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Down Under

by

Men at Work



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

The "Land Down Under" is Australia, where the group is from. The lyrics were written by lead singer Colin Hay, who told us: "The chorus is really about the selling of Australia in many ways, the over-development of the country. It was a song about the loss of spirit in that country. It's really about the plundering of the country by greedy people. It is ultimately about celebrating the country, but not in a nationalistic way and not in a flag-waving sense. It's really more than that."
Hay told us about composing the song: "It's a very important song for me. It always felt like a strong song, right from the start. Originally, the idea came from a little bass riff that Ron Strykert, the guitar player for Men at Work, had recorded on a little home cassette demo. It was just a little bass riff with some percussion that he played on bottles which were filled with water to varying degrees to get different notes. It was a very intriguing little groove. I really loved it, it had a real trance-like quality to it. I used to listen to it in the car all the time. When I was driving along one day in Melbourne, the chords popped out and a couple of days later I wrote the verses."
Barry Humphries is an Australian entertainer who has created many popular characters, including Dame Edna Everidge. He was also the voice of Bruce the Shark in the movie Finding Nemo. Colin explained his influence on this song: "He's a master of comedy and he had a lot of expressions that we grew up listening to and emulating. The verses were very much inspired by a character he had called Barry McKenzie, who was a beer-swilling Australian who traveled to England, a very larger-than-life character."
Some lyric translation:
Fried out Kombi - a broken-down van. The lyrics are often translated as "Combie," but the correct spelling is Kombi. It came from the VW Kombivan which was very popular in the '60s and early '70s, especially with surfers and hippies.
Head full of Zombie - Zombie was a particularly strong batch of marijuana which was floating around Australia for a long time. People called it "Zombie Grass."
Vegemite Sandwich - Vegemite is a fermented yeast spread that is pretty much a national institution in Australia. Some people love it and can't start the day without a piece of toast spread with Vegemite, and some go so far as to carry a small jar of it with them when they travel overseas. Some are indifferent to it, and others can't stand it. It kind of resembles smooth black tar, and is similar in taste to the English "Marmite," but Aussies will always tell you that Vegemite is far superior. Regarding the lyrics, "Where beer does flow, and men chunder..." Chunder is Aussie slang meaning to vomit.
This song is often misinterpreted as a patriotic anthem. Says Colin: "It's ironic to me that so many people thought it was about a specific thing and that really wasn't the intention behind the song. If you listen to 'Born In The USA,' it's a similar song in that there's a lot of nuance missed because people like drinking beer and throwing their arms up in the air and feeling nationalistic. It's ultimately a song about celebration, but it's a matter of what you choose to celebrate about a country or a place. White people haven't been in Australia all that long, and it's truly an awesome place, but one of the most interesting and exciting things about the country is what was there before. The true heritage of a country often gets lost in the name of progress and development."
Colin: "I love the song, I have strong feelings about it because it's looked after me for many, many years."
In 2003, Colin recorded 2 new versions for his album Man At Work. The first is an acoustic version he included so people could hear how the song sounded originally, before Men at Work did it. Colin's wife, Cecilia, has a Latin Salsa band, and on the second version he recorded her horn section and flute parts, combining them with his tracks.
This became an unofficial national anthem when Australia won the America's Cup in 1983, an event the United States had never lost. The then Prime Minister of Australia, Bob Hawke, was so delighted with Australia's win, he gave the whole country the day off and announced on the news that any boss who fired an employee for taking the day off "is a bum!" (thanks, Jude - Melbourne, Australia)
The quirky video became a huge hit on MTV. The network had been on the air for only a year, and they didn't have many videos to choose from. Men at Work didn't know much about MTV, but British and Australian bands had been making videos for some time. The band made videos that fit their personality, often improvising scenes and using their friends for help. The guy who stands up and offers the Vegemite sandwich is the band's drummer, Jerry Speiser. He wasn't really "6 foot 4 and full of muscles," he had to stand on something to get extra height. He also wore a wig.
Men at Work hit big in the summer of 1982 and through the next year had 5 Top 40 singles: "Who Can It Be Now?," "Down Under," "Overkill", "I's A Mistake" and "Dr. Heckyll & Mr. Jive," the first two of which vaulted all the way to #1 on the American charts. 1982 was also the year the band won the Best New Artist Grammy. (thanks, Victor - Boston, MA)
This was a huge worldwide hit. For 2 weeks, both the single and album were #1 in the US and UK. It was also #1 in Australia. (Thanks to Colin for speaking with us about this song. To learn more or to check out his album, go to www.colinhay.com)
Men at Work recorded the first version of "Down Under" in 1980 in Melbourne and released it independently as the B-side to a forgettable song called "Keypunch Operator." They released it on a label they called M.A.W. - about 300 copies. This early version of the song here is a crude, pale predecessor to the global hit and testament to the wonders a good producer can do. (thanks, steve - Sydney, Australia)
In 2009, the music publishing company that owns the rights to the Australian children's song "Kookaburra" sued the "Down Under" songwriters, claiming the flute riff copied the children's classic. On February 4, 2010, Justice Jacobson ruled in favour of Larrakin Music who own "Kookaburra's" publishing rights - the song having been originally penned by music teacher Marion Sinclair in 1932. In his judgment he said that Men At Work had infringed Larrikin's copyright because "Down Under" reproduced "a substantial part of Kookaburra."
Colin Hay said after the judgment: "I'll go to my grave knowing 'Down Under' is an original piece of work. In over 20 years no one noticed the reference to 'Kookaburra.' Marion Sinclair never made any claim that we had appropriated any part of her song, and she was alive when 'Down Under' was a hit. Apparently she didn't notice either."
Men at Work
Men at Work Artistfacts
More Men at Work songs
Get some Geography in the Down Under Songplaces
More songs with directions in the title
More songs in heavy rotation in the early days of MTV
More songs that are commonly misinterpreted
More songs about places
More songs featuring flutes
More songs about pride in your heritage
More songs inspired by comedians
More songs involved in lawsuits

