FEATURES | SYED RAJA ABBAS
Musicians have been one of the few, yet powerful, demographics of individuals who have led the environmental movements in Australia and across the globe. From Joni Mitchell’s 1970 hit Big Yellow Taxi to Michael Jackson’s 1995 Earth Song, artists are constantly commenting on the world’s ecological state. An underlying paradox in Australia stems from how musicians seem to question ecological sustainability and fight for the environment more than governments do. With Australia being one of the biggest nations to contribute to climate change, we find musicians in our country often commenting on such actions through lyricism.
Julia Jacklin’s 2020 single ‘baby jesus is nobody’s baby now’ was released in response to the tragic bushfire season that took place during late 2020 and early 2021. Jacklin encapsulates the intense emotions of those in both rural and metropolitan areas around Australia who are celebrating Christmas whilst the country burns to flames.
“She lost the baby, the house nearly burnt down / Baby Jesus is nobody’s baby now”
Released only a few weeks before Christmas, Jacklin dichotomizes the cheery emotions and intimacy which arise from the holiday season, against the disheartening and traumatic experiences millions of Australians either experienced or witnessed for seven grim months. The bushfire season was difficult for all of us, even harder for those living in rural Australia attempting to develop camaraderie around the dinner table.
“Grandma cried “Can’t this wait?” / Drink a cup of juice, try to celebrate”
The underlying paradox of Jacklin releasing this song is reliant on former Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, packing his suitcases for a Hawaii trip planned only a week after the song’s release. Jacklin states she “wrote this in her bedroom looking forward to 2020, hoping it would be a reset of some kind” and unfortunately, the bushfire season continued into early 2020.
Still producing music, Midnight Oil’s songs provided an anthem for the environmental movement during the 80s and into the 90s. Throughout their career, Midnight Oil formed an association with political activism and the fight of ecological sustainability.
“The time has come to say fair’s fair / To pay the rent, to pay our share”
Beds Are Burning, 1987.
To this day, we find lyrics of Midnight Oil painted across posters at protests and recited are climate rallies. It was only a few years after this song’s release that the High Court of Australia delivered its landmark Mabo decision, legally recognising that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have a rich connection with the environment, originating from pre-invasion Australia. Whilst Midnight Oil’s legacy does not outweigh the power of legislation or court rulings, the contradiction that Australia has in regards to ecological sustainability and land rights, is that musicians seem to beat politicians to it.
“So you cut all the tall trees down / You poisoned the sky and the sea
You’ve taken what’s good from the ground / But you’ve left precious little for me”
River Runs Red, 1990.
Artists in the environmental movement do not find an issue that needs to be rectified and coincidentally make a statement about such issues through their content. Rather, Australian musicians manage to speak up and attempt to solve or comment on environmental issues before leading governments.
The 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart is a document constructed by Aboriginal leaders which seeks to improve how Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander peoples are represented in the constitution. With objectives of “truth telling” and developing a “First Nations Voice”, the document calls for the rectification of how Aboriginals have been represented and treated. Midnight Oil’s “The Makarrata Project'' is their twelfth studio album released during late October of 2020.
“Out loud / We’re waiting / Still waiting
Nation within the nation / Still waiting”
First Nation, 2020 (Track One from the Makarrata Project)
The album, named after the Makarrata Commission, a commission that the Uluru Statement from the Heart would develop to supervise agreement-making, was formed in response to support the statement and its objectives. The band’s leader, Peter Garrett stated that proceeds generated from the album would be donated to organisations who elevate the statement and Indigenous reconciliation. Two years after the album’s release, the statement was endorsed by the Labour party in response to Anthony Albanese’s election victory, after a rejection in 2017.
Environmental issue forms, musicians make music about it, politicians finally stimulate change. Whilst the observation of this paradox provides interesting discourse, we surely hope the current cycle is eventually ceased. Whilst musicians form music reflective of the world around them, we hope governments eventually realise they have bigger shoes in regards to Australia’s current environmental state.