VIDEO: Midnight Oil legend shares tips on songwriting

LIKE any accomplished songwriter, Rob Hirst is always listening for that quote or phrase to develop into his next hit.

Yesterday, the legendary Midnight Oil drummer shared this and a few other pearls of wisdom with Southern Cross University students at a songwriter's workshop.

"Songwriting is one of the hardest things to teach in a contemporary music sense," he said. "It's like rhythm, you've either got the gift or you haven't.

"A good songwriter will always have a pad or a recording device and when they hear something really poetic, or something phrased really well, they will take that down and six months later it comes back as a song."


Capturing that key phrase was how Midnight Oil's hit song Beds Are Burning came into being, Mr Hirst said.

"The chorus of Beds Are Burning, the lines, were inspired by a presentation at an exhibition by Australian sound and lighting artist Dennis Del Favero in 1983," he said.

"On the walls he had all these photos, recordings and projections that had all these phrases from the (Italian) partisans that were resisting Mussolini ... one of the messages from one of the partisans said 'How can we sleep while our beds are burning', in Italian.

POWER OF SONGS : Rob Hirst, who was Midnight Oil’s drummer, giving a workshop to Southern Cross University music students on songwriting.
POWER OF SONGS : Rob Hirst, who was Midnight Oil’s drummer, giving a workshop to Southern Cross University music students on songwriting. Mireille Merlet-Shaw

"I took that away and I thought the displacement of Italians by Mussolini in some ways represents other groups around the world that have had the rug pulled out of under them, like the original Australians.

"So I paired that off with a rhyming couplet, put a beat and a melody behind it and there we have the guts of the chorus of Beds Are Burning."

What started as a seven-year-old playing chairs arranged as drums, saw Mr Hirst play all over the world with Midnight Oil from 1978 to 2002.


  1. Beds are Burning, Diesel and Dust, 1987
  2. Blue Sky Mine, Blue Sky Mining, 1990
  3. Power and the Passion, 10 ... 1, 1982
  4. Put down that Weapon, Diesel and Dust, 1987
  5. When the Generals Talk, Red Sails in the Sunset, 1984

Since then he has sung and written songs in The Ghostwriters, Backsliders, Hirst & Greene, The Angry Tradesmen and with instrumental surf rock outfit, The Break.

In late 2014, Mr Hirst released his first album length solo offering, The Sun Becomes the Sea, a collection of songs, some personal and some focused on issues that concern him, like The Truth Walks Slowly, a true story of a sixth-generation Queensland cattle farmer forced to fight when the beauty and solitude of his pristine property is threatened by a gas mining company.

The songwriter workshops were presented by the Australasian Performing Right Association, Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society and Lismore university's School of Arts and Social Sciences.

Topics:  midnight oil songwriting

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