Out of the Cabinet 1988/1989

Table of Contents


The Proclaimers are a musical duo consisting of identical bespectacled Scottish twins, Charlie and Craig Reid. ‘Swotty geeks and speccy eight eyes’ according to the British press. ‘Pub singers who write about lassies and drinking’ by their own account.

On their debut album, the boys accompanied themselves with nothing more than an acoustic guitar and a tambourine. That album produced a hit song, Letter From America, but the song that really took off for them was I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), from their second album Sunshine on Leith. This time they had a band, which included two veterans of the British folk-rock act Fairport Convention, with Jerry Donahue on lead and Dave Mattacks on drums.

Released in Britain in 1988, I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) quickly became one of those songs that was loved as much as it was loathed, with no middle ground. It only made it to eleventh spot on the charts over there, but here in Australia we loved it, taking it to number 1 for 5 weeks in 1989.  Since then it’s been reinvented so many times that it’s like it never went away.

The first big boost was in 1993, when the song was used in the opening of the offbeat romantic comedy film, Benny and Joon, starring Johnny Depp and Mary Stuart Masterson. The five-year-old song was suddenly a huge hit in the USA.

In 2007 it was re-recorded as a comedy single with Peter Kay and Matt Lucas, and went straight to number 1 in the UK. Then in 2014, the film Sunshine on Leith, made up of many Proclaimers’ songs, meant it was popular all over again.

I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) has been used in the Alvin and the Chipmunks video game, as a farewell to David Tennant in Doctor Who, at Scottish football matches, and in countless TV shows, ads and movies. And The Proclaimers are still performing, were at Glastonbury in 2015, and have a new album.

They have long been staunch supporters of Scottish independence, and at the 2014 referendum, supported the cause with their name, their music, and their money.

And it all began with a catchy 3-chord wonder back in 1988/’89.


Commercial computers had been used in Australia for 30 years, and there was still a shop called Typewriter World, but in ‘88/’89 the technology that we now know and love started to really flourish.

There was an explosion in the use of mobile phones, which were beginning to rear their ugly brick-sized heads in restaurants, cinemas, bus queues and the like. The cheapest was $2,796, the dearest $5,537, or you could rent one for $25 a day. You could get yourself an Apple CD rom drive for $2,500, or a new Apple scanner for $3,495.

The first well-known computer virus, the 1988 internet worm, was unleashed, the first of 24 GPS satellites were placed into orbit, the first officially sanctioned online commercial e-mail provider debuted, and the first text message was sent.

It was a time when Australia was honoured to be the country with the highest number of McDonald’s restaurants per capita in the world, but if you preferred to eat at home, a Sunbeam Frypan would set you back $59.95, an electric carving knife $19.95, and a microwave at Harvey Norman Discounts, $399.

At a time when casks were 2/3 of the wine market, $6.99 was all you needed for a cask of Lindeman’s Riesling. If you weren’t up to the sophistication of a cardboard drink, you could try cans of Tooheys Draught for $18.49 a slab.

It cost $100 to clothe a kid for school, the average electricity bill for a 4 person family was $110 a quarter, the median house price in Sydney was $134,000, petrol was 42c a litre, and for $18,990, you could be the proud owner of a Holden Commodore Executive.


You got a fast car
I want a ticket to anywhere
Maybe we make a deal
Maybe together we can get somewhere
Any place is better
Starting from zero, got nothing to lose
Maybe we’ll make something
Me myself I got nothing to prove.

And speaking of desirable cars, 1988 was the year when we first heard Boston singer-songwriter, Tracy Chapman. Brought up in a working class district in Cleveland, Ohio, she wrote and sang songs that focused on social issues such as the dehumanising effects of inner city life, racism and domestic violence.

It was her song Fast Car that shot her to international stardom, but it may not have happened if it weren’t for Nelson Mandela and Stevie Wonder.

