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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Protest!

How can we dance when our earth is turning?

Songman, portrait of Kev Carmody, 2006 Peter Hudson
Songman, portrait of Kev Carmody, 2006 Peter Hudson. © Peter Hudson

Rock’s raw potency made it the ideal medium for fomenting protest. The 1970s, 80s and onwards saw calls for social and environmental justice ring out through song: for Indigenous rights, for recognition of the Stolen Generations, for Treaty; and against mining and nuclear energy. Powerful and passionate, music’s storytellers rendered deep injustices visible and mainstream.

1Nothing's as precious as a hole in the ground, 2001. 2Preparatory study for 'Nothing's as precious as a hole in the ground'. Head studies, 2001. Both eX de Medici. © eX de Medici

From 1976, Midnight Oil’s urgent, aggressive energy fired up crowds in Sydney. The Mirning trio of Bunna Lawrie and his brothers formed funk-rock-reggae group Coloured Stone at Koonibba, South Australia in 1977, while Warumpi Band came together in Papunya, Northern Territory in 1980. ‘You can’t change the rhythm of my soul’ sang Pitjanjatjara musician Bart Willoughby of First Nations rock-reggae band No Fixed Address, in their anthemic 1981 track ‘We Have Survived’. And Yolŋu singer/songwriter Dr M Yunupingu formed Yothu Yindi in 1986.

1Warumpi Band, First Australians Concert, Sydney Opera House, 1986 Juno Gemes. Courtesy of the artist. © Juno Gemes Archive. 2George Burarrwanga, Warumpi Band, The First Australians Concert, Sydney Opera House, 1986 Juno Gemes. Courtesy of the artist. © Juno Gemes Archive. 3Bart Willoughby, c. 2000 Penny Tweedie. © Estate of Penny Tweedie. 4Mandawuy Yunupingu, 1991 (printed 2011) Lorrie Graham. © Lorrie Graham.

Politics, as ever, informed the temper of the times. The Mabo Native Title case was in the courts, and the protests around the 1988 Bicentenary rocked. Indigenous bands made music history, singing in language, touring internationally, and overcoming racist exclusion from some pubs, along with police harassment at gigs.

1 . 2 . Us Mob, Rock Against Racism Concert, Paddington Town Hall 1980 Juno Gemes. Courtesy of the artist © Juno Gemes Archive

Together, Indigenous and non-Indigenous protest rockers created anthems that would inspire future generations. Two hits of 1991 – Yothu Yindi’s ‘Treaty’ and the ballad ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’ – began as campfire collaborations between singer-songwriter Paul Kelly and, respectively, Yunupingu and Murri songman Kev Carmody. Non-Indigenous Warumpi Band guitarist Neil Murray wrote ‘My Island Home’ about Galiwin'ku, NT for his lead singer, Yolŋu man GR Burarrwaŋa, almost a decade before Christine Anu made it famous.

1Paul Kelly, 2007 Peter Brew-Bevan. © Peter Brew-Bevan. 2Neil Murray, 2008 Peter Hudson. © Peter Hudson. 3Waiting for Zipporah (Christine Anu), 2002 Elizabeth Barden. © Elizabeth Barden.

"How can we dance when our earth is turning?" taken from ‘Beds Are Burning’
Written by Robert Hirst, James Moginie and Peter Garrett. © Spirit Music. Licensed by Sony/ATV Music Publishing (Australia) Pty Ltd

Related information

Young Docteurs, Kingston Hotel, 6 March 1980 (Paul Hayward guitar and Chris Shakallis), 6.3.80 'pling
Young Docteurs, Kingston Hotel, 6 March 1980 (Paul Hayward guitar and Chris Shakallis), 6.3.80 'pling
Young Docteurs, Kingston Hotel, 6 March 1980 (Paul Hayward guitar and Chris Shakallis), 6.3.80 'pling
Young Docteurs, Kingston Hotel, 6 March 1980 (Paul Hayward guitar and Chris Shakallis), 6.3.80 'pling

Canberra cool

In conversation: virtual event

Fri 25 Sep
12:30pm

Your backstage pass to sensational stories about Canberra’s Pub Rock scene with Chris Shakallis (Young Docteurs), Julia Ford (The Framed) and Fiona Edge (keeper of the ‘Pling archive)

Angus Young, AC/DC, LA, 1978 Rennie Ellis
Angus Young, AC/DC, LA, 1978 Rennie Ellis
Angus Young, AC/DC, LA, 1978 Rennie Ellis
Angus Young, AC/DC, LA, 1978 Rennie Ellis

Pub Rock Trivia

Thu 8 Oct
7:00pm

Join us for a bout of FREE pub trivia – all online and live-streamed of course! There’ll be an hour of music mayhem and prizes to be won.

The Lighthouse Keepers, ANU Union, Canberra, 1983. Juliet Ward (vocals), Greg Appel (guitar) 'pling
The Lighthouse Keepers, ANU Union, Canberra, 1983. Juliet Ward (vocals), Greg Appel (guitar) 'pling
The Lighthouse Keepers, ANU Union, Canberra, 1983. Juliet Ward (vocals), Greg Appel (guitar) 'pling
The Lighthouse Keepers, ANU Union, Canberra, 1983. Juliet Ward (vocals), Greg Appel (guitar) 'pling

Tales and time

In conversation: virtual event

Fri 9 Oct
12:30pm

It’s like an after party, but waaay after. Join Greg Appel (Lighthouse Keepers), Robina Gugler (co-writer of Head Full of Flames) and Fiona Edge (Keeper of the ‘Pling archive).

Jimmy Barnes and Ian Moss, Cold Chisel 1980 Wendy McDougall
Jimmy Barnes and Ian Moss, Cold Chisel 1980 Wendy McDougall
Jimmy Barnes and Ian Moss, Cold Chisel 1980 Wendy McDougall
Jimmy Barnes and Ian Moss, Cold Chisel 1980 Wendy McDougall

Squished and sweaty

In conversation: virtual event

Fri 23 Oct
12:30pm

Grab your press pass and hold it tight as we dive camera-first into the mosh pit! Photographers Wendy McDougall and Stuart Spence have captured the likes of INXS, Cold Chisel, Paul Kelly, Tim Freedman and many more.

We would like to thank our partners.
© National Portrait Gallery 2020
King Edward Terrace, Parkes
Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia

Phone +61 2 6102 7000
Fax +61 2 6102 7001
ABN: 54 74 277 1196

The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.