I was listening to this song launched in 1987 by the Australian rock band, Midnight Oil and then realised that it would be a nice way to introduce the use of present continuous with ‘when and while’ for low levels of English and a bit of English and Australian history to explain the meaning of the song (for higher levels). The single, which belongs to the album Diesel and Dust, hit the charts in many countries however, few were aware that it was a protest song in support of giving the native Australian people their lands back.
In order to understand this, we’d have to refer to the issue of colonisation, concretely, British colonisation that came into existence during the sixteenth (Henry VII), but by the time the nineteenth century had arrived, a vast list of territories had been placed under the Crown (or should I say grabbed and forced?). Colonisation had actually little or nothing to do with ‘helping the world to become a better place’ as Kipling’s poem ‘The White man’s Burden’ claims. Rather than this, it was mainly a matter related to economic interests.
Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania came under British imperialism in 1770 when Captain Cook happened to discover the coast of Australia and claimed it for Britain (the first European sightseeing of Australia was by the Dutch). Up to that moment, the British had been sending their prisoners to the American Colonies but after the independence of the colonies, this was no longer possible. One day, some bright spark suggested sending them to Botany Bay (New Wales, Australia) and in 1788, Britain started sending boatloads of convicts. Years later when these prisoners were released, they obviously couldn’t go back to Britain so they started settling and pushing the Aborigines off their lands. During this time, settlements were established and, Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania, would become the home to thousands of British families in search of farming opportunities and a better life. This meant important changes to the environment but also to the lives of the native people who were being gradually pushed towards unwanted areas.
During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, policies forced and relocated groups of native people to different areas while laws were passed to eradicate the indigenous culture. That is, people were not allowed to speak their native languages and children were taken from their parents to be brought up by white families (Stolen Generations).
Midnight Oil is singing against such policies and is denouncing situations such as the relocation of the Pintube who in 1984 were forced to leave their traditional way of life. So, the song means much, much more that a chorus to sing to when dancing or having a couple of beers. It conveys a message related human rights which have been easily ignored throughout times and have been put forward here through the voice of Peter Robert Garrett who not only is a musician, but also an environmentalist, activist and politician.
You may want to see some comments left about this song on the following link.