Mandela, still imprisoned, turned 70 that year and major events were held worldwide to mark the occasion, as well as raise money and awareness for the Anti-Apartheid movement. At London’s Wembley Stadium, a star-studded event featured acts like Harry Belafonte, The Bee Gees, Dire Straits, the Eurythmics, Sting and Stevie Wonder. But Stevie’s computer played up, rendering him unable to perform, so Tracy Chapman was given his spot.

Armed with her acoustic guitar she gave a heart-rending rendition of Fast Car, letting the intensity and purity of her voice and the depth of her lyrics speak for themselves.

Her musical tale of a hard-done-by life became the surprise hit of the show. Being in a concert that was broadcast to 67 countries and watched worldwide by 600 million people meant that Fast Car and Ms Chapman would be ignored no more.

That concert was just one small part of world opinion and sanctions that were isolating South Africa, and the following year’s election in that country was the last to be held under Apartheid.

You got a fast car
Is it fast enough so you can fly away?
You gotta make a decision,
Leave tonight or live and die this way.


Here’s a little song I wrote
You might want to sing it note for note
Don’t worry be happy
In every life we have some trouble
When you worry you make it double
Don’t worry be happy.

With a title taken from a famous quotation by Indian spiritual master Meher Baba, Bobby McFerrin’s song Don’t Worry Be Happy was the first a cappella recording to ever top the charts.

George Bush Senior ran for president in 1988 with these slogans- A Kinder, Gentler Nation’, and ‘Read My Lips, No New Taxes.’

McFerrin’s song was adopted by the Bush camp as a campaign song. This is my version of what Bush could have used.

Here’s a song I never wrote
But I might use it to get your vote,
Don’t worry, be happy.

But he used it as it was.

The poor old Republicans! They want popular songs for their campaigns, but the writers of these songs are invariably on the left, and Bobby McFerrin was no exception. This is my version of what Bobby might have been thinking.

This song don’t go in your campaign,
Remove it, wash it down the drain,
And hurry, be snappy.

The song was removed, but its absence didn’t stop George becoming President. And like all good politicians, he took the kinder, gentler nation to war with Iraq, and while Americans watched his lips, he raised taxes. The song, though, won Best Song of the Year at the Grammies.

Don’t worry, be happy.


Meanwhile, here in Australia, 1988 marked the 200th anniversary of European settlement. Indigenous activists called it the Year of Mourning, but to governments and advertisers it was the Bicentenary, a celebration of the nation. It even had its own song, sung by Rick Price and Margaret Urlich, whose American accents helped to illustrate how proudly Australian we were when it came to promoting this seminal year in our history.

Have you noticed something happening
Something going on round here
Have you noticed there’s a feeling
Of something in the air
It’s a feeling that keeps growing
From the outback to the sea
All those years of sweat and tears
It’s our Bicentenary.

MOJO advertising agency, incredibly successful at selling cricket and margarine, got the job of capturing the spirit of our nation in the TV ad. Akubra hats, Aussie flags and a truckload of celebrities were sent out to Uluru to wave and clap their hands in sync with the slick recording. Have a look at it on YouTube, and see how many people in it aren’t white, young and active.

Celebration of a nation
Give us a hand
Celebration of a nation
Let’s make it grand,
Let’s make it great in ‘88
Come on, give us a hand.

Australia Day was marked by a massive event on Sydney Harbour with tall ships, fireworks, and Charles and Diana. It was seen across the world and led to an increase in visa applications to come to Australia. But it was a divided celebration of a nation, with more than 40,000 indigenous and non-indigenous people marching through the streets of Sydney in protest.

All this at a time when 99 deaths of Aboriginal people in custody were being investigated by a Royal Commission. Singer songwriter Paul Kelly offered up an alternative take on events, in his song Bicentennial.

A ship is sailing into harbour
A party’s waiting on the shore
And they’re running up the flag now
And they want us all to cheer

Charlie’s head nearly reaches the ceiling
But his feet don’t touch the floor
From a prison issue blanket his body’s swinging
He won’t dance any more

Take me away from your dance floor
Leave me out of your parade
I have not the heart for dancing
For dancing on his grave.


