Last Slab for Hunters Punters

Article about the loss of Hunters & Collectors.

Author: Michael Bodey.

Date: 24/03/1998.

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Article Text

And then there was one. Hunters and Collectors’ last public gig began appropriately with an audience sing- along to two Midnight Oil tracks. The Oils now remain the sole survivor of the tumultuous ’80s elevation of Australian rock, but many little green and brown bottles were knocked off while appreciating the pub-rock wiles of both bands.

The Hunters and Collectors story is just as much of talent unrewarded as of keeping their raucous rock ‘n’ roll where it developed – close to the loyal punters.

We punters are selfish, but they couldn’t have finished anywhere else but in the smoke-filled underbelly of a club in front of a sell-out crowd of about 500. Lead singer Mark Seymour noted early on: “Don’t be surprised if there’s not a few tears shed in the next 100 minutes of loud, driving rock ‘n’ roll music.”

Yet their last night was surprisingly free of tears or sentiment. We wouldn’t see the tears behind the perspiration. The younger-than-expected audience embraced them, sang along with them and reminisced. “This is just like ’86!” yelled one punter to his mate.

It was and it wasn’t. The primal energy of The Jaws Of Life album (1984) made way for the anthemic Human Frailty (1986) and Ghost Nation (1989) tracks, and Juggernaut’s (1998) commentary. They were willing us to listen to their lyrics, not bar-room bawl them.

This was a greatest hits set that missed a couple – where was The Way To Go Out? – but a set clearly personal to them. The “pretty special” What’s A Few Men, True Believers and Higher Plane mixed with the powerful Everything’s On Fire, pacy Say Goodbye and the closest thing we have to meaningful funk, Talking To a Stranger.

When The River Runs Dry took the crowd to its own higher plane, but throughout the show the audience didn’t quite get it. It was loyal, it was included, it was energetic, but as a mass, it craved the energy of the band before it soaked up its content. An industrial version of Head Above Water left the crowd flummoxed. They couldn’t sing to it. Unsurprisingly, the night’s peaks were the ballad that should have made them, Throw Your Arms Around Me, and chorus-heavy sections of their repertoire, such as Do You See What I See.

The Slab was crisply delivered, the innate sense of 17 years overcoming its complex beats, but the audience floundered. The cover of Chris Bailey’s Know Your Product could only be a metaphorical dig, but an appropriate one. Utilising the horns that made them strong at the end of the ’80s, it was a nod to the flame the Hunters rightly inherited from the native punk of the Saints et al.

This was a show that was celebratory without the air of finality. The audience expects them to be there again next summer. They didn’t bleed for their encores. No wonder the final song was Crime of Passion. The image of Mark Seymour plaintively crying “Why is it a crime to love you? Why is it?” before a brief “See ya” will live long.

The crime is ours. We took Hunters and Collectors for granted, even on their final night. But, boys, would you want to be Savage Garden? Your lyrics and modus operandi actually mean something to this country. Thank you, Hunters, and goodnight.