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