Ash Grunwald: Why I decided to write a protest song

Melbourne’s ASH GRUNWALD is synonymous with goodtime blues-rock, but a trip to Tara in the Darling Downs region of Queensland inspired his first protest song.

‘The Last Stand’ didn’t begin life as a protest song but it was clearly meant to end up that way. The lyrics, the riff – they all just fit in perfectly with my journey and subsequent sentiments regarding Coal Seam Gas (CSG) mining, which has overwhelmingly negative consequences to land, humans, animals and the environment. It involves the fracturing of coal seams that are made up primarily of methane and releasing that methane, contaminating both air and water.

Originally I was asked to submit a track for what was to be the new Arnold Schwarzenegger film, The Last Stand, with no guarantee it would be used or not. But I was very excited about it as I really enjoy writing music for purposes other than my own. They didn’t end up using it for the film and it was sitting in the proverbial top drawer for a couple of months until I began working with Scott Owen and Andy Strachan from The Living End. With those guys as the rhythm section, and following my recent trips to the Australian gaslands in southwest Queensland, I realised it would be perfect as an anti-CSG song because it was so muscular.

When I was penning it originally, I was imagining Arnie in the Terminator days. It was the evilest riff I had ever come up with. The song’s primal feel coupled with the notion of “the last stand” seemed so fitting to me in relation to CSG, because that’s what we’re going through right now. I needed a song that would motivate the everyday punter, maybe the guy who might listen to Barnesy, or someone who enjoys their heavy music – I wanted them to be inspired by it. I wanted to do an activism song not of the folk genre, something hard-hitting and properly expressive of how I feel about it.

“I needed a song that would motivate the everyday punter.”

The most significant, direct lyrics in the track come from my time interviewing residents in the Tara region and from visiting the Condamine River where it’s bubbling with methane gas 24/7. The other line I put in there about the nosebleeds is taken directly from a mother who I spoke with about her children suffering terrible adverse health effects that could very well just be the early signifiers of life threatening illness. We’re talking about children here! Children who can’t eat for days because they throw everything up and complain of a metallic taste in their mouths. I went there to see it first-hand, for the purpose of being able to talk to others about it and say that I did go there. I have seen it with my own eyes and I have smelt the acetone in the air.

I feel as a father, an Australian and as a compassionate person, I must contribute to stopping CSG. Unfortunately this is probably only the beginning, because they are planning to mine over 50 percent of Australia. Not just CSG but new forms of open-cut mining and a few other things but that’s too much for me to get my head around at the moment. I feel emboldened when I think forward to how history will judge us and I’m just trying not to disappoint my future self when I ask the question, “How could we have let this happen?”

And although I’ve never spoken out before on anything apart from playing guitar and sermonising about the importance of a good time, this has really struck a chord with me of a different kind. I don’t know any better way for me to spread the word and express how I feel, then how I have always done – through my music.


‘The Last Stand’ is from Ash Grunwald’s forthcoming album Gargantua (out June 28). Click here for more on CSG.

Gargantua tour:

Thursday, June 27 – The Corner, Melbourne

Friday, June 28 – Prince Bandroom, Melbourne

Saturday, June 29 – Westenport Hotel, San Remo

Thursday, July 4 – The Great Northern, Byron Bay

Friday, July 5 – The Hi-Fi, Brisbane

Saturday, July 6 – Kings Beach Tavern, Sunshine Coast

Sunday, July 7 – Rabbit and Cocoon, Gold Coast (afternoon/evening show)