Comments (68):

I had always assumed that the Kookaburra riff was intentional, from the first time I heard this song on. And because of that it's hard to believe people didn't realize it for so long.
- Reyos, Windsor, ON
Just try listening to this song when driving your daily commute to/from work - You'll get into the beat so much, it gets your thumbs THUMPING on the steering wheel with that drum beat! (Got lotsa SORE thumbs from that over the years...)
- Bruce, San Jose, CA
The flute part of the recording of the song is based on the children's song "Kookaburra", written in 1932 by Marion Sinclair. Sinclair died in 1988 and the rights to the Kookaburra song were deemed to have been transferred to publisher Larrikin Music on 21 March 1990. In the United States, the rights are administered by Music Sales Corporation in New York City.

In June 2009, 28 years after the release of the recording, Larrikin Music sued Men At Work for copyright infringement, alleging that part of the flute riff of "Down Under" was copied from "Kookaburra". The counsel for the band's record label and publishing company (Sony BMG Music Entertainment and EMI Songs Australia) claimed that, based on the agreement under which the song was written, the copyright was actually held by the Girl Guides Association. On 30 July, Justice Peter Jacobson of the Federal Court of Australia made a preliminary ruling that Larrikin did own copyright on the song, but the issue of whether or not Hay and Strykert had plagiarised the riff was set aside to be determined at a later date.

On 4 February 2010, Justice Jacobson ruled that Larrikin's copyright had been infringed because "Down Under" reproduced "a substantial part of Kookaburra".
When asked how much Larrikin would be seeking in damages, Larrikin's lawyer Adam Simpson replied: "anything from what we've claimed, which is between 40 and 60 per cent, and what they suggest, which is considerably less." In court, Larrikin's principal Norman Lurie gave the opinion that, had the parties negotiated a licence at the outset as willing parties, the royalties would have been between 25 and 50 per cent. On 6 July 2010, Justice Jacobson handed down a decision that Larrikin receive 5% of royalties from 2002. In October, 2011 the band lost its final court bid when the High Court of Australia refused to hear an appeal.

Until this high-profile case, "Kookaburra's" standing as a traditional song combined with the lack of visible policing of the song's rights by its composer had led to the general public perception that the song was within the public domain.

The revelation of "Kookaburra's" copyright status, and more-so the pursuit of royalties from it, has generated a negative response among sections of the Australian public. In response to unsourced speculation of a Welsh connection, Dr Rhidian Griffiths pointed out that the Welsh words to the tune were published in 1989 and musicologist Phyllis Kinney stated neither the song's metre nor its lines were typical Welsh.

Since the verdict, Colin Hay has continued to insist that any plagiarism was wholly unintentional. He says that when the song was originally written in 1978, it did not have the musical passage in question, and that it was not until two years later, during a jam rehearsal session, that flautist Greg Ham improvised the riff, perhaps subconsciously recalling "Kookaburra". Hay has also added that Ham and the other members of the band were under the influence of marijuana during that particular rehearsal. In the months before his death on the 19th of April 2012, Ham had been despondent over the verdict, and convinced that "the only thing people will remember me for" would be as a convicted plagiarist.
- Bob, Milwaukee, WI
Aren't 'Vegamites' members of PETA?
- esskayess, Dallas, TX
Men at Work musician Greg Ham was found dead in his Melbourne home April 19, 2012

You can hear him do his famous flute riff on this song.

