(NOTE: If you get to the end of my Midnight Oil history lesson, you will be rewarded with a photo of a hot bikini model — completely Oils-related, I promise. And if you’re looking for some killer insights into the making of Diesel and Dust, read my interview with Jim Moginie here.)
Where are they now, you ask? Are you living under a rock? In Yuendemu? I jest. As we all know by now, Midnight Oil ended a 14-year hiatus in 2016, toured the world, recorded an album, and — sadly — lost a bass player. Yes, much has happened since I first set out to answer this question in 2013.
I present a brief summary, fresh as at December 2020, with some archival content about the members’ solo outings during the hiatus.
DEC. 7, 2020 — Midnight Oil have just announced a 5-date Australia “Makarrata Live” tour, beginning in February, with hopes for a bigger trek through Australia and New Zealand later in 2021! Details here. And since I mention Bones Hillman below, today’s press release refers to their fallen comrade:
Midnight Oil originally planned to play some MAKARRATA LIVE concerts earlier this year including a headlining slot at Splendour In The Grass. Those plans were unfortunately delayed by Covid19 and were then thrown into doubt by the harrowing terminal illness of long-time bass player, Bones Hillman. However, Bones urged his bandmates to proceed with these live shows to help draw focus to the new recordings the group had all made together late last year. In fact, just a few hours before his tragic passing he received confirmation that The Makarrata Project had debuted at the top of the ARIA [Australian] Album Charts. It was Midnight Oil’s first new music #1 since Hillman’s very first record with the band, Blue Sky Mining, way back in 1990. “Bonesy leaves giant shoes to fill, but we’ll need to find a new bass player for this tour,” said drummer Rob Hirst.
DEC. 6, 2020 — Sadly, bassist Bones Hillman succumbed to cancer in Milwaukee a month ago. He was 62. Bones joined the Oils shortly after the band had released Diesel and Dust in mid-1987. He made his name as a member of the New Zealand group the Swingers, which enjoyed a big hit with “Counting the Beat.” Here’s the cool video. Click only if you can count to nine.
The Oils’ latest release, The Makarrata Project, released Oct. 30, 2020, marks Bones’ swan song. He worked on the band’s first album in almost 20 years reportedly without informing his colleagues that he was ill.
As for Makarrata, it’s a seven-track “mini album” spotlighting various Aboriginal artists. It’s hard to believe the Oils haven’t won the Nobel Peace Prize yet. Until then, they will have to make do with the human rights gold medal from the Sydney Peace Foundation. It’s extremely irksome that the Oils’ announcement of the award, on Oct. 23, included a Bones-free photo of the band. Even if he wouldn’t have been able to attend the ceremony, at least show some respect for your dying cobber by using a five-man photo. This is a band that has made a career out of hectoring others for airbrushing history.
Well, moving right along. I’ve spent decades being irked by the Oils, but I still love ’em.
NOV. 7, 2017 — Midnight Oil are wrapping up a world reunion tour, although I am sure they will be back for more if you missed them. I was lucky to see them at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles in August, when they played about half the songs from 10, 9, 8 …, and Peter graciously tossed his sweaty shirt to a grateful Trump supporter. What an amazing night. Crikey.
I had grand plans to follow Midnight Oil around North America, but the band’s devotion to the welfare of Aborigines and the environment did not extend to its fans. Scalpers swooped in and grabbed most of the tickets as they soon as they went on sale at many venues. It’s easy when you can buy up to seven tickets per order. Does anyone legitimately need to buy seven tickets? Someone posted this message on Facebook as the password-protected L.A. presale for the Wiltern Theatre was underway on Feb. 23:
Just looked at StubHub [an official scalping site, owned at the time by eBay] as of 1:30pm PST for the Los Angeles show at The Wiltern…There are 232 floor tickets, 91 loge tickets, and 96 Mezzanine tickets available from $76-$200 per ticket. That is 419 tickets just from the allocated presale tickets. This scalping is getting so ridiculous. There really needs to be a fix of the whole system.
After the public on-sale for the Wiltern the following day (Feb. 24), someone wrote on the Steve Hoffman music forum:
I just checked StubHub for the LA show. The Wiltern holds 1,850 and StubHub has over 500 of them. That’s just ridiculous.
Someone added: I had another browser tab opened on StubHub and magically at 10:13 when Ticketmaster was sold out, a plethora of tickets suddenly appeared there.