In 1985, I was asked by a colleague who was working at the NSW Bicentennial office to come up with a proposal for a community event. It seemed that most of the planned events were centered around Sydney Harbour so I suggested a project in which I’d create a show with primary students in outback NSW. The concept passed the audition and for a year between October 1987 and October 1988, I lived in Dubbo, driving to 50 schools between there and Broken Hill, the artistic director of what became The Outback Children’s Spectacular.

I began by collecting stories from the kids, which became the basis for songwriting workshops in all the schools. The tunes and the lyrics were theirs, I just facilitated and guided them. A team of arts workers, one of whom was my partner Moya Simpson, then turned the songs into drama and puppetry, circus and dance. The end result was a massive show on a football field in Dubbo with a cast of the 3000 children who wrote it.

The show told of life in the outback through the eyes of its children – stories of isolation, School of the Air, wildlife, technology, lead poisoning, the landscape, motor bikes and so on.

Throughout that year I worked with many Aboriginal communities and saw first-hand the reactions to the Bicentenary. Wilcannia decided not to participate, which I understood but it rocked me a bit. I would like to have had a face-to-face meeting to make sure they knew what they were saying ‘no’ to, but the principal at the school wouldn’t let me. He said they were opposed to the Bicentenary, not to me.

In Brewarrina where there had been riots at the time of a death-in-custody court case, response was pretty positive. The kids there told me of the Weir, a place in the Darling River where they could catch crabs and fish easily, ride and slide across, and swim under the rapid flow of water. I went to see them for myself and was surprised at how simple and effective the traps were.

This some of the song they wrote:

All the fish swimming in the water
Down at the Weir
All around the rocks
All the pelicans, flying in the sky
Up above the weir, diving in the stream.

We know why
They put the rocks there
Long time ago
It’s because there were no shops there
Long time ago.

In towns like Bourke and Weilmoringle I heard of the Min Min Light, a mysterious presence seen many times on the surrounding plains. ‘The closer you get to it, the further it goes away’, they told me.

The Min Min light’s over there
It’s getting close to the car, close to the car
The head-light’s blown in the dark, dark night
I wish we were on the tar

The Min Min light’s on the plain
Everybody’s petrified, we’re all petrified
The closer you get, the farther it goes
I wish we were safe inside

The Min Min light, the Min Min light
Shines mysterious in the night.

At the other end of the scale, some of the parents at one of the small schools I visited, wanted to know what I was going to do to keep their kids safe from the Aboriginal riots that were going to happen in Dubbo. ‘They’ve got guns, you know, we saw it on the tele.’

I succeeded in placating them and after nearly two years of preparation, Dubbo filled with visiting children. A specially commissioned train brought in the kids from Bourke, Brewarrina, Cobar, Nyngan, and towns in between. As the train came in, the theme song the kids wrote played on the station loudspeakers.

The Outback Children’s Spectacular
We don’t mind if you bring Dracula
To the Outback Children’s Spectacular
We don’t mind if you’re a big galah
All around the outback
All around the outback.

The very the first day we assembled the full cast at Apex Oval, I noticed the White Cliff kids walking gingerly on the verdant acres of lawn, so unlike the moonscape they lived on back home.

The day of the final dress rehearsal was a scorcher and had to be cancelled, a nerve-wracking decision, but it was the only thing to do.

On the night it rained as the politicians spoke pre-show, and stopped as soon as the show began. There were 25,000 in the audience. I sat with the sound engineer, with a feeling of anti-climax when it actually happened. ABC TV’s Countrywide had followed me around a bit during the process, and were there on the night. When I saw the footage of me being interviewed afterwards, all I could see was me looking like a stunned mullet.

The Outback Children’s Spectacular was televised throughout regional NSW, and we still get emails from 40 year olds who remember it very fondly.

It was an extraordinary highlight of my creative life, and an experience I’m sure will never be forgotten by those who participated.


