Beds Are Burning (Hirst/Moginie/Garrett) – Midnight Oil 1987
One of Australia’s most polished R&R bands who voiced socio-political and environmental concerns with such great effect through their music, Midnight Oil emerged as popular cultural icons. The Oils Blackfella/Whitefella tour with the Warumpi Band in 1986 into the deep north of the country had been transformational for the band, the seminal Diesel and Dust album would emerge soon after and reflect the strength of the band’s convictions and yield this strident protest anthem.
Beds Are Burning railed against the forced removal of Aborigines from their tribal lands and the subsequent return of the Pintupi tribe to their natural lands. Once there they established the Kintore community which, along with the town of Yuendumu, are name-checked in this song.
The sense of social injustice felt collectively by the band about the violation of aboriginal land rights and the dispossession of tribal communities was palpable, and even though the sing-along chorus and Clash-influenced rhythms were commercially attractive, the underlying protest message was pounded out, there had been genocide and stolen generations of children and “The time has come/ To say fair’s fair… Belongs to them/Let’s give it back.”
The song opens with a brief trumpet fanfare by Glad Reed and you are instantly alert to what follows, the insistent bassline riff keeps the song moving forward to the swooping chorus which completely envelopes the listener, as Garrett’s taunting, impassioned, idiosyncratic vocals challenge and chastise the political powerbrokers, an elite group to which he would briefly belong following the euphoria of Kevin ’07, and Garrett’s election to the Federal Parliament.
It is a much-honored composition, a national #6 hit, rated by APRA as the third best song of the modern era, included in the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the 500 Songs That Shaped R&R, #1 in NZ, South Africa and Canada and top five in France, the Netherlands, #6 in the UK and #17 in the US. It was also the ARIA Song of the Year in 1988.