The Dead Heart

Album: Diesel and Dust (1986)
Charted: 68 53


  • This song was written from the perspective of the original Aborigine inhabitants of the Australian continent. It was penned by the band in response to the Australian government's return of the sacred monolith Uluru (known to us as Ayers Rock) to the local Pitjantjatjara Aborigines.
  • Midnight Oil has always used their music to enlighten their fans on important social and political issues, from environmental concerns to nuclear warfare. When Ayers Rock was given back to its traditional owners, they tasked the political band to write a song for a film that was being made about the occasion. Midnight Oil wrote "Beds Are Burning," "We Shall Not Be Released," and "The Dead Heart," the latter being the winner. As the result, the band was invited to go on tour of remote Indigenous communities with the Aborigine rock bands Warumpi Band and Gondwanaland. Midnight Oil was already familiar with Warumpi, who often played the Sydney pub circuit with the group in its earlier days.
  • The Blackfella/Whitefella tour ignited Midnight Oil's passion for Aborigine rights and influenced the entire Dust and Diesel album. Jim Moginie, the band's guitarist/keyboardist and lead songwriter, explained to Identity Theory: "We observed as young, white Australians the conditions out there, the poverty, the petrol sniffing, the health problems, the art, the deep culture, the dispossession, the respect the concept of family has, the great sense of humor and strength of the people, the natural beauty, all mixed up into a radicalizing experience. We wrote about our impressions on the Diesel record, which came out the next year. There was a definite snowball effect."
  • The tour not only informed the album's lyrics, but also its sound. When Midnight Oil played their pub gigs, it wasn't for small, cramped venues but large-scale "beer barns" that could hold nearly 2,000 people. The band had to play fast and loud to keep the throngs of drunken spectators entertained – an energy they brought to their sophomore album, Head Injuries, and subsequent post-punk-flavored releases. But touring Aborigine villages brought more intimate performances suited for smaller crowds, resulting in calmer music that fit the desert landscape. For example, the drum rhythm behind this tune (and the guitar riff on "Beds Are Burning") was inspired by chugging across the rough red-dirt roads of Western Australia. Midnight Oil drummer, Rob Hirst, told Pop Matters: "That's a piece of music which could only have come from our band and a time and a place."
  • In 1994, Midnight Oil joined musicians like Sting, Lucky Dube, and Johnny Clegg to celebrate the election of Nelson Mandela as South Africa's president with an outdoor show in Johannesburg. Being it was the country's first multi-racial concert since Apartheid ended, the band was surprised the crowd knew their opening number, "The Dead Heart." An economic embargo kept the albums from being exported, but determined fans were able to get their hands on bootlegs. "We had thirty to 40,000 people singing [the song] in three, or four, or five part harmonies," Hirst recalled. "It was just spine-chilling."

Comments: 2

  • John from Auckland, -Totally agree Myla. This is one of their best. I saw them live in Wellington, New Zealand, many moons ago, and they were simply awesome !
  • Myla from San Diego, CaAwesome song and awesome band who wrote socially conscious songs that had a great message and also rocked!!!
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