TROU­BLED WA­TERS

TOUR­ING FOR THE FIRST TIME IN TWO DECADES, MID­NIGHT OIL IS DE­MAND­ING AC­TION NOW TO SAVE ONE OF THE WORLD’S GREAT NAT­U­RAL WON­DERS

Life & Style Weekend - - READ - WORDS: SEANNA CRONIN

Un­der the glare of a Queens­land sun, Vla­soff Cay is starkly beau­ti­ful. Whether viewed by the sea or air, the wisp of white sand is post­card per­fect. Fit­tingly named af­ter Vince Vla­soff – one of Cairns’ early tourism pi­o­neers and the builder of the world’s first un­der­wa­ter ob­ser­va­tory at Green Is­land – the pris­tine sand cay and sur­round­ing reefs are what many pic­ture when they think of the Great Bar­rier Reef. Stand­ing on the cay sur­rounded by a sea of turquoise, the five mem­bers of Mid­night Oil had a few quiet mo­ments of re­flec­tion be­fore mak­ing one of their big­gest state­ments yet. The sem­i­nal Aussie rock band has taken a stand against In­dian min­ing com­pany Adani’s pro­posed Carmichael coal mine with its Co­ral Not Coal cam­paign. If ap­proved, Carmichael would be the largest coal mine in Aus­tralia and one of the largest in the world. Reef ecosys­tems like Vla­soff are ex­actly what the po­lit­i­cally minded mu­si­cians want to pro­tect from the threat of fos­sil fu­els like coal, the burn­ing of which con­trib­utes to ris­ing ocean tem­per­a­tures and acid­i­fi­ca­tion. Ris­ing tem­per­a­tures cause bleach­ing, the ejec­tion of a co­ral’s sym­bi­otic al­gae from its tis­sues, while more acidic sea wa­ter makes it harder for corals to form their cal­cium car­bon­ate skele­tons. To that end, the Oils re­cently held a ben­e­fit con­cert for the reef in Cairns. The spe­cial, in­ti­mate show was filmed for Fox­tel’s MAX mu­sic chan­nel and will be beamed into Aus­tralian lounge rooms to­day. “We al­ways re­ally like do­ing some­thing for a rea­son and there’s a very good rea­son to do this show; the reef is at this in­cred­i­ble cross­roads in terms of its health,” Oils front­man Pe­ter Gar­rett tells Week­end. “We want to raise some money for peo­ple who are do­ing good, prac­ti­cal, hands-on work, get­ting the science up and who have great care for the reef.” All pro­ceeds from the ben­e­fit show will go to Great Bar­rier Reef Legacy and the Aus­tralian Ma­rine Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety. A for­mer en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter and pres­i­dent of the Aus­tralian Con­ser­va­tion Foun­da­tion, Gar­rett knows ex­actly where those much-needed funds should go. Great Bar­rier Reef Legacy will put the money to­wards a three-week re­search ex­pe­di­tion to the most north­ern reaches of the reef in the search for “su­per corals’’ ca­pa­ble of with­stand­ing ris­ing sea tem­per­a­tures. Even­tu­ally the not-for-profit aims to fund year-round in­de­pen­dent re­search on the reef as well as its own re­search ves­sel. “In the late ’70s I met Rick Gross­man, the bass player for the Hoodoo Gu­rus. Back then he was play­ing with the Divinyls and his par­ents had a char­ter busi­ness in the Whit­sun­days. That was the first time I went div­ing on the reef and it was in­cred­i­ble,” drum­mer Rob Hirst says. “That’s one of the rea­sons why, per­son­ally, the idea that my kids and grand­kids won’t see the glory of the reef in their life­times is such a horrible idea. The de­cline of the reef has to be stopped now.”

