Ten of Australia’s most essential political anthems

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Ten of Australia’s most essential political anthems

Words by Benjamin Lamb

From Cold Chisel to Jen Cloher, we explore ten more of Australia's most poignant political cuts.

With election mania sweeping the United States, we’re all feeling a bit apprehensive about things down under. Australians are never silent in their reactions to politics – so today we’d thought we’d dive into some of Australia’s most politically motivated anthems that tapped into movements of the moment, let voices be heard, and rallied for change in our country.

Midnight Oil – ‘Beds Are Burning’  

This 1987 track penned by Garrett, Rob Hirst and Jim Moginie was written after the group toured the outback, and experienced firsthand the poor living conditions in remote Aboriginal communities, and how change needed to take place. The track also references the stealing of Aboriginal land at the hands of Europeans; emphasised by the line ‘It belongs to them / give it back’: a sentiment that remarkably still rings true today.

Cold Chisel – ‘Khe Sanh’
Australian songwriting legend Don Walker has stated he penned this 1978 track about the impacts of the Vietnam war on returned veterans. The song deals with a protagonist who struggles with PTSD, promiscuity, and drug addiction. The reference to these heavier subjects led the song to earn an ‘A Classification’, which meant the song wasn’t suitable for airplay – only giving the song more power and pushing the message further onto the masses.

Jen Cloher – ‘Analysis Paralysis’ 

Remember the discourse surrounding the marriage equality postal survey back in 2017? In case you need reminding, Jen Cloher’s ’Analysis Paralysis’ serves as an essential viewpoint of the situation, with the Melbourne-based artist penning the song about the Government’s incompetence during the lead-up to the vote. Featuring the talents of Courtney Barnett, Bones Sloane and Jen Sholakis, this track doesn’t leave anyone behind, referencing those on the ‘feral right’ and ‘hashtag activists’ on the left to weigh up how political division can meddle with social issues. It’s an incredibly powerful song that serves as an obvious example of Cloher’s songwriting prowess, further asserting her as one of Australia’s most vocal advocates for change.

Briggs & Tim Minchin – ‘Housefyre’ 

In the most recent song of this list, 2020’s ‘Housefyre’ sees Tim Minchin and Briggs link up to deliver a scathing look at contemporary Australian politics; predominately Scott Morrison’s inaction at the start of this year during the bushfires and during the early outbreaks of the Coronavirus. With Minchin and Briggs both coming from comedic backgrounds, there are many hilarious tongue-in-cheek jabs that help to create some real laugh out loud moments during this track, yet the message always remains loud and clear.

Flight Facilities – ‘Down To Earth’

Electronic duo Flight Facilities love expressing their views via their music. ‘Down To Earth’ is a political anthem expressing disdain about then NSW Premier Mike Baird’s crazy lock out laws. It’s a track targeted to Australia’s youth, and how they have never been represented in the Government. But in classic Flight Facilities fashion, this track will still get you on the dancefloor. Give it a listen below.

Midnight Oil – ‘U.S Forces’

Yet another song from the political music heavyweights, The Oils’ ‘U.S Forces’ also packs a punch. Written by all the members of the band, this 1982 track deals with their unhappiness about US Military intervention in Australia; in an interview at the time, Garrett compared it to ‘Roman Empire imposing its views on their communities, making for a strong and poignant message behind a great track. Give it a listen below.

KUDZAI feat. Papi – ‘4 Deep In The Suburbs’ 

One of the lesser known tracks on this list comes courtesy of Melburnian hip hop artist KUDZAI and his track ‘4 Deep In The Suburbs’. It was penned about the increasingly negative views held by the media and government about the young African communities of Australia, and how they’re often stereotyped. With a powerful music video that intersperses KUDZAI with images from news stories, it makes sense why it went viral at the time.

Cash Savage & The Last Drinks – ‘Better Than That’

Another track about the 2017 same-sex marriage plebiscite, this was penned about the mistreatment and vilification members of the LGBTIQ+ experienced during that period in Australian history. The lyrical content reflects this, with lines like ‘Secretly I hoped you were better than that’, it truly brings the message home. Never a stranger to expressing her views, this track was featured on her album One For Us which was full of songs advocating for change in Australia.

Courtney Barnett – ‘Dead Fox’

Aussie rock icon Courtney Barnett is never a stranger to promoting poignant messages for change through her music: whether through the form of a sly couplet or an outright reference, Barnett’s songwriting is peppered with socio-political anecdotes and observations about the state of the world around us. ‘Dead Fox’ was penned about Barnett’s environmental views, and disavowing the then PM’s lack of actions on the environment. The track was featured on her 2015 album Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, check it out below.

Shane Howard – ‘Solid Rock’ 

This 1982 track made famous by Goanna, ‘Solid Rock’ was penned about frontman Shane Howard’s experience in Uluru, when he was involved in a ceremony that really influenced the way he understood Indigenous Australians. He wrote the track to emphasise the immense amount of vilification and racism towards the Indigenous community by the Government and wider population.

Rediscover the history of Australian protest music with ten more political anthems.