Australian films of ’88 and ’89 included Young Einstein, Cane Toads, Evil Angels, Sweetie, Dead Calm, and Crocodile Dundee 2, which was widely panned. One American reviewer called it Crocodile Donedough.

International blockbusters included A Fish Called Wanda, Good Morning Vietnam, Rain Man, Roger Rabbit, Dead Poets Society, Ghostbusters, Batman, and Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, which Fred Nile never viewed, but referred to as ‘a Satan production from the studios of hell.’

Cher had a career boost with the film Moonstruck, as did Bette Midler with the tearjerker chick-flick, Beaches, complete with theme song which has gone on to become a huge hit at weddings and funerals.

Did you ever know that you’re my hero?
And everything I would like to be?
I can fly higher than an eagle
‘Cause you are the wind beneath my wings.

Speaking of wings, the nation’s 1640 domestic pilots resigned en masse in 1989, in a dispute over a new salary package. The Prime Minister Bob Hawke stepped in, backed the airlines, and took on the Australian Federation of Air Pilots. Pilots were recruited from overseas to take their jobs, an unusual step for a PM who was once head of the ACTU.

Unions like you should be illegal
I’ll take the wind beneath your wings.

But this wasn’t the end of Hawke’s troubles. It was well known that his Treasurer, Paul Keating, had his eye on the top job, and although Bob had ordained him as his successor, by 1988 he was changing his tune, and was even talking up Kim Beazley as the one to fill his shoes. Hawke saw Keating as too abrasive, unpopular, with an undertaker image. The polls indicated that Hawke was the popular one and Keating was seen as one dimensional.

Like all leadership issues, all seemed well. ‘My friend and colleague will remain PM as long as he chooses,’ said Keating.

Then, just after the ’88 budget was brought down, Hawke said publicly that he considered his Treasurer to be good at his job, but not indispensable. Keating’s response was ‘I tell you right now, mate, I’m not going to be someone else you can walk over. When I decide to come at you, mate, I’ll take your head right off.’

This led to a succession agreement at Kirribilli House known as The Kirribilli Agreement, at which, in the presence of two witnesses, the PM agreed that he would hand his job to the Treasurer after the next election. Keating was champing at the bit.

It’s been pretty cold here in your shadow
To never have sunlight on my face
I was content to let you shine, that’s my way
I always walked a step behind
But did you ever know I rate you zero?
You’re everything I don’t want to be
Don’t try and replace me with Kim Beazley

I will break wind beneath your wings. ….Scumbag!


Bob Hawke got a bit sentimental in April 1988, when he farewelled the old Parliament House and moved in to the new one.

And he cried on national TV when he admitted that he had been unfaithful to Hazel.

Then in 1989 he cried again, along with many of us, this time in response to the horrific events in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, at the Gate of Heavenly Peace.

In May that year Soviet head of state Mikhail Gorbachev and Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping were shaking hands in an historic meeting at Beijing’s austere Great Hall of the People. Just a few hundred metres away, hundreds of thousands of students and supporters were amassing in Tiananmen Square, in an impassioned call for democracy following the death of Hu Yaobang, a former Communist Party leader who had pushed for a more transparent China.

The protest grew and grew with up to a million taking to the streets. Talks between the students and the government were held, and failed. After six weeks, martial law was declared. Then in early June, the People’s Liberation Army moved in, firing indiscriminately on the protesters, followed by tanks that flattened everything in their path.

Tiananmen, Tiananmen
Let the gunfire cease
Tiananmen, Tiananmen
The Gate of Heavenly Peace.

China’s emerging pro-democracy movement was crushed. An official death toll has never been released, but is estimated to be well over 1,000, and could be as many as 2,600.


In stark contrast, the European call for democracy was a different thing all together.

When Mikhail Gorbachev had become General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1985, he was aged 54, was the youngest member of the Politburo, and the first leader to have been born after the Revolution. A year after he took the position it was clear that he was bringing in generational change as he launched glasnost, perestroika, demokratizatsiya (openness, restructuring, and democratisation).

