Saturday, June 2, 2012

Midnight Oil: Blue Sky Mine

Back in 1990, I was working on a Master’s of Arts degree in humanities with a dual concentration in history and media. One of my classes that fall semester was titled as History of Coal Mining in West Virginia and our final project was to create a week long curriculum to teach a unit on some aspect of coal mining to an eighth grade audience. I selected music class as my vehicle where the students would analyze different songs relating to various aspects of coal mining.

For the Thursday class, the students were to listen to and discuss songs relating to the dangers of coal mining and other industrial accidents. Two of the non-coal mining songs I used in the curriculum were Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and a newer song, Midnight Oil’s “Blue Sky Mine.”

Released earlier that spring, “Blue Sky Mine” dealt with the health dangers contracted by the miners of the Wittenoom blue asbestos mine in Western Australia. In 1966, the government shut down the operation as well as the town. Even visiting the ghost town is considered hazardous today and the town’s name has been removed from maps and road signs. Vehicular traffic stirs up the blue asbestos fibers and increases human inhalation risks.

While the song was a #1 record on both the US mainstream rock and modern rock charts, it only charted at #47 on the Hot 100, making it a bubbling under hit as it failed to chart within the top 40. During the time, I was working at an oldies station and I was introduced to this particular song via MTV.

I really like Peter Garrett’s vocals and harmonica on this particular cut. Since Midnight Oil disbanded in 2002, Garrett has served as a member of Australia’s parliament since 2004 and has held a variety of leadership positions. In 2003, he was inducted as a Member of the Order of Australia.


There'll be food on the table tonight
There'll be pay in your pocket tonight

My gut is wrenched out it is crunched up and broken
My life that is lived is no more than a token
Who'll strike the flint upon the stone and tell me why?

If I yell out at night there's a reply of blue silence
The screen is no comfort I can't speak my sentence
They blew the lights at heaven's gate and I don't know why

But if I work all day on the blue sky mine
(There'll be food on the table tonight)
Still I walk up and down on the blue sky mine
(There'll be pay in your pocket tonight)

The candy store paupers lie to the shareholders
They're crossing their fingers they pay the truth makers
The balance sheet is breaking up the sky

So I'm caught at the junction still waiting for medicine
The sweat of my brow keeps on feeding the engine
Hope the crumbs in my pocket can keep me for another night

And if you blue sky mining company won't come to my rescue
If the sugar refining company won't save me
Who's gonna save me?

But if I work all day on the blue sky mine
(There'll be food on the table tonight)
And if I walk up and down on the blue sky mine
(There'll be pay in your pocket tonight)

And some have sailed from a distant shore
And the company takes what the company wants
And nothing's as precious
As a hole in the ground

Who's gonna save me?
I pray that sense and reason brings us in
Who's gonna save me?
We've got nothing to fear

In the end the rain comes down
Washes clean the streets of a blue sky mine

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