Beds are Burning is a modern day Australian anthem. It was released just months before Australia marked on 26 January 1988, the 200th anniversary of the first fleet’s arrival in Sydney. The Guardian described Beds are Burning as arguably the most resonantly subversive artistic gesture ever made by Australians. It was essentially a powerful, pleading rattle of the national conscience and suggesting to non-Indigenous Australia that the country “Belongs to them/Let’s give it back.” It is the first track from Midnight Oil’s classic Australian album Diesel and Dust.
I remember this album vividly when it came out and I played the cassette tape to death. Before this landmark song / event there was scant regard or public discourse about the plight of indigenous Australia. Midnight Oil performed the song in front of a world audience of millions at the closing ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics and played it dressed in black, with the word “Sorry” printed conspicuously all over their clothes.
Three decades later, on 13 February 2008, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a formal apology on behalf of the Australian Parliament to Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. In particular to the Stolen Generations that included Aboriginal singer/songwriter Archie Roach who will feature in this music library project. At the age of 4, Roach and his sisters, along with the other Indigenous Australian children of the stolen generations, were forcibly removed from their family by Australian government agencies and placed in an orphanage.
Remarkably, the lead singer of Midnight Oil Peter Garrett would be serving as Environment minster for the Rudd Government at the time of Rudd’s historic speech.
Wikipedia: “Beds Are Burning” was released as the second single from the album. It reached No. 1 in New Zealand, South Africa and Canada, No. 3 in the Netherlands, No. 5 in France, No. 6 in the United Kingdom, Australia and Ireland, No. 17 in the United States and Sweden….It is one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll…In May 2001, Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) celebrated its 75th anniversary by naming the Best Australian Songs of all time, as decided by a 100 strong industry panel. “Beds Are Burning” was declared third behind the Easybeats’ “Friday on My Mind” and Daddy Cool’s “Eagle Rock”.
Out where the river broke
The bloodwood and the desert oak
Holden wrecks and boiling diesels
Steam in forty-five degrees
The time has come to say fair’s fair
To pay the rent, to pay our share
The time has come, a fact’s a fact
It belongs to them, let’s give it back
How can we dance when our earth is turning?
How do we sleep while our beds are burning?