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Burning the Midnight Oil


In 1988, an album of protest songs focusing on the rights of Aboriginies in Australia somehow found an audience in America. Reports of pigs flying must have overwhelmed the military.


With a push from alternative-rock radio, Diesel And Dust by Midnight Oil went platinum on the strength of its clean-sounding, rugged, fist-pumping anthem, "Beds Are Burning," a song that went all the way to #6 on the Mainstream Rock singles chart and #17 on the Hot 100.

To this day, Midnight Oil guitarist/keyboardist Jim Moginie still has a hard time believing that an album that tackled such controversial issues as the environment, nuclear war and the plight of native peoples did so well Stateside.

"You think about it, it's a bunch of white guys from Sydney, Australia, talking about the disposition of land, with the Aboriginal people and the colonial British coming in and taking it away," says Moginie, who co-wrote the "Beds Are Burning" with Peter Garrett and drummer Rob Hirst. "When you think about it, it's not the subject of rock music or the pop charts or anything, so we were as surprised as anyone when it did well. But, it did strike somewhat of a chord with people. It's quite interesting, because these things aren't supposed to happen, but here we are, 20 years later talking about it."

Two decades after its release, Diesel And Dust is getting the deluxe reissue treatment. From Columbia/Legacy comes Diesel And Dust: Legacy Edition, a CD/DVD package that includes the newly remastered version of the record that featured singles "Beds Are Burning," "The Dead Heart," "Put Down That Weapon" and "Dreamworld." Tacked on is the track "Gunbarrel Highway," which was inexplicably banned on the U.S. and Canada versions of Diesel And Dust because of the lyric "shit falls like rain on a land that is brown."

The DVD portion consists of the 1987 documentary "Blackfella/Whitefella Tour," which follows the band on a walkabout of remote Aboriginal settlements in Central Australia, the Western Desert and a place known as The Top End. It was a life-altering experience that spurred the band to make Diesel And Dust.

"We had this idea to go out and see what it was really like to be on Aboriginal land, and it was an eye-opening experience, it was a coming-of-age experience for us as people," says Moginie.

Just as Diesel And Dust was for a place half a world away that had barely heard of Aboriginies. Of course, America has had its own black mark in its dealings with its native peoples. Moginie talks about how the record made a connection with those concerned about the rights of the American Indian, the making of Diesel And Dust, Peter Garrett's new job as Minister for the Environment, Heritage & the Arts in the Australian Parliament and other matters regarding Midnight Oil in a podcast at Also, look for the interview to be broadcast on Goldmine Radio April 30.

For more on Midnight Oil, visit

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