ARIA HALL OF FAME HEROES

 

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Truganini (R Hirst/J Moginie) – Midnight Oil 1993

 

The Earth Sun and Moon album reunited the Oils with producer Nick Launay with whom they had recorded the 10…1 album in 1982 and Red Sails in The Sunset in 1984, in 1993 they went into the Megaphone Studios (Syd) to record what would be their ninth album.

 

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The first single released from the album was Truganini, a song which protested the plight of Aborigines and the enslavement and genocide inflicted on our indigenous people by early white settlers and the military. In the areas adjacent to Sydney Cove, reprisal raids by soldiers against spear-wielding natives resulted in many deaths, while the more cynical but equally lethal use of the smallpox virus to decimate local tribes, was a tactic already field-tested by the British against the native population in their North American colonies.

Australia’s colonial history is a blood-stained indictment of the mistreatment of our indigenous people, massacres in northern NSW at Moree, Waterloo Creek, Appin and Myall Creek, are still bizarrely memorialized in the names of current locations there, with such place names as Massacre Plains, Slaughterhouse Creek and Murdering Flat, being macabre signposts to some very dark pages in our country’s history. The unrelenting extermination of Tasmania’s Aboriginal population from the 1820’s onwards is personified by Truganini, a young Aboriginal girl, whose life was the very embodiment off the systematic marginalization and annihilation of Tasmania’s Aborigines.

Her life story is horrific – she was raped and the indigenous man to whom she was betrothed was murdered by whites, her mother was murdered by whites, her aunties kidnapped and enslaved, her final indignity was to be paraded in Hobart like a sideshow attraction as the “Queen of the Aborigines”.

She died in 1876 and after her remains were initially buried in the Hobart Gaol, they were then dug up and her bones stored in an apple crate, to be re-assembled and displayed in the Tasmanian Museum. In 1976 on the centenary of her death, her dying wish for her remains to be scattered on the waters of the D’Entrecasteau Channel were granted.

 

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The song and the promo video depict not only Truganini but also the Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira whose final years were devoid of the respect and dignity due to one of Australia’s most celebrated artists, as without proper care and professional management he drifted into vagrancy and alcoholism. Republicanism, the flag, the mixed blessings that accompany the British traditions we have inherited, all form part of the complex message this song and the video conveys.

Musically it was a clarion call for action, a blast of harmonica at the opening alerts the listener that the Oils are again manning the ramparts, bass, drums and wailing guitars carry the impassioned vocals to the first chorus “I hear much support for the monarchy/ I hear the Union Jack’s to remain/ I see Namatjira in custody/ I see Truganini in chains”

 

 

In 2014 a proposal to create a National Resting Place for the human remains of thousands of indigenous people held in museums in Australia and overseas – an Australian War Memorial for the First Australians – was suggested but has never been supported by a succession of governments at state or federal level.

The song had a mixed reception from the public, some Aborigines denounced it for perpetuating a white myth about the extinction of the Tasmanian Aborigines, so undermining those whose Native Title claims hinged on establishing ancestral land rights. Others supported the Oils for bringing the matters into public focus, the album charted at #2 nationally and the single #10, but it would be the last time the Oils took a single into the top ten.

The Oils would disband in the future but reform in 2005 to perform at the Wave Aid Benefit Concert at the Sydney Cricket Ground, where 50,000 cheering fans would give one of Australia’s greatest rock bands the rousing farewell they deserved, ARIA did likewise the very next year when the Oils were inducted into the Hall of Fame, along with the Divinyls, Rose Tattoo, Helen Reddy, Daddy Cool, Icehouse and Lobby Lloyd.

 

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