Af­ter two re­cent, back-to-back bleach­ing events, many sci­en­tists be­lieve the over­all health of the reef is at a tip­ping point thanks to stresses on nu­mer­ous fronts. On the Aus­tralian leg of their world tour, the Oils have been care­ful to sound the alarm while also not paint­ing too bleak a pic­ture. “It’s still beau­ti­ful and it’s still worth vis­it­ing,” Gar­rett says of Queens­land’s most valu­able tourist at­trac­tion. “But from the time when you could just get in any­where and go snorkelling around and have these amaz­ing colours and vi­brance of the reef, it’s dif­fer­ent now. “I know that it can re­cover, but it won’t re­cover un­less we put in place the most sub­stan­tial reef pro­tec­tion mea­sures both na­tion­ally and in­ter­na­tion­ally and now is the time.” Are Aus­tralians, and the world, up to such a mo­men­tous task? “It’s as achiev­able as clos­ing the gap in the ozone layer. Peo­ple said that couldn’t be done,” Gar­rett points out. “The ques­tion about cli­mate change is set­tled in most peo­ple’s minds. Ba­si­cally ev­ery­body re­alises we’ve got to roll up our sleeves and do some­thing. Com­mu­ni­ties and coun­tries can do good but we need the lead­er­ship to do it. Aus­tralia, es­pe­cially, needs to take a front-foot role in re­duc­ing emis­sions and sta­bil­is­ing the cli­mate.” That means lob­by­ing gov­ern­ments and politi­cians, es­pe­cially those stand­ing in the up­com­ing Queens­land state elec­tion. “Hav­ing been in gov­ern­ment, I know it’s im­por­tant for gov­ern­ments and po­lit­i­cal par­ties to lis­ten to what peo­ple are say­ing,” Gar­rett says. “There are al­ways ques­tions about feed­ing our kids, ed­u­ca­tion and health – and they’ll al­ways be part of the mix – but this is one of those times when we ac­tu­ally have to put this is­sue first. We are the gen­er­a­tion in whose hands the fu­ture of the reef lies.” The Oils spent this year on the road for their mostly sold-out world tour, the band’s first in more than two decades, which wraps up next week. They played two runs of shows in the US, their first Amer­i­can gigs in the “age of Trump’’. Gar­rett says he wasn’t afraid of the T word, just as he hasn’t been afraid to call out “Mr Turn­bull, Mr Ab­bott and Ms Han­son’’ at home. “We’re see­ing the strong, right-wing na­tion­al­is­tic thing rear its head again, which cer­tainly hap­pens when peo­ple are feel­ing eco­nom­i­cally in­se­cure,” he says. “The Oils have been very strong in our pol­i­tics over the years and not ev­ery­one agrees with us at all times but that’s not the point. We’re al­ways go­ing to say what we think, and the songs have quite strong ex­pres­sions that res­onate with what’s go­ing on this year. “In some ways that’s kind of sober­ing. You think ‘wow, we haven’t trav­elled as far as we’d like’ but in other ways you think ‘Hey, we’ve still got some­thing im­por­tant un­der our belts’ and we want to share it with you.” Oils at the Reef airs to­day at noon and 5pm ADST on MAX. En­core screen­ings will also air to­mor­row at 10am, 3pm and 8pm ADST.

WE AC­TU­ALLY HAVE TO PUT THIS IS­SUE FIRST. WE ARE THE GEN­ER­A­TION IN WHOSE HANDS THE FU­TURE OF THE REEF LIES

PHO­TOS: JUSTIN J HEIT­MAN AND LIAM FAHEY

Mid­night Oil on Vla­soff Cay on the Great Bar­rier Reef and, clock­wise from the top on the op­po­site page, fans Julie Mol­loy and Jenny Pen­rose at the Mid­night Oil con­cert at the Great Western Ho­tel in Rockhampton; drum­mer Rob Hirst at the Cairns gig; the band per­forms at the Tanks Arts Cen­tre in Cairns as part of a spe­cial ben­e­fit con­cert for the Great Bar­rier Reef; and Pe­ter Gar­rett belts out a num­ber in Cairns.

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