Midnight Oil took home the highest honour of the Australian Performing Rights Association (Apras) awards on Wednesday night, winning the peer-voted song of the year category for Gadigal Land.
The band’s first single in 17 years, Gadigal Land came from their mini album the Makarrata Project, a collection of seven songs released in 2020. Featuring collaborations with First Nations leaders and artists, all proceeds from the project went to organisations working to elevate the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
A political anthem of rage and healing, Gadigal Land is a multilingual song written by Rob Hirst, Gadigal and Dunghutti poet Joel Davison and Mirning elder Bunna Lawrie, which also features Davison, Lawrie, Dan Sultan and Kaleena Briggs. On Wednesday night, it was performed as a powerful spoken word piece by Gadigal elder Uncle Allen Madden – a cover which Hirst referred to as “a highlight of my life”.
“This might be the point in history that the most people alive on Earth have heard my people’s language, the language of my ancestors. That is extraordinary. That is significant,” Davidson said. “This win is for all of us … No more black deaths in custody. Always was, always will be Aboriginal land.”
The Apra song of the year is the only peer-voted category of the Apra awards, with the majority a predetermined numbers game recognising airplay and royalty earnings.
The Apra board of directors does have discretion over a few music categories though. Songwriter of the year went to Kevin Parker of Tame Impala for his fourth studio album, The Slow Rush – which won five Arias in 2020 and debuted at #3 on the US Billboard chart.
The award was presented virtually by US producer Mark Ronson, who praised Parker’s mastery of the craft. “The hooks, the melodies – and that can mean a vocal melody or the hookiest bassline you’ve ever heard – it has all of those things in spades,” Ronson said. “You think of the Less I Know the Better – it’s one of the most iconic basslines of the past 20 years. He really is such a fantastic songwriter.”
The Kid Laroi (AKA Charlton Howard) won breakthrough songwriter of the year, also decided on by the Apra board. At just 17, the Kamilaroi rapper became the youngest Australian solo artist ever to hit No 1 on the Aria album charts last year with his debut mixtape F*ck Love, which peaked at No 3 on the US Billboard charts. Howard now lives in Los Angeles and accepted the prize with a prerecorded speech.
The Ted Albert award for outstanding services to Australian music was shared by country music trailblazer Joy McKean and the late Helen Reddy, the Australian singer behind the 1972 feminist anthem I Am Woman, who died in September.
McKean was married to, managed and wrote many hit songs for Slim Dusty (AKA David Kirkpatrick), including his biggest hit Lights on the Hill. “So many of you people didn’t know what I looked like, knew nothing about me,” McKean said. “But there’s lots of us out there and nobody knows what you look like – nobody knows what you do – but you’re doing it and you’re loving it and you’re making this industry live.”
Reddy’s daughter Traci Donat accepted the prize on her mother’s behalf. “My mother was very proud of being Australian and she was proud of using her voice, her success and her visibility to elevate others,” Donat said. “In the final years of her life, she was incredibly optimistic and moved to see so many young women passionately carrying the torch. Thank you for honouring her legacy.”
Tones and I was the night’s other big success, winning most performed pop work and most performed Australian work for Never Seen the Rain, off her debut EP The Kids Are Coming.
The Rubens won in the most performed alternative song category with Live in Life; Morgan Evans won in the country category for his song Diamonds; Flume won in the dance category for Rushing Back; and Cold Chisel won in the rock category for Getting the Band Back Together.
The ceremony itself, held at the International Convention Centre in Sydney, revolved around its live performances. Each year, the five songs shortlisted for the main prize are covered by other Australian artists, and on Wednesday night highlights included Guy Sebastian’s Standing With You performed by Cat & Calmell; Tame Impala’s Lost in Yesterday performed by Hauskey, Stevan and Sycco; and Everybody Rise by Amy Shark, performed by Taka Perry, A.Girl, Gia Vorne and Emalia.
Odette opened the evening with Helen Reddy’s 1973 hit Delta Dawn, and Jimmy Barnes and Josh Teskey closed it with a tribute to the late music mogul Michael Gudinski, performing I Remember When I Was Young by the blues band Chain, who Gudinski managed in his early career. Gudinski loomed large over the ceremony, and was described by Marihuzka Cornelius, the A&R manager of Ivy League Records, as a man who “created a music industry and changed thousands of lives”.