“Protest” songs, but also political songs, are a very important chapter in the history of music, and especially of Rock.
A large number of them have become great successes and remain unchanged to this day.
The purpose of these songs is for a weak voice to be heard, to make an issue appear, and to actually not let something be forgotten.
After all, any knowledge that comes with notes can go further, both in time and place.
The Australians Midnight Oil is a band that strives to not only awaken a consciousness but often deals with flaming social issues.
“Beds Are Burning” is one of those songs.
It is on their sixth album, 1987’s “Diesel and Dust“, and is the song that gave the band the “passport” to success outside their home country.
The lyrics are about the initial displacement and after that, the complete disappearance of the Pintupi by the Australian Government.
Pintupi were a group of about 400 Aboriginals, living in the Western Desert, between the MacDonald lake and Lake Mackay, in Western Australia.
This group began to be displaced as early as the 1930s with the peak happening in 1960.
Many say this was the result of the “Blue Streak” rocket tests.
As these missiles would land in the desert areas known to be still inhabited, government officials decided that these people should be relocated.
This relocation, which certainly did not happen peacefully, was intended to unite them with Papunya and the Haasts Bluff, in more northern areas.
In the 1960s, the liberal Menzies government forced the Pintupi to move to settlements east of their home country closer to Alice Springs.
The government claimed that they were not ready to live in modern society and had to be reformed before being assimilated into “white society“.
Practical, this meant suppressing their language, art, and culture.
This policy also concerned the forcible removal of thousands of children from their parents and their dispersal to governmental or religious institutions or foster care.
The “Stolen children” as they were made known were forcibly removed from their families during 1905 and 1967 while some kept being separated from their families in the 1970s as well.
It is worth noting that the conditions imposed on them were so bad that almost one-sixth of the inhabitants died from treatable diseases such as hepatitis, meningitis, and encephalitis between 1962 and 1966.
In 1984, the last representatives of this group returned to their traditional way of life in the desert.
The apology of Australia
In 2000, at the Sydney Olympics, the band was asked to sing the song at the closing ceremony.
Australia’s then Prime Minister, John Howard, thus wanted to apologize for the government’s policy towards the local population.
Midnight Oil sang “Beds Are Burning” dressed in black and t-shirts with the word “Sorry“.