Midnight Oil’s “Beds Are Burning” Lyrics Meaning

Midnight Oil’s “Beds Are Burning” is a song which we can safely say first and foremost is encouraging social activism. More specifically, it is brought to us by an Australian band, and its sentimental foundation is in the plight of the people who are indigenous to that part of world. 

You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for Midnight Oil's Beds Are Burning at Lyrics.org.

You see like many other native groups around the globe, Australian aborigines have suffered at the hands of European settlers. This includes being displaced from their lands, amongst other travesties. 

Thus many of the lyrics used in this song, such as Midnight Oil calling on to the audience “to pay the rent”, actually points to the idea of the White population of Australia giving back, if you will, to the aborigines. In other words, aboriginal activists have perpetually fought for rights such as economic independence and self-determination, and they have found vocal supporters in Midnight Oil.

As such, most people probably understand the title, as it is used in the chorus, to actually mean something other than what it does. They interpret it as alluding to the callousness of the dominant class (i.e. those of European descent) in the face of the suffering of aborigines. But according to Rob Hirst (of Midnight Oil), who contributed to the writing of “Beds Are Burning”, such is not actually the case. 

“How can we dance when our earth is turning?
How do we sleep while our beds are burning?”

Meaning of the Title (“Beds Are Burning”)

According to Hirst, the title is actually meant to highlight the richness of the aboriginal spirit. It is basically trying to say that despite all of the challenges which have thus far been thrown their way, nothing has been able to decimate their happiness. As such, even while their “earth is turning” or “beds are burning”, they are still able to respectively engage in productive or even joyous activities such as ‘dancing’ and ‘sleeping’.

Meaning of "Beds Are Burning"

So the purpose of this track is twofold. On one hand, it is definitely letting Australian citizens who have directly benefited from the mistreatment of the land’s native inhabitants know that they are logically indebted to the welfare of the aborigines. But secondly it is also a celebration of the enduring spirit of the latter. The band pays tribute to them for not letting such intrusive and harrowing circumstances destroy them.

Release Date of “Beds Are Burning”

“Beds Are Burning” was released during August of 1986. It was the second single from Midnight Oil’s album entitled “Diesel and Dust”.

Band’s Signature Song

Throughout the years, “Beds Are Burning” has been recognized as Midnight Oil’s signature song. Furthermore it has been placed onto a number of distinguished ‘greatest hits’ lists. Perhaps most notably amongst them is the “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll”. That coveted list was compiled by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Moreover in 2001, the song was placed at number 3 on the list of the Top 30 Australian Songs ever. This ranking was compiled by the Australasian Performing Rights Association based on the 75 years it had already been in existence up until that point.

Indeed “Beds Are Burning” has been certified Platinum in the Land Down Under. In addition to that, it peaked at number 6 on the Kent Music Report and won two Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Awards in 1988. It won in the categories of Single of the Year and Song of the Year.

Midnight Oil Performs “Beds Are Burning” at the Olympics

This classic was performed by Midnight Oil at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. It was bit controversial since then-Prime Minister John Howard was apparently not sympathetic to the plight of indigenous Australians at all. But the band made it their goal to put the message of the song across as plainly as possible. They didn’t care even though they well aware that the Prime Minister was holding a prominent place amongst the listening audience.

Chart Performance

Chart-wise, “Beds Are Burning” actually performed better in some other countries outside of Australia. For example, it topped music charts in Canada, New Zealand and South Africa.

Moreover “Beds Are Burning” peaked at number 6 on the UK Singles Chart. It reached number 17 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Iconic 2009 Cover of “Beds Are Burning”

A collective of international musicians, aided by the likes of international political icons Kofi Annan and Desmond Tutu, covered this song in 2009. However, that time around its intended purpose was to focus on the issue of climate change.

Who wrote “Beds Are Burning”?

“Beds Are Burning” was written by Midnight Oil members P. Garrett, J. Moginie and R. Hirst.

Hirst and Moginie in particular had been writing songs together ‘since they were schoolboys’. This probably contributed to the success of this track.

And “Beds Are Burning” was produced by Warne Livesey.

26 Responses

  1. Muhammad says:

    Please free me from the grips of my slave masters, this is the only way i have contact to the outside world. please

  2. Ratfink duGasser says:

    Muhammad was having you on and you foolishly fell for it.

  3. Anonymous says:

    You may have been freed but he has captured me, please help me.

  4. Anonymous says:

    unlucky muhummed inshallah

  5. Anonymous says:

    It’s 3am. I’ve got endsomnia from the burning climate emergency. You can only burn diesel and midnight oil for so long before the greenhouse gases accumulate to the point where humanity has to pay back for its sins. It’s 3am and I can’t sleep because I see the flames of the climate crisis even in my bed. This song came out in 1987 …just one year before James Hansen predicted heat waves from global warming.

  6. Pay your rent!! says:

    The queen has covid, Hip Hip Hooray!

    • Anonymous says:

      The Queen is dead…oh sh!t, she’s left her IMBECILE son the throne…we’re all doomed…arrrrggghhhhh, burn everything

  7. rock and stone says:

    rock and stone to the bone

  8. Anonymous says:

    Barcelona are winning the 22/23 Champions League

  9. Anonymous says:

    “European settlers” are just humans doing human stuff. They were stronger so their will was imposed. If those who are weaker were the stronger, they would have been settling Europe.
    Might is Right. Anyone who didn’t want settlers there, should have made them leave. If they didn’t, they either willingly accepted the settlers or were too weak to have any claim to the land. I can claim North America as mine but it is meaningless if I lack the strength to control it. A weak people migrating to a land have no more.claim on it than the strong people who arrive to it later.
    No human is indigenous to Australia.

    • Anonymous says:

      Spoken like a true overlord, rife with the privilege of being a part of the ruling class. When “power” consists of raping and pillaging and burning civilizations to the ground, it’s not strength. It’s desperation. By 2050, the US will no longer have a majority class that is white, with the rest of the world not far behind. Let’s hope the ancestors of all the people under the white ruling class boot decide to forgive and forget.

  10. Anonymous says:

    It was for the handing back to the local Aboriginal people of Uluru, previously known as Ayer’s Rock. The Aboriginals considered it as sacred and did not like tourists climbing it.

  11. Question says:

    Smash or pass – A hot aboriginal?

  12. Anonymous says:

    I can relate to this song! I am half Mescallero Apache New Mexico U S A. And half German. I think this song also applies to all Native Americans as well.

  13. God says:

    The time has come

  14. Grandmas Male Attacker says:

    what happened to Muhammad. Can we get a welfare check?

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