RIP
- Jim, Longmont, CO
Im Portuguese and I have to share the greatest fact of all about this song.

The first sentence: "Traveling in a fried-out Kombi", sounds just like a portuguese sentence that means "a horse eating on a market".

It's hilarious! And it's what portuguese ear when earing this song! :D

Great song!
- Rodrigo, Lisbon, Portugal
I heard the "Kookaburra" from the first time I heard "Down Under", and assumed it was on purpose, part of the parody. On the other hand, when I first heard the song, it was played on a recorder, so the flute playing the first two verses of "Kookaburra" sounded just like my 6th grade teacher.
- Bart, New Milford, NJ
On January 15th, 1982 "Down Under" reached No. 1 for three weeks; then "Africa" by Toto became No. 1 for one week, but "Down Under" reclaimed No. 1 for another week!!!
- Barry, Sauquoit, NY
"DownUnder" stealing from the Kookaburra song?
That must be the most rediculous judgement ever handed down in a copyright case. I grew up with this song and it NEVER occurred to me that it was similiar to the other song.
- andrew, Melbourne, Australia
A clip of this song was on Scrubs. It was when Kim was giving birth and suddenly Colin Hay appears. JD says something like "I always wondered what that song was about".
- James Wilson, Trenton, NJ
To Caitlin in Adelaide, Australia, I did a report on your home continent in fifth grade, and I can tell you there is such a place as Jimboomba. It's located in Queensland. So I don't understand why you think that Frank is from another country.
- Annabelle, Eugene, OR
Opening a Aussie restaurant in China Hubei province. This song will be played in the restaurant together with other aussie song that i trying to find.....I love it...it give me very special feeling, my country, my family my kids since I am away from home. AUSSIE AUSSIE
- Kelvin, Perth, Australia
Good tune but way over played. I really got sick of "Down Under" after the radio stations would play it non bloody stop. I have not heard it for a long time until now. Ah the memories began to flow like a never ending beer tap at your local boozer. Yes, Colin Hay is/was Scottish but don't forget so were members of another Aussie band called AC/DC. Another good song from MAW is called
Who Can It Be Now? Colin has moved on since Men At Work disbanded and his solo career has taken off like a bottle rocket. I really like his solo stuff almost as much as the stuff he did with the group. Think I'm gonna make me a big old vegamite sandwitch, get a little Zombie Grass and a glass of Victoria Bitter (can't stand that s--te that passes for Fosters these days) and just chill out. BTW: Like Midnight Oil says give the land back to the natives... Peace be with you my fellow brothers and sisters.
- Rob, Sidney, Australia
vegemite is farrr superior.peiod.
- nady, adelaide, --
VEGEMITE, i love it but i'm allergic, but when i heard this song and it said "He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich" I'm like "MAAAAATEE!" Awesom song! I'm not sure if it was this song or another song but NXFM (radio station) played a song over and over again on april 1st and i think it might have been this one. i love this song.
- Emily, Newcastle, Australia
VEGEMITE!!!MAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATE!!!! this song always reminds me of frickin hot Aussie boys heh heh, dunno why just does (trust me on this one, there pretty damn good lookin) Makes me wanna do burnouts in a HQ (bea-utiful) while sippin on a nicey cold Bundy in a stubbie holder from the Congera pub, all the while playing a big fat didgereedoo. Wow I've impressed myself! Shows how Aussie you can be when you put your mind to it. P.S. I'm no bogan but I do enjoy a Bundy every now and then....and I can't play the didgereedoo...Ohwell, GET THIS ONE UP YA!!!
- nady, adelaide, Australia
P.S. The people who don't believe Men At Work are Australian are forgetting that Australia is extremely multicultural, a lot of Australian bands have different people in them but they're all citizens.
- Mitchell, Adelaide, Australia
I believe this song was mentioned on one of the scrubs episode with Michael J Fox on it. J.D. sings a line (I forgot why) and then he turns to the character Fox was playing and asks if you chunder or something like that.