Well, this is the inevitable result when you get into bed with crooks like Live Nation and Ticketmaster, so shame on Midnight Oil for being such hypocrites. They know the system by now, and chose to ignore the practical reality faced by fans.
MID-2016 — Midnight Oil are reuniting, and the fellas have plenty of individual projects in the works. Among them, Peter Garrett will tour Australia in July/August 2016 to promote a new solo album. His band will include Oils bandmate Martin Rotsey. Sample the album here.
Here is the Where Are They Now? summary that was current in January 2016, and is still pretty useful in 2020:
Peter Garrett (singer/songwriter) (1975- ) — If he wasn’t quite the Sonny Bono of Australian lawmakers, Peter Garrett endured a rather frustrating stint in Canberra, where his loquacious enthusiasm was often undermined by the country’s brutal political tradition. (American politicians wouldn’t last five minutes Down Under.) If I had been his opponent, my attack line would have been: “Peter Garrett: Too Smart to be a Politician.” Garrett quietly left the national political stage in September 2013, six weeks after resigning as a marginalized cabinet minister in a hopelessly fractured center-left government. Here is his farewell speech:
In 2015 Garrett wrote a memoir, Big Blue Sky, which already seems to be out of print except as an audiobook. (NOTE: In Dec. 2020 I completed the 15-hour audiobook. It was oddly compelling, even if the law-school graduate kept pronouncing “picture” as “pitcher” and mentioned everyone listed in the Australian telephone book.)
Here is an article about the book launch, with a rather silly angle. Do you seriously think he has “regrets” about some of the content? And of course, as part of his promo, he is vaguely holding out the possibility of an Oils reunion.
Garrett does some official promo for the book here via Youtube, talking about LAPD brutality and working in a women’s shoe store (like Al Bundy?):
And, in case you missed it, he and his media-shy, German-born wife Doris sold one of their homes in May 2015 for A$1.3 million. I assume the house is “staged” for promotional purposes and that the décor pictured is not the Garretts’.
I came across fascinating references to Garrett’s born-again Christianity and Midnight Oil’s hypocritical tyranny in articles written by Australian journalist David Leser. Click here for the 1990 article and here for the 2009 one. They really are the best pieces of writing about Midnight Oil. The former article is also published in Leser’s celebrity memoir, The Whites of Their Eyes, which is a bit like my own brilliant memoir, Strange Days, which coincidentally has a great chapter on another legendary Aussie band, INXS.
Fun fact: Peter is an Aries (passionate, independent, courageous) and the oldest Oil. He will turn 70 in 2023, a milestone denied to both his parents.
Martin Rotsey (guitarist/songwriter) (1976- ) — Joined forces with fellow Oils alumni Rob Hirst and Jim Moginie (and former Violent Femmes bassist Brian Ritchie) to form the surf-rock band The Break. They released their second album, Space Farm, in 2013. Interesting article here about going it alone without Garrett.
Rob Hirst (drummer/songwriter) (1972- ) — See his website for latest updates. Wrote a Herculean memoir, Willie’s Bar and Grill, about life on the road in North America immediately after the 9/11 attacks. Among his many musical collaborations — many with Moginie and Rotsey — was Ghostwriters (link is to their album Political Animal). Great song below:
Bones Hillman (bassist) (1987-2020) — The New Zealander lives in Nashville, a touring and session musician. He was selling bass lessons via his web site, but apparently no more. I had been thinking of signing up because my initial attempts to learn bass were not encouraging.
Andrew “Bear” James (bassist) (1972-1979) — Not sure, but he did show up when Midnight Oil were inducted into the Australian music industry hall of fame in 2006.
Peter Gifford (bassist) (1980-1987) — Famed for his aggressive bass playing, useful backing vocals and superior looks, “Giffo” went out on a high note, following the release of Diesel and Dust. This is a screengrab of him in the video for “Beds are Burning.” I often wondered if Pete’s driving was too much for him, but Garrett’s book claims Gifford was “wrestling with his [unspecified] demons and veering to the political right.”
After quitting Midnight Oil, Gifford became a micro-bikini tycoon. His Wicked Weasel company sells tiny pieces of fabric for a huge markup, and diversified into (very) soft porn via the Microminimus Community. I’m thinking of buying a subscription for Peter Garrett (Doris won’t mind). Gifford reportedly sold Wicked Weasel in 2016. As an entrepreneur burdened by red tape, he was a fierce critic (link works now) of center-left Prime Minister Julia Gillard — in whose government Garrett served as a cabinet minister.
Copyright © 2013-2020 by Dean Goodman.