The Oils, as they were called by their fans, began as a band called the Farm in the early 1970s, then under the Oils name became an aggressive, loud group associated with the surfer community near Sydney. Their first international recognition came in 1982, after several albums, with the release of 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, which included the singles "Power and the Passion" and "Read About It." In 1984, Garrett ran for political office in Australia under the Nuclear Disarmament Party banner, and lost. Between 1988 and 1992, the band's Diesel and Dust and Blue Sky Mining discs became known worldwide, as did their political activism for causes ranging from nuclear disarmament to aboriginal rights and environmental issues. Their subsequent albums sold less well outside Australia, but the Oils maintained a following throughout the 1990s and into the new century.
The band performed during the closing ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. The word "SORRY" was conspicuously printed on the band's clothes, making a political statement by offering apologies to the Aboriginal people for their suffering during more than 200 years of white settlement.
Garrett decided to quit the band on December 2, 2002 to focus more on his environmental and social causes. The other members of the band resolved to continue working together, but not under the Midnight Oil name, bringing the band's career to a close.