“Beds Are Burning” is a political song about giving native Australian lands back to the Pintupi, who were among the very last people to come in from the desert. These ‘last contact’ people began moving from the Gibson Desert to settlements and missions in the 1930s. More were forcibly moved during the 1950s and 1960s to the Papunya settlement.
In 1981 they left to return to their own country and established the Kintore community which is nestled in the picturesque Kintore Ranges, surrounded by Mulga and Spinifex country. It is a community with a population of about 400. Kintore and the town of Yuendumu are mentioned by name in the lyrics, as are vehicles produced by Holden.
Midnight Oil performed the song in front of a world audience of millions at the closing ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Then Prime Minister John Howard had triggered controversy that year with his refusal to embrace symbolic reconciliation and apologise to Indigenous Australians and members of the stolen generations. But he had also claimed that the reconciliation-themed “Beds Are Burning” was his favorite Midnight Oil song.
The band played it dressed in black, with the word “Sorry” printed conspicuously all over their clothes, as a popular apology to indigenous people and to highlight the issue to Howard, who was in the audience as the ranking Olympic host.