In 1988 his Christmas present to the world was a dramatic speech at the United Nations in which he announced troop cuts of 500,000 within the next two years. At the same time, there was a growing movement for self-determination in Soviet states across Europe.

As an indication that things were changing, The Scorpions, a rock band from West Germany, was allowed to play in Russia, and invited back for the Moscow Music Peace Festival in August 1989. The band was so moved by the atmosphere of goodwill at that event that they returned to Germany and wrote this song.

The world is closing in
And did you ever think
That we could be so close, like brothers
The future’s in the air
You can feel it everywhere
It’s blowing with the wind of change

Take me to the magic of the moment
On a glory night
Where the children of tomorrow dream away
In the wind of change.

The most striking symbol of Cold War division was the 45 kilometre-long Berlin Wall, erected in 1961 to stop the exodus of East Germans. In November 1989 the checkpoints opened, and the streets were filled with dancing, car horns, and champagne sprays. Thousands clambered over the wall, breaking bits off as they did. Wind of Change became the unofficial anthem of German Reunification.

Take me to the magic of the moment
On a glory night
Where the children of tomorrow dream away
In the wind of change.


Among those who died in ‘88/’89 were Aboriginal land rights pioneer Vincent Lingiari, writers Raymond Carver, Daphne du Maurier and Samuel Beckett, artists Lloyd Rees and Salvador Dali, songwriter Irving Berlin, singer/ song-writer Roy Orbison, actors John Mellion and Laurence Olivier, comedians Lucille Ball and Graham Chapman.

Politicians who died that year included F D Roosevelt and the ex-Prime Minister who is better known for his wife’s dress than he is for his policies, Sir William McMahon.

Bill made no impact at all
Till Sonia he took to a ball
When they walked in, Nixon choked on his rum
When they saw Sonia’s dress all the guests were struck dumb
‘Cos her dress had two side-splits right up to her bum
Poor wee Billy McMahon.

Poor wee Billy McMahon
He’s mutton dressed up as lamb
He tries to be ‘with it’ and dresses real moddy
But with his big lugs and his skinny wee body
He looks like a cross between Big Ears and Noddy
Poor wee Billy McMahon
Poor wee Billy McMahon.


Come and sit, sit here before me
And I will tell you a tale
Of so many years rocky and stormy
Of a fight so that right would prevail
A tale of a town where the winter is cold
And summer’s unbearably hot
Of a town called Canberra that wanted no government
But still, a government it got.

Despite Canberrans voting against self-government 11 years earlier, the ACT had its first election in May 1989, an election that was notable for having a ballot paper almost one-metre wide. It listed 117 candidates for 22 political parties with names like the Sun-Ripened Warm Tomato Party, the Surprise Party, and the Party! Party! Party! Party.

It took almost two months after Election Day to determine the results of the election, and four people won seats on platforms of abolishing self-government. Not surprisingly, the result was a hung parliament.

The spectrum, the whole of the palette
From blue Liberal to sun-ripened red
Lined up on a metre-wide ballot
“It won’t work,” the populace said.
The no self-government and Party Party Party
Party danced ’til voting was done
Then, once in, as we all do, they dropped all their platforms
To suck up to those who had won
Forming the biggest town council, the tiniest parliament
Roadworks and drainage without the allure
As caring as fed’ral, efficient as local
Enduring and bound to endure
Here in the biggest town council, the tiniest parliament
Budget the size of an Anglican school
As caring as fed’ral, efficient as local
Big fish in a very small pool.


Just to show that nothing changes, in 1989 Andrew Peacock staged a party room coup in which he deposed Howard as leader, Prime Minister Hawke gave Prince Phillip a Companion in the Military Division of the Order of Australia without a flicker of reaction, and the Fitzgerald Inquiry into police corruption began in Queensland.

