Beds are Burning (1987) – Midnight Oil

Beds are burning

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 Minister 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?

“The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know.”- Michel Legrand

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Posted in Music
14 comments on “Beds are Burning (1987) – Midnight Oil
  1. hanspostcard says:

    Loved the Oils.

  2. macalder02 says:

    Me ha dejado de una pieza esta historia venida de una canción. No tenía idea lo que había pasado con los aborígenes de tu país. Ni por un momento reparé que las olimpiadas tuvieron ese cariz de protesta. Nada como tu blog para que la cultura me alcance antes que mis ojos ya no tengan luz para oír las cadencias de tus letras. Siempre hay canciones que dejan un sentir de un pueblo. Dolor, rabia, sufrimiento, se disparan con la música y lo bueno que queda en la memoria para siempre. La letra de la canción, genial. “Cómo dormimos mientras nuestras camas están ardiendo? Lapidario para los gobernantes que no quieren ver el sufrimiento de una minoría que clama justicia. Esa lucha tuvo su recompensa con ese perdón que llegó tarde, pero llego. Buen fin de semana para ti.

    • Esta canción tuvo un impacto masivo en la cultura australiana tal como la describí. Por supuesto, clarificó sobre una historia muy oscura de la colonización de Australia y se extendió hasta el siglo XX con la retirada forzada de los niños aborígenes de sus padres. Me alegra que mi publicación permita que alguien que no esté familiarizado con mi cultura aprenda un poco al respecto.

  3. badfinger20 says:

    I remember this song and the band…I thought at the time…in between the hair metal fluff bands…whoa…this band means what they say.

  4. selizabryangmailcom says:

    My husband played this song A LOT. I remember it well and liked it very much. Props to Midnight Oil’s stance at the Olympics! I remember there was an Olympics in Australia–maybe that one–where the organizers made a concerted effort to keep Aboriginals away from the main events so that “they wouldn’t scare people.” WTF?!
    It’s amazing that they received an apology–something we have yet to do for the Native Americans here.
    Kudos to the prime minister in 2008! An apology’s not much after the fact….but it’s definitely a step forward. Acknowledgment is key.

    • It might have been the 56 Olympics you are referring to since I haven’t heard of that before. Cathy Freeman our most celebrated aboriginal athlete won in our 2000 Sydney Olympics in the 400 meters which I wrote about in a previous blog. She also won at an Australian championships which I also won at.

      She’s a legend. I can’t imagine the pressure she felt.
      The 2008 apology and this song are landmark events in modern Australian political/social history. To watch older indigenous Australians (part of the stolen generation) in the parliament gallery react to our PM’s apology is something I’ll never forget.

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