David Oke
Deakin University, Geelong, March 5 1981

I can’t believe the perfect family’s on my colour T.V
If I don’t make it to the top it’ll never bother me…

Orientation Week at Deakin University was famous for a few things. One was the ‘Iron-Man’ which involved lots of beer, lots of pies and lots of vomit. Another was the Market Night concert. In 1981 Midnight Oil was the headline act. I was starting the final year of my primary teaching degree and would soon be emergency teaching while hoping for a full-time job. Heather, my wife to be, was in her second year  of commerce at Deakin and since it was nearly her birthday we thought it a fun idea to kick off the celebrations early. I had heard of Midnight Oil, but had never witnessed anything I was about to experience.

We stood on a walkway on the second level of the science building. The outdoor stage was directly in front of us. We were both struck by the sheer volume of the music. Loud! Really Loud! Not only was the bass hitting us like a shockwave from the giant P.A. system, but the concrete walkway was resonating too. We could feel the music coming up through our feet.

I was transfixed with the skill and showmanship of Rob Hirst on drums, the power chords and virtuoso ability of Martin and Jim on guitars, the rhythm and drive of Peter on bass and, of course, the outspoken, tall and bald Peter Garrett who mesmerised us with his ‘stomp’ and helicopter dancing.

It was amusing to see that a bloke, perhaps still recovering from the Iron Man event, or in a ‘chemically enhanced’ state, had parked himself inside one of the bass speaker bins. He was there for a while before being moved. I wonder how his hearing is more than thirty years later?

That concert was pivotal for a few reasons: the volume and excitement of the music; the great songs with themes of politics and nuclear disarmament; and, to me, the unusual chord progressions in some songs.

I had grown up with classical music and standard rock songs, so the opening chords to Don’t Wanna Be The One were jarring at first – B Flat, D Flat, A to F??? I had never heard anything like it, but loved it! That particular song was in the encore.

Work soon took me teaching in Footscray, a tough suburb in Melbourne’s inner-west. I once used the Oils when teaching a Grade 5/6 class about the environment and rainforests. I used the video film clip of the song Pictures from the Species Deceases album. Towards the end of the film clip animated blood spurts from a tree that had been brutally hacked by a chainsaw. The horrified look on some of the students’ faces was surprising. It sure was a great discussion starter!

I actually shed a tear when Midnight Oil broke up in 2002. It was like the passing of an old friend. It was the closure of some great concert, musical and life memories from earlier days – days when things were different, not so much better, just different. Days before having a job, days before being in a regular routine:

I’m an innocent victim, I’m just like you I am,
Up in tall units with a brick wall view
I can’t believe the perfect family’s on my colour T.V
If I don’t make it to the top
It’ll never bother me……

To be honest, I never quite felt like an ‘innocent victim’ but I once lived in an apartment with a brick wall view from the bedroom. In my career my motivation to become a school principal did wane over time and I guess I never quite ‘made it to the top’ in that sense, choosing to remain a classroom teacher instead.

There was a brief, and welcome, return by Midnight Oil in 2009. My family and I attended the Sound Relief concert at the MCG and Midnight Oil closed the show. It was thrilling to see the Oils again. It was just as thrilling to have my two sons experience an Oils performance, and hear the music live they have had to put up with on dad’s iPod for so long. Midnight Oil played their music, and the crowd, really well. A dominant thought in my mind was, “Peter – please give up your day job!” I Don’t Wanna Be The One was not on the playlist at Sound Relief but other favourites, Best Of Both Worlds and Read About It sure were.

 

Just a footnote to the 1982 concert at Deakin Uni – the support band also played a pretty good set. It was a new group who had started to play some gigs around the place and were probably going to go places. Musically they were great and their singer was pretty charismatic too. What were they called? That’s right…INXS…

©David Oke. More stories by David Oke

 

David is a Melbourne musician, music teacher and primary school teacher. His debut Stereo Story was about playing Great Balls of Fire at Sun Studio in Memphis. He has assisted in the organisation, and leading of gospel music workshops and Sunday gospel celebrations at the Anglesea Music Festivals, and is a member of The Seddon Jammers. His son Dan is the creative force of the band Jarrow.