What Happened When A New Zealand Newspaper Claimed Midnight Oil Destroyed A Venue?

14 March 2024 | 3:02 pm | Jim Moginie

To celebrate the release of his new memoir, 'The Silver River', Jim Moginie has offered 'The Music' an exclusive extract that takes a look at the early days of Midnight Oil. Jim will be touring from March, full details at Harper Collins.

Jim Moginie, 'The Silver River' book cover

Jim Moginie, 'The Silver River' book cover (Credit: Sarah Lorien Photography)

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‘Aussies Destroy Venue’


Despite our emerging popularity, some might say notoriety, my father seemed to think that Midnight Oil was a dead-end career for me. Mum never questioned anything I did, but back in 1976 Dad had chased Pete and Rob out of the house with his walking stick, yelling, ‘Get out, you long-haired bastards.’ It was only in 1979 when I brought home a gold record for 20,000 album sales that he changed his tune. Nothing succeeds like success. ‘Oh, now I see,’ he said. ‘Keep going with it, son.’ 

Rob and I had established a songwriting rapport – ‘Cold Cold Change’, ‘No Reaction’, ‘Naked Flame’ to name a few. Rob was brash, funny and super intelligent, contrary to the clichéd view of drummers. He was organised, articulate and highly driven, loving the band with a passion that was to remain undimmed. That big-picture view was matched by an ability to create and get inside great melodies and lyrics, which suited Pete completely right from the start, but was a thing that took me years to get a handle on. Rob was the band’s engine room, onstage and off. We all had ideas for songs and would all contribute parts, and I could do music; there was no shortage of that. I loved to make cassettes full of ideas and give them to the band to see what got a response, which was pretty much what I did for the whole of the band’s career.

Those songs ended up on Head Injuries, our second album, produced by Les Karski and engineered by Peter Walker. We sent Les a demo tape and he came back with a letter full of critical and funny comments. For ‘Profiteers’, he wrote ‘too much hippy waffle’. For ‘Cold Cold Change’, he parroted the lyrics of the chorus, just saying ‘have a significant time’. He was brutally direct, all for tightening up arrangements and cutting out superfluous sections, and had a punk-pop ethos. 

I had been secretly listening to American band Boston because I appreciated their concise arrangements and melodic guitar playing, a bit like the soaring ‘Telstar’ by Joe Meek, and had written a long song called ‘Is It Now?’ in that style. It was a bit of an epic by punk standards, with lots of moves worked out on my piano and then taken across to my trusty TEAC reel-to-reel to add guitars, drums and voice. In the kitchen of Pete’s place at West Street, Crows Nest, he and I worked on the lyrics, our first collaboration. In rehearsal we sped it up, and Les had inspired ideas for key changes for the end section. At that point it would just lift off and go into orbit. It was always among my favourite moments when we played it.

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We worked long and hard on Head Injuries, with weeks of pre-production and recording time and lots of midnight-to-dawn sessions after shows, often stumbling into the daylight exhausted. This was to become our great advantage, honing songs and arranging them well, all the while playing to the band’s strengths. I could see that if we had the right people around us and worked hard, we could make great records.


Straight after recording Head Injuries, Gary sent us on a tour of New Zealand. It was late 1979 and soon-to-be manager of INXS Chris Murphy and his sister Charne tour-managed us through it. We had twenty-five shows in as many days and travelled around in an eight-seater bus with no suspension. The promoters had stencilled our name on the side in big letters using electrical tape, so we were reluctant to get in the bus at all.

It didn’t take long to get into the New Zealand newspapers. ‘Aussies Destroy Venue’ howled the front page of the Auckland Star after our first show at a club called The Gluepot, where Pete ripped down the curtains, Martin thrust his guitar into the ceiling and left it hanging there, feeding back, and Rob smashed up the kit and rammed his sticks into the low roof.

Whether it was adrenalin, pent-up excitement or the result of watching too many Who performances, Kiwis turned up to our subsequent gigs expecting more of the same. But rock destruction can’t be faked; it must come from the heart. 