- Mitchell, Adelaide, Australia
After hearing this song I started paying more attention to Aussie bands. I got to tell you guys, a lot of them are pretty kick-ass!
- Tom, Marble Falls, AR
this song STILL is regularly played in Chile, but very few people (that lives here and speaks english) can understand the lyrics, including me, is a very strange way of talking
LOVE THE SONG
- Garoud, Arica
Oops. When I mentioned "Kombi" vehicles, Skoda, of the Czech Republic (it was Czechoslovakia when this car was produced in the 1950s and early 1960s) made an Octavia Combi station wagon that was sold in small numbers in the US. It looked like a combination of a Rambler American and a VW squareback. That ends my treatise on Kombis.
- Darrell, Eugene
heya 2 all my fwends (hehe) go power :)
- Caitlin, Adelaide, Australia
hehe i love music
- Caitlin, Adelaide, Australia
Frank, Jimboomba, Australia i dnt think u r really an aussie
sorry but it sounds like u r from a different country
- Caitlin, Adelaide, Australia
this song is a good inspiration 4 aussies
- Caitlin, Adelaide, Australia
Ringo Starr has covered this song with his All-Starr band. The song is proper nice
- Ines, Bremen, Germany
Although the "Kombi" mentioned at the beginning of the song was a VW, several other automakers used that name, most notably DKW (predecessor of Audi), Borgward, Goliath, Opel and Taunus (German Ford. Goliath and Borgward were both German compact-car makers who dabbled in minivans and station wagons, and despite the name, Borgward, like every other manufacturer of vehicles bearing the "Kombi" name, is German. Of the 5 non-VW carmakers mentioned, only Audi and Opel are still in business.
- Darrell, Eugene, United States
Actually the song uses both plunder and chunder, the lyrics below are taken from the song as you can see both plunder and chunder are used. This is a great song
"Do you come from a land down under?
Where women glow and men plunder?
Can't you hear, can't you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover." "I come from a land down under
Where beer does flow and men chunder
Can't you hear, can't you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover."
- inge, melbourne, Australia
It's not "men chunder" it's "men plunder" I have the cd and the lyrics came with the song. I think this is one of the best songs of the 80's
- Courtney, kiel, WI
howdy - i think vegemite is the greatest aussie food i cant start my day without a peice of toast with vegemite!! thanks to men at work for mentioning it in a awesome song!! hooroo - cj
- Frank, Jimboomba, Australia
hello!! i think land down under is the bestest song of all time. it has wonderfully aussie lyrics and i love vegemite sandwiches - my favourites!! rock on men at work!! hooroo
cj jimboomba australia
- Frank, Jimboomba, Australia
this song is great and we love it!! we think it has great aussie lyrics by a great aussie band.
clarkey and frank jimboomba ast
- Frank, Jimboomba, Australia
I love music videos from the '80s. They actually fit the song...amazing. The song sings "he just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwitch"...and in the video he smiles and gives him a vegemite sandwitch...AMAZING. Unlike modern videos that when they are over you are like WTF Mate?
- Brandon, Peoria, IL
a great song to sing and play dont think too much
- john, birmingham, England
It's not "where women blow"!! It's "where women glow" - look it up. It refers (I assume) to the saying that "Men perspire, women glow and horses sweat". I don't know if it's peculiarly Australian, but it could be. And as pointed out, it's not "men plunder" but "men chunder" which has rightly been pointed out means "regurgitate". However the "watch under" story is extremely spurious. http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-chu1.htm
- Grahame, Kununurra, Australia
That is, don't put alot on to start with. That's a fun trick to do with people from oversees, so look out (eg I have a huge spoonful or layer of and don't wince so that one of you yanks would have as much on first tasting). Vegemite should be piled on, you're not a real bloke if you can't handle a bit of vegemte. Oh, the song's great, I've not met one single person that didn't like it.

