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It’s going to be a big year for singer, songwriter, drummer, activist, surfer Rob Hirst.

As well as another single with old journo mucker Sean Sennett and an album with his daughter Jay O’Shea – both out now - the kids he used to hang out back in the day, Midnight Oil, have got plans to release a mini-album and an album and headline Splendour In The Grass.

We can expect some thoughts on matters political. Which is handy as Mr Hirst has always been keen to keep that fire raging, as Wind Back Wednesday finds in this interview from 2007 when post-Oils, one of his other projects, Ghostwriters was providing an outlet for rock and rage against the machine.

It features a surprise appearance from two former prime ministers.


Rob Hirst is the man who wrote some of the most strident of Midnight Oil's pop polemics. The man who put the grunt - and according to a great number of female fans who never could get enough of those well defined arms, the groan - into the most political rock band we've produced.

Then Midnight Oil broke up and while one tall bald member actually went into politics, the rest, even the always opinionated Hirst, went on making music but no longer making waves.

But wait. After a long break between issues one of Hirst's post-Oils projects, Ghostwriters, is about to metaphorically nail its manifesto to our doors with the unambiguously titled album, Political Animal.

The songs are as lyrically urgent as ever, the music the closest to the Oils Hirst has been and what's more the Ghostwriters (which on this album includes former Oils guitarist Martin Rotsey) recently played at the Palm Sunday peace rally, have plans to organise a protest against the coming US/Australian military exercises in Queensland later this year, and are ready to have a spray about workplace reform.

After firing up at the ARIA Awards last year, when Midnight Oil were inducted into the hall of fame, and demanding to know where had all the political artists gone, there's clearly no shortage of things for Hirst to get worked up over.

"Aside from the dud New South Wales election that no one could get interested in, there's a Federal election later in the year and an American election next year so it's certainly going to be an interesting period," he says eagerly.

As the files of ASIO no doubt show, Hirst has a long history of this kind of activity but there hasn't been that much of it in the past five or so years.

"That's quite correct, which is why I had a twinge of guilt when I opened my big mouth at the ARIAs," Hirst admits. "As soon as I got off I thought well, hmm, after that piece of humbug I better write something. Within a space of two weeks I had written three out of the four new songs which are on the Political Animal album, all of which were written in a peak of anger."

When he sat down to write the songs, was it something like Marlon Brando being asked in The Wild Ones "what are you rebelling against" and responding "what have you got?"

"I think that's a little unfair Bernard," Hirst says, between hearty guffaws. "We are veteran complaint rockers mate, you know it, and particularly after 11 years of John Howard you don't need to ask that question."

Was it then a case of what not to protest about?

"Yes, that's more like it," he says. "But no, it wasn't calculated, more stream of consciousness bile. I realised that I had perhaps been relying on others and perhaps Midnight Oil's legacy for too long and every generation has to get out and do it. My two girls are aged 21 and 17 and they are involved in the same way that we were involved when Midnight Oil was starting out.

“Fortunately they don't see any contradiction in the old man and his mates, the high priests of complaint rock, still getting out there and marching and writing songs."

Did he expect his daughters might object?

"I wasn't sure. But they are either incredibly forgiving of dad's sins in private and public or they actually think, well he's been ranting about this for quite a while, maybe we should jump on to his train wreck."

These days you'll even find Hirst saying nice things about an old foe, former prime minister Malcolm Fraser, the same man once excoriated for allowing "US forces [to] give the nod".

"I've got a lot of time for the man now. I think there is room for redemption and post incumbency prime ministers have the same right as anyone else to reinvent themselves or to continue down the same path and continue to throw rocks at the windows of the houses of parliament as Keating so effectively does."

Paul Keating is an interesting example to bring up. Whenever he makes one of his occasional forays into public comment, for everyone who cheers his return, there is someone who repeats the line often used against retired politicians, and you would think just as likely to be used against ageing complaint rockers, that you've had your moment, we don't want to hear from you anymore.

"Well, bad luck," Hirst laughs. "You're going to hear from Keating and you're going to hear from this little black duck."

Prove Yourself, from Rob Hirst and Sean Sennett is out now.

The Lost And The Found from Rob Hirst and Jay O’Shea is out now.


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