As far as corruption inquiries went though, entrepreneurs in Queensland took exploitation to a new level when they launched a line of Fitzgerald Inquiry merchandise. There were stickers and badges, earrings, T-shirts, a vice tour of dens of iniquity in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, and Corruption – the board game: ‘Collect bribes, misappropriate public funds, use the police for political purposes, and commit perjury’, boasted the publicity material.

Joh Bjelke-Petersen appeared before the inquiry in December 1988, and when asked:

What do you understand by the ‘the separation of powers?

And his answer?

Well you tell me. And I’ll tell you whether you’re right or not. Don’t you know?

After 32 years of National Party rule, Labor’s Wayne Goss was elected as Premier. Joh was gone, but not forgotten.

Don’t you worry ‘bout that.


The powers-that-be at Channel Seven had let go of the very popular Neighbours some years earlier, and were keen to atone for their sins with a show with tougher storylines. The show was Home and Away, launched in January 1988 with its own theme song, written by New Zealand-born composer Mike Perjanik.

Hold me in your arms
Don’t let me go I want to stay forever

With you each day
Home and Away

Meanwhile, Neighbours was still a raging success on Ten, and Jason and Kylie were still as popular as ever, winning the Silver and Gold Logies respectively.

Kylie was now a singing star, with her second single number one in the UK and Australia.

I should be so lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky.
I should be so lucky in love.

Although they sound like a firm of solicitors, Stock, Aitken and Waterman (SAW) was the song writing and production team behind The Singing Budgie’s success. SAW was a hit factory extraordinaire, and when it produced her first album simply entitled Kylie, it sold over two million copies. Their re-recorded version of Locomotion made it to top 10 in the USA, and Kylie left Neighbours behind her to follow her new musical career, which is still going strong.


Another big female act of this time was the all-girl band The Bangles, who tasted success in 1988 with a song inspired by the eternal flame at Elvis’ Graceland home.

Close your eyes, give me your hand, darlin’
Do you feel my heart beating?
Do you understand?
Do you feel the same?
Am I only dreaming
Is this burning an eternal flame?

It is said that the lead singer, Susannah Hoffs, recorded that song in the nude, but when Cher appeared on an aircraft carrier in the video clip of her latest hit song Turn Back Time, she wasn’t nude. But she did wear a body suit that left nothing to the imagination.

If I could turn back time
If I could find a way
I’d take back those words that hurt you
And you’d stay
If I could reach the stars
I’d give them all to you
Then you’d love me, love me
Like you used to do.

This year we shared the National Archives stage for the first time with Dr Nicholas Brown from the ANU history department, who filled everyone in on the politics of 1988 and 1989 as it appears in the Cabinet papers. If anyone can turn back time, he can.

He’s gonna turn back time
Here at the NAA

He’ll go back to what Hawkie blurted
In his day
Now he has read the files
He’ll spill the beans to you
Hear the secrets, secrets
Have a peekaboo
He’s gonna turn back time.


Songs, YouTubes, Credits
All parodies written by John Shortis
I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) written by Charlie and Craig Reid
Fast Car written by Tracy Chapman
Don’t Worry Be Happy written by Bobbie McFerrin
Celebration of the Nation, music by Les Gock, lyrics by Fran Allen and Tim Phillp
Bicentennial written by Paul Kelly
We Know Why, Min Min Light, and The Outback Children’s Spectacular were written by John Shortis and children in NSW primary schools
The Wind Beneath My Wings written by Larry Henley and Jeff Silbar
Gate of Heavenly Peace written by John Shortis
Wind of Change written by Klaus Meine
Poor Wee Billy McMahon written by Eric Bogle
The Biggest Town Council written by Peter J Casey
Home and Away written by Mike Perjanik
I Should Be So Lucky written by Stock, Aitken and Waterman
Eternal Flame written by Susanna Hoffs, Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg
If I Could Turn Back Time written by Diane Warren

Books and newspapers
The Berlin Wall Story by Hans-Hermann Hertle
Keating, the Inside Story by John Edwards
The Guardian