Aaron
- Aaron, Muswellbrook
If you ever have the chance to try vegemite, don't smear to much on the bread or toast,its not like peanut butter where you can really slap it on, as it has a tangy taste, I absolutely love it.

Mark Australia
- Mark, Wee Waa, Australia
vegemite is a beer extract yeast that is spread on toast(sort of like peanut butter in the US) I read that it has a strong salty,bitter taste that has to be acquired ,sometimes people spread it with butter to soften the taste abit.
- Nikita, Easton, PA
This has been a mystery to me. Is a vegimite sandwich similar to a peanut butter sandwich? What does vegimite taste like?
- Annabelle, Eugene, OR
my favorite song of all time.I love the melody.
- Nikita, Easton, PA
Yeah Colin Hay is Scottish. Or of Scottish heritage, whatever way he wants to be known. It is a fact that most singers heralding from Australia that made a name on the world stage are from overseas. e.g. bonn scott, brian johnson, Olivia, Bee Gees, Hay, glenn shorrock, stevie wright. some you mightnt have heard of. this song has great catchy tune. it is held in very high regard in australia. also peter allen's "still call australia home"
- Dan, Renmark
the slang 'chunder' came from when the first fleet of convicts were being shipped to australia form england. and the prisoners were sea sick. and would yell out from the top deck to warn the their fellow prisoners below to "watch under" while vomiting above
- marlow, perth
it is very similar to 'dreadlock holiday' by '10cc'
- marlow, perth
Good song! My dad has that album, and he played it 24-7 when we would be in the car, around the time when I was six or so. At least, I think it's this album. It has this song on it.
- Stefanie, Rock Hill, SC
The only Top 40 hit of the rock era to mention Vegemite. When the song came out, I bought Vegemite at a local grocery store and didn't care for it. It was too bitter. This was the most Australian song since Rolf Harris hit the charts in 1963 with Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport.
- Howard, St. Louis Park, MN
ok when i first heard this song i had to listen to it again. then when i kept on hearing it then i had to get the cd. and i so want this song to listen to it and sing.
- sarah floyd, bloomingdale, IL
This song really makes you wanna travel to Australia.
- Benjamin, Heidelberg, Germany
Chunder is Aussie slang for all you yanks :). It means to regurgitate. So in the song, where it says "Where beer does flow and men chunder" it means where blokes get pissed. Blokes is aussie slang for guys and pissed means to be intoxicated. Cheers :)
- James, Mebourne, Australia
At first I have to say I love this song. And then I have a questions. In the line "Where beer does flow and men chunder" What is chunder? I didn't found it in any dictionary. Thank's for your information.
- Peter, Mistelbach, Austria
In One part of The song the flut plays the Tune of "Kookaburra" An australian song about an australian bird "kookabura sits in the old Gum tre merry merry king of the bush is he", that is very popular with children.
- Clare, Hmilton, Canada
I grew up with this song and I still love it. I actually saw Men at Work perform in a pub at Coffs Harbour NSW coast, sometime around 1980 or 81 just after their first hit ablum. A memory I will always keep, I still play all the Men at Work hits it brings back all the fun memories growing up in Oz
- Mark, Wee Waa, Australia
i always thought the lead singer from men at work was in fact from scotland and not australia
- neil, uk, United States
My favorite all time song.
- Louie, staten island, NY
The song was #1 for 4 non-consecutive weeks. And John from NY,the cd can be picked up in any music store or try e-bay.
- Louie, staten island, NY
Actually, the line is "where women blow (fart)and men chunder (throw up)

Learned this from many years on the road with the Aussies.

Dave, Toronto
- David, Torornto, Canada
This is a really good song. one of my favourites!
- John, Stephenville Crossing, Canada
March 2005, I was watching "Kangaroo Jack" (2003) few days ago, horrible movie but the song was in it, and for five days now I can not get it out of my head. So I went to the apple itunes store and bought every version of this song they got, including the Ringo Star band one, I think Colin sang with them, it sounds like him. Anyway ... I just love this song ... can not wait till I play it in my car tomorrow while driving to work in Kuwait and just sing as loud and crazy as I can .... it is a great song.
- Talal, Costa Mesa, CA
I couldn't help but notice the sexual references in this and many other men at work songs. "where women blow and men plunder" sounds kinda dirty to me. And there's a rumor going around that the "safety dance" is all about masterbation. But hey, maybe im just a sick perverted freak.
- CJ, Burtonsville, MD
i luv this song ive been listening it since i was little
- teigen, parkes, Australia
I love this song! It is so fun to sing to, but I can't find a place to buy the C.D.
- John, New York, NY
The video for this song is hilarious!
- Dave, Cardiff, Wales
This song is really very good. I've been listening to it since I was 8......I love it!!!
- LIGIA, BOTELHOS, MD
in australia, its pretty much an anthem. although the band didnt mean it that way, its kinda obvious why its ended up this way. also, in the lyrics it has numerous lines about travelling abroad and australians there being nice to you
- Sam, Sydney, Australia
I love this song. I play it in the car when my brother is driving me to school, and at lunch. It drives my friends cazy, because it's one of those songs that gets stuck in your head. I wish I could dance to it, but I'm hopeless at dancing.
- Katalina, Houston, TX
I thought Men at Work were Irish.
- Alex, New Orleans, LA
My mum taught me to dance to this song! She loved it, I love it! I was only 7, and 12 years later i still dance the same when I hear it!
- rachel, castleford, England
No kidding?! Excellent insight to the song!!
- Pedantic Wit, Madison, WI
This song is in Finding Nemo
- jme, raleigh, NC
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