Strict Rules: The iconic story of the tour that shaped Midnight Oil
Hachette, $24.99 pb, 320 pp, 9780733638084
In July 1986, an ascendant Midnight Oil joined forces with the Northern Territory’s trailblazing, predominantly Indigenous Warumpi Band and embarked on the joint Blackfella–Whitefella tour of remote Indigenous communities in the Western Desert and Top End. The bands would perform for more than a dozen communities, from Warakurna, Western Australia in the south-west to Groote Eylandt on the Gulf of Carpentaria to the north-east, taking in, among other places, the Pintupi community of Kintore; the Luritja, Warlpiri, Anmatjira and Aranda settlement (and Warumpi Band home-ground) of Papunya, and the Gumatj centre of Yirrkala. Strict Rules is then-music journalist Andrew McMillan’s breathless, kaleidoscopic account of that tour. Originally published in 1988, the book is reissued here to coincide with Midnight Oil’s The Great Circle world tour, and includes a new epilogue from frontman Peter Garrett.
When the Oils and Warumpis hit Docker River, the Fraser government’s historic Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act (1976) was barely a decade old. Indigenous rejection of a century of missionary round-ups, forced settlement, and decades-old policies of assimilation was a recent development. The Northern Territory into which Midnight Oil plunged headlong was the site of a nascent sovereignty movement agitating against the twin-colossi of mining and militarisation. The Cold War still loomed large, and US forces were an uneasy presence in the Territory. The bands’ entry into many of the tour’s stopping points required that they first obtain permits from the relevant community councils.