Audiences at the other gigs were funereally quiet. At the Hillcrest Tavern in Hamilton, there was an immovable pulpit in the middle of the stage that had to be incorporated into the show somehow. We did four nights in a row there with the audience seated on chairs. A bell rang after we completed our cyclonic set, the lights came on and everyone left as one, as if braindead and joined at the hip. No encore was requested, considered or delivered. Hamilton seemed like the most boring place on Earth, but Bear berated us for our opinions. ‘You can do anything here you could do anywhere on a Saturday night,’ he said. We stared back at him aghast. The shops and cafés closed early and the fare was hogget (old lamb) and parboiled frozen vegetables. Television stopped transmission at 10pm with an animation of a little Kiwi climbing up a ladder into bed and flicking off the light. That meant a long night of nothing ahead for us, except maybe a game of cards. It was depressing.

Napier was better, a hot surf spot with a black sand beach. A friendly bohemian woman ran the hotel, which was like an old boarding house. We loosened up there, having a couple of beers after the show around a big pool table. I enjoyed the game even though I’d never played. New Zealand in 1979 is where we all learnt its finer points. 

Our crew was Colin Lee Hong on lights, Ali Emmett on sound and Glen PigLloyd doing stage. Pig was a rock and roll warrior, a man with a sweet soul and love of music, but an alarming capacity for violence. He had worked with bands we looked up to, like Split Enz, and could get any job done, like building a stage where there was none. He pulled out all stops to make the gig happen. Wild‑eyed, straggly haired, with a mouthful of bad teeth and battling addiction, he would wield a heavy stainless-steel pipe that he named the ‘wombat basher’ if punters, or even bands, got out of line. When an unknown hand came around the dressing-room door trying to gain access before our show at Wellington Town Hall, Pig reduced it to a bloody mess before it was hastily and silently withdrawn.

Bear was out of his comfort zone and unhappy on this tour. I’m sure ongoing issues related to his ulcer had a lot to do with it. Once the band had nonplussed the North Island, he flew from Wellington to Christchurch. He didn’t want to do the Cook Strait boat crossing because of his delicate stomach. We had a hellish sea voyage with most of us seasick, and then drove full bore all day to get to our hotel rooms in Christchurch at 11pm. When we arrived, we discovered our accommodation had been cancelled. Mightily pissed off, we had to continue driving to Dunedin, where the first gig was, a further 360 kilometres south. No service stations were open after dark in Timaru, so we ran out of gas on the hills above Dunedin. We were now utterly exhausted and Pete nursed the bus and literally rolled it in on petrol vapour to make it to the hotel as the sun rose. 

After weeks of cramped travel in the bus with no suspension, those of us with the longest legs were in deep need of some back re-alignment. Pete and I went to a chiropractor in Dunedin, a guy who also treated horses. The result was that Pete blacked out on the table and the resultant spinal maladjustment made him as stiff as a board. I also came out feeling like I had an ironing board instead of a spine. The punters were expecting us to annihilate the stage that night having read the headline ‘Aussies Set to Destroy Dunedin’. What they got was Pete standing rigid and immobile, like a department store dummy. 

But there were many stellar moments on that tour, like flying over Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables to Milford Sound in a daredevil single-propeller plane, and the sight of Double Cone peak as we flew close to moraines and the walls of glaciers. Waterfalls thundering down the steep sides of fjords, creating ethereal mist. Riding up a mountain in a bubble-shaped cable car in Queenstown, snowploughing down Coronet Peak on rented skis wearing our jeans, meeting strangers, eating bluff oysters and getting pretty drunk. On the last night of our residency at the Hillsborough Tavern in Christchurch, there was an egg-throwing competition between Colin the lighting guy and Martin across the heads of the audience, and Pete invited the whole crowd back to the hotel. As the proceedings wore on we festooned the outside of the building with rolls and rolls of toilet paper, cast out the windows so they looked like streamers. 

After a tour like this, we felt we could take on anything. We learnt to be a band and that we could be stoic in the face of hardship and still enjoy ourselves. It was a crash course that stood us in good stead for what lay ahead. The landscape was widening like the vista from the Milford Sound airplane, the world below stretching to infinity, beautiful and limitless.

The Silver River: a memoir of family – lost, made and found by Jim Moginie (HarperCollins Publishers $34.99) is out now. Jim will be touring from March, full details here.