‘Down Under’ – Great Song, Sad Story

‘Down Under’ by Men At Work

”Do you come from a land down under? Where women glow and men plunder’

While listening to the radio I recently heard that great 1980s song ‘Down Under ‘ by Men At Work. I really like that song so I have since played the video many times on youtube. Then I did a little digging, read about the song and was very surprised at what I found. Not just surprised. It is fair to say that some of what I read really pissed me off.


Firstly there is that thing about the supposed meaning of the song. I will admit that all those years I never paid much attention to the lyrics. But in actual fact this song is not meant to be a proud national chant. It is meant to speak of how the land is being plundered by greedy people. It is about overdevelopment and Americanisation (of all things). That outlook was from back in the early 1980s. Right now, some 40 years on, I wonder who will write a song about how Australia is being sold and plundered in 2020? And who is doing the plundering? Hmm…. would anyone even dare? Would such a song be allowed?

‘Down Under’ was such a great song, it just took on the guise of an unofficial Australian anthem. And why not? It’s a great song with a catchy melody and a fantastic sing-along chorus. It is a little like Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born in the USA’ which is meant to be an anti-Vietnam-war song but unwittingly became a patriotic anthem which Americans instantly shout along to after a few drinks.

Copyright!!!??? Are you having a laugh?

‘Where beer does flow and men chunder’

Some 28 years after its release the song became the subject of a copyright lawsuit. Thanks to a 2007 Australian TV programme called ‘Spicks and Specks’. It is one of those quiz shows I really can’t stand. Two teams of smug “celebrities” thinking they are being so funny. Personally it just makes me want to chunder. There are many similarly structured TV shows around the world. ‘Spicks and Specks’ is still a popular show here in Oz.

Here’s what happened. The show’s presenter asked this question: “What children’s song is contained in the song ‘Down Under’?” The answer that the TV show gave was an old kids song called ‘Kookaburra (sits in an old gum tree)’. One of the guests finally answered after being cajoled into hearing the connection by the presenter. Utterly incredible and total bullshit. Note that the question did not suggest that part of the song may sound similar. It says that it is actually contained in ‘Down Under’. What gave them the right to do that? Twats!

It turns out that even though the writer of the ‘Kookaburra’ song was dead, the song still had copyright and the rights belonged to a publisher called Larrikin Music. Following the broadcast people contacted Larrikin Music to point out the alleged plagiarism. Two years after the Spicks and Specks show, in 2009, Larrikin Music sued Men At Work for copyright infringement, alleging that part of the flute riff of “Down Under” was copied from “Kookaburra”. What a crock of shit!

Amazingly some judge ruled that ‘Down Under’ contained “a substantial part of ‘Kookaburra'”. Get the f*#k out of town judge! Are you off your fecking head?

After further arguments on both sides the dopey judge’s decision was for a settlement of 5% of all royalties backdated to 2002. It could have been a lot worse – and for one band member it was (see below) – but it should never have come to court, or at least should have been thrown right out.

You be the Judge.

Someone who clearly thinks the same as myself added this video to youtube which compares the two songs side by side. Watch and listen for yourself and you decide. Click on this link and listen to part of the two tunes – you should be as pissed off as me!

Please let me know with a comment whether you think ‘Down Under’ was ripped off from the ‘Kookaburra’ song. I definitely think that this was an injustice and it does piss me off.

Note that you can find several versions of both songs-  in full – with a quick youtube search…

♪♫ Do you come from a land downunder? ♪♫

Ironically the man who wrote the song, band frontman Colin Hay, does not come from a land down under. He is actually from Scotland – although he did emigrate to Australia with his parents when he was 14 – and now lives in the USA. He was reported as saying that he thought that the death of fellow band member, flute player Greg Ham, in 2012 was directly linked to the stress of the court case. Greg Ham can be seen sitting in a tree playing the flute riff in the song’s video. Could he be pretending to be a kookaburra in that tree? Maybe that influenced the judge in the case? Who can say? But for me, something really stinks with this one.

Colin Hay also appeared as a guest on that Spicks and Specks show a couple years before they (undoubtedly) stabbed him and his band in the back.

By the way…

In May 2001, the Australian Performing Right Association (APRA) celebrated its 75th anniversary by naming the Top 30 Best Australian songs from 1926 to 2001. The list was compiled by a hundred-strong industry panel. “Down Under” was ranked as the fourth song.

The No. 1 song was from 1966, ‘Friday on My Mind’ by The Easybeats.  At number 2 was Daddy Cool with their 1971 song ‘Eagle Rock’, while the classic 1987 song ‘Beds are Burning’ by Midnight Oil was at No. 3 . That number 3 song incidentally (another Aussie song I really like) was far more politically motivated than ‘Down Under’.

Meanwhile at number 5, one place below ‘Down Under’, is a country song by someone called Slim Dusty (nope, me neither!) with a 1950s number titled ‘A Pub with no Beer’. I kid you not! That’s how bad it is! Personally I would have thought the top 30 Aussie songs would have been a lot more inspiring than this one by the APRA but there you go… Look it up online and also check out all those other songs I mentioned. They are all available on youtube (as you would expect).

Anyway, that’s it folks. I just needed to get that one off my chest…

2 thoughts on “‘Down Under’ – Great Song, Sad Story

    1. HI,
      It is not the meaning of the song that I found sad. It was the death of the flute player. The writer of the song thought it was due to the stress of the court case. Whatever, it is still a great song.

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