“Blue Sky Mine” by Midnight Oil

“Blue Sky Mine” which can be generally classified as being centered on the concept of environmental activism or perhaps more specifically an idea along the lines of espousing environmental responsibility. 

The lyrics are based on a specific event which some refer to as the Wittenoom mine controversy. And to make a long story short, a business entity called the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Ltd. (CSR) ran some mines in Wittenoom, a town in Western Australia, during the 1950s and 1960s mining blue asbestos. Thus the title of this song, “Blue Sky Mine”, would more accurately read as ‘blue asbestos mine’.

And as you’re probably well aware, asbestos is in fact poisonous. But even after the CSR was made aware of this during the early 1960s they did not cease mining the site until 1966. Indeed according to this song, they apparently paid off some individuals – presumably in the media and government – so that they could continue operating against official warnings. 

The insinuation is that the owners of the company ignored the health issues stemming from the mines since they were making a lot of money from them. 

So basically the Wittenoom mine tragedy is a perfect example of big business putting profits ahead of human concerns, as it has been estimated that thousands of people have contracted fatal diseases as a result of the actions of the CSR.

Lyrics of “Blue Sky Mine”

So basically in this song, the singer is taking on the role of one of the mine’s former workers. And the story reads as if he is at least partially cognizant that he is putting his health at risk working in the “Blue Sky Mine”. Yet he is still compelled to do so to put “food on the table tonight”. But later he does in fact contract a disease as a result. 

Meanwhile “the sugar refining company” doesn’t seem interested in offering him any help. So now he is wondering ‘who is going to save him’ from this condition. Or succinctly put, the band is empathizing with the miners who actually worked in Wittenoom under the employ of the CSR during those years.

So conclusively, the Wittenoom mine tragedy has been classified as the most-significant industrial disaster ever in the history of Australia. And Midnight Oil, an Australian band who are known to speak on environmental issues, apparently felt the need to educate more people on this occurrence. 

It isn’t like the band is harping on something that happened in the past which has since been forgotten. For even as recently as 2020 it is estimated that some of the people who passed through Wittenoom during the time the mine was operational will still develop fatal conditions as a result. 

So the whole incident is apparently one which Midnight Oil does not want to be forgotten nor replicated.

Lyrics to Midnight Oil's “Blue Sky Mine”

Facts about “Blue Sky Mine”

“Blue Sky Mine” is the lead single from Midnight Oil’s album which is entitled “Blue Sky Mining”. The song itself came out via Columbia Records on 25 February 1990.

This song was written by the members of Midnight Oil, who at that time were the following:

  • Peter Garrett
  • Bones Hillman
  • Rob Hirst
  • Jim Moginie
  • Martin Rotsey
What Midnight Oil's Peter Garrett said of “Blue Sky Mine”

It is Jim who is recognized as having originally conceptualized “Blue Sky Mine”, when he was only 15 years old. However, the song went through considerable changes between him penning the tune and the product which was actually released to the public.

The entire band also produced “Blue Sky Mine” alongside Warne Livesey.

Blue Sky Mine

Chart Glory

“Blue Sky Mine” topped the following Billboard charts:

  • Alternative Songs
  • Mainstream Rock

This song also made an appearance on the UK Singles Chart. Furthermore, it charted in 10 other countries outside of the US and UK. Additionally it has been certified Gold in the Land Down Under.

Workers at Wittenoom Asbestos Mines

Mining of blue asbestos, also known as crocidolite, was predominant in Western Australia, especially Wittenoom between 1938 and 1966. During this period, over 160,000 tons of this mineral were mined. However, the health conditions of the 7,000 mine workers, and the over 13,000 residents of Wittenoom became a worry for the government of the country. The mining of blue asbestos was seen as very dangerous since it caused lots of illnesses including respiratory illnesses.

In 1943, CSR Limited purchased the mining of the mineral in Wittenoom. In doing so, they became the main dealers of blue asbestos in the country. Staff were accommodated in a 13-house estate which was close to the mining site.

In 1962, a chest physician called Dr Jim McNulty identified the first case of mesothelioma in one of the workers at the mines. The company was warned about the health safety of their workers, and also the people in the local community. However, no actions were taken.

In 1988, the Supreme Court fined the mining company an amount of $250,000 for criminal behavior. The court also ordered them to pay $426,000 as compensation to a litigant known as Klaus Rabenault, though the company had closed its operations in the region in 1966.

The mining of the mineral has been the cause of lots of sickness to the people of Wittenoom over the years. Research had projected that mining of blue asbestos in Wittenoom is likely to kill about 45,000 people by 2020.

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