, it inspires me,” Lawrie told Al Jazeera. “It’s healing to be here, singing songs to people. And it’s healing for the people who come to enjoy the music and dance. “

Midnight Oil, a Sydney-based non-Indigenous company, would eventually visit remote Indigenous communities and collaborate with Indigenous groups, launching Diesel and Dust, which became a worldwide hit in 1987.

“So we’ve been doing this for a long time, collaborations, since way back in the ’80s,” Lawrie said. “It’s a good relationship that we are building as friends and musicians – the non-natives and the natives of this country. This is how reconciliation should be, working together and sorting things out the right way. “

Voices in Parliament

Midnight Oil drummer Rob Hirst told Al Jazeera that the Makarrata project “develops many of the same themes originally explored” during the recording of Diesel and Dust and that the inclusion of an array of Native artists “elevated the songs to levels beyond anything we could possibly have. conceived “.

“Makarrata” is a complex indigenous Yolgnu word that the text of the Uluru Declaration calls “the gathering after a struggle”.

It is this concept that underpins the multi-year advocacy campaign that seeks to bring a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous voice into Parliament, a campaign that Midnight Oil, Bunna Lawrie and other Indigenous artists are now urging Australians to support. .

Peter Garrett is the lead singer of Midnight Oil and a former member of the Australian parliament [Courtesy of Midnight Oil]

Pat Anderson – co-chair of the Referendum Council – told Al Jazeera that while a new idea, the constitutionally enshrined Indigenous voice in Parliament was simply the continuation of centuries of Indigenous advocacy and the struggle for justice.

“We have been trying to right the wrongs and get justice in our own country pretty much since the arrival of those first ships,” she said, referring to the arrival of the British and the start of the colonization in 1770. “This is the last attempt for the country, for Australia, to accept and recognize us and to give us our rightful place in this country of ours.

Yet the legal process to integrate an indigenous voice into the federal parliament requires a constitutional change that can only come from a majority vote in a national referendum.

As such, Anderson’s first challenge is to convince the government to hold a referendum and then encourage Australians to vote positively for an indigenous voice in parliament.

Uluru’s declaration was made in 2017 after years of consultation by the Referendum Council. It puts forward the goals of the Council, which includes the voice in Parliament, which would be a separate advisory committee from government to advise Parliament on issues affecting Indigenous Australians.

“We want a voice enshrined in the Constitution so that we can speak with a certain power and have a certain authority and speak directly to parliament about our needs and all that concerns us,” she said.

“This type of consultation has never happened before in this country. And from this process was born the Uluru Declaration of the Heart.

Midnight Oil’s latest project aims to campaign for an Indigenous voice in Parliament, an advisory committee that would provide advice on Indigenous issues [File: David Gray/Reuters]

Anderson said it was necessary to enshrine such a voice for Parliament in the Constitution, so that it could not easily be suppressed by law.

The Australian Federal Parliament has previously attempted to create a formal political process to represent indigenous peoples through the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC).

Being only empowered by law and not by constitution, ATSIC was abolished in 2004 amid allegations of corruption.


Yet Australia has a positive precedent for constitutional change in matters relating to indigenous peoples.

In 1967, an overwhelming majority voted “yes” for constitutional amendments that would count Indigenous peoples as citizens of the country and allow the federal government to make laws that would affect Indigenous communities.

While the 1967 referendum set an encouraging precedent, getting Australians to vote positively for a permanent consultative voice in parliament could prove difficult, especially when Malcolm Turnbull, who was Prime Minister in 2017 when the idea was proposed , immediately ended the discussion, tagging the plan. a “third chamber” of government.

Anderson argued that the Prime Minister’s description was “outrageous” and that Turnbull later recanted on this point, “the damage was already done”.

“[Turnbull] refused the Australian people to even have a conversation, ”Anderson said. “What arrogance is this?

Although Uluru’s declaration faced opposition from inside the government, it also drew criticism from the indigenous community.

About 30 dissidents left the final meeting in 2017, after which Uluru’s statement was released.

Indigenous artists Tasman Keith, left, and Jess Mauboy, right, joined Midnight Oil, including drummer Rob Hirst for the Makaratta Project. [Robert Hambling]

They criticized the consultation process and questioned why the rights of indigenous peoples should go through a colonial constitution rather than a treaty.

An official statement issued by the Indigenous Embassy in Canberra said, “The Makarrata Draft Agreement is about national contracts, which will keep First Nations under the rulership of a colonial constitution.

The statement also questioned the use of the term “Makarrata”, stating that “the deep meaning of Makarrata is poorly understood” and noting that the use of the term had been “strongly rejected” during the consultation process on the Treaty of the National Aboriginal Conference (NAC) in the 1980s.

However, despite criticism and challenges, Anderson remains optimistic about the new initiative and said the support shown by the range of Indigenous and non-Indigenous musicians is “fantastic.”

Midnight Oil released Project Makarrata’s “mini-album” in October 2020, the group’s first new musical release in two decades, and plans to tour the project in March.

“[The music is] so optimistic, so powerful and so energetic – how could you not be moved? she asked.

For Bunna Lawrie, the recording and broadcasts provide Australian audiences with the opportunity to hear first-hand the voices of indigenous peoples who he believes are vital to reconciliation.

“Please come talk to us and listen to our stories,” he told Al Jazeera. “When you start talking to people it changes [things]. “

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