Out of the Cabinet 1990/1991

Table of Contents


It’s been seven hours and fifteen days
Since you took your love away
I go out every night and sleep all day
Since you took your love away

Since you’ve been gone I can do whatever I want
I can see whomever I choose
I can eat my dinner in a fancy restaurant
But nothing, I said nothing can take away these blues
‘Cause nothing compares
Nothing compares 2 u

In 1985, The Artist Formerly Known as Prince created a side-project, a band called The Family. It was a way to release some more of his music without adding to the overkill of the Prince brand. The Family released one eponymous album, which contained a little known song called Nothing Compares 2 U.

At the same time, Sinead O’Connor, a student at a Quaker boarding school in the town of Waterford in SE Ireland, was spending evenings in her room playing guitar, singing and writing songs. She’d had a tumultuous childhood and found that through singing she could express her pain. Successive schools had tried to steer her away from a life of shoplifting after she was caught nicking a pair of shoes from a shop near her Dublin home. It wasn’t crime that filled her mind now, but instead her sights were clearly set on a career in music.

O’Connor formed a band, dropped out of school, moved to Dublin then to London where she was invited to record as a solo artist. Endowed with thick black hair, she simply rocked up one day at the studio with it all shaved off, a fairly revolutionary move at the time. Maybe it helped that she had the face of an angel with the devil in her heart.

New Musical Express described her as:

The female Johnny Rotten of the 1980s- an angst ridden young woman who shocked established society with her look and views.

Her first album had some success, but it was her second album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, released in 1990, that caught the world’s attention. Ironically, whilst her songwriting was extremely well-received, it was the album’s one cover, the Prince song that had been around for four years, that took off.

I could put my arms around every boy I see
But they’d only remind me of you
I went to the doctor and guess what he told me
Guess what he told me
He said, ‘Girl, you better try to have fun no matter what you do’
But he’s a fool
`Cause nothing compares
Nothing compares 2 u.

One contributing factor to the success of the record was the memorable video clip. Shot around Paris, with an all-female crew, it was originally intended to look very Parisian, but the filmmaker was so impressed with Sinead’s look that he decided to concentrate on close-ups of her face as she lip-synched her way through the song’s emotional journey.

Sinead’s image was satirised by Gina Riley on one very popular TV comedy show of the time, Fast Forward.

Nothing is there, I have no hair, I’ll sue.

In 2004, Nothing Compares 2U came in at number 162 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.


1990/’91 technology was still fairly primitive compared to what we now have, but it was a landmark era for changes that would hail the modern era.

The digital camera was on the market in the US for the first time, and the world’s first website was launched. Neither had quite taken off yet, with the camera too expensive and rudimentary, and the website nothing more than an information resource about the European Particles Physics Laboratory in Geneva, where the Worldwide Web had been invented.

Only 1% of Australians had taken up the new mobile phone technology, and a new phone provider, Optus, was allowed to operate in competition with previous monopoly holder Telecom. Back then you could ring your phone companies on a 1-3 number for the first time, the call centres were actually in Australia, and the operators were really called Geoffrey and Kylie.

1990/’91 was a time when Australians felt that life was better than it used to be 5 years ago, women more so than men. No wonder because female lawn bowlers were now allowed to wear mini-skirts on the green.

You could grab yourself a bottle of Australian champagne that wasn’t actually champagne for $4.99, and a six-pack of Toohey’s Draught for $5.99.

You could do your supermarket shopping at Coles or Woolies, or Safeway, or Jewel or Bi-Lo. or Franklin’s (which was celebrating its fiftieth birthday.) And thanks to the power of the supermarkets the milkman was becoming a thing of the past with only 19% of households getting milk delivered, compared to 38% 2 years ago.

It was the time of the first Gulf War, which meant that in a matter of months petrol rose from 63.9 to 75.9 cents a litre.

But if you didn’t want to drive, you could fly with either Ansett, or Australian, East-West, or Compass. Sydney to Melbourne with Compass cost $120 return as long as you bought your ticket 9 months in advance, which isn’t as generous as it sounds because that’s about how long the airline lasted.

But if you were feeling guilty about the effect of air travel on the environment you could feel a bit better when you got home, because this was a time when many Councils had introduced recycling bins.


Speaking of recycling, one of the big hits of the time was a song that had been a hit 40 years earlier, now recycled by the magic of recording, sung as a duet by the very dead Nat King Cole, and his then very much alive daughter, Natalie Cole.

Unforgettable in every way
And forever more, that’s how you’ll stay
That’s why darling it’s incredible
That someone so unforgettable
Thinks that I am unforgettable too.

The song, from an album made up completely of songs made famous by Natalie’s daddy, helped resurrect Natalie’s career, and made her number 1 in many countries including Australia.

One man who was hoping to be number one in the political hit parade in Australia at the same time was Prime Minister Bob Hawke. Both Hawke and his Liberal opponent Andrew Peacock were saying that the 1990 election was the most important election since the war.

Unfortunately the electorate didn’t agree, as they’d fallen out of love with the two main parties, and were getting more excited about green parties and the Australian Democrats. As I write this in 2016 this sounds all very familiar.

But it didn’t stop the good old ALP coming up with yet another dreadful campaign jingle, this time sung by a bunch of kids, presumably the ones no longer living in poverty by 1990.

Give us an Australia proud and strong
Give us a future we can really build on
‘Cause the future is in our eyes
See the children look into the future.

As expected, the Democrats did well, scoring nearly 12% of the vote, though they lost their leader, Janine Haines who had unsuccessfully tried to win a lower house seat.

Hawke just made it over the line, Peacock resigned, giving way to John Hewson as the new Liberal leader.

So, bird lovers, it’s incredible
That a Hawke can be forgettable
And a Peacock, so forgettable too.

As I worked my way through the Sydney Morning Heralds of these two years I came across a letter to the editor penned by Yours Truly. It simply read:

1975- double dissolution. 1990- double disillusion.


In Europe the Cold War was beginning to thaw, and in a wall-free Berlin, 200,000 people attended an outdoor concert which featured Sinead O’Connor, and Pink Floyd who, appropriately, performed The Wall.

Within months of the wall coming down, the golden arches of MacDonald’s stood proudly in Moscow’s Pushkin Square. Better than Blini or Borscht, bigger than Butterbrot and Boris, classier than caviar, thousands of people queued up for the honour of paying a few days’ wages to get a taste of the West.

Gastronomically, the Bol’shoi Mac was making inroads, but politically it was a time that marked the end of the Soviet parliament and the beginning of the Russian parliament, led by Boris Yeltsin.

Vodkas back I whack
Soviets I sack
I kick them out
Then I put myself in
Country’s in big stink
So grab glass and drink
To me, President Boris Yeltsin

Meanwhile in Britain, Maggie Thatcher‘s Poll Tax was met with riots, and even her own party called her a ‘destructive force’. She resigned and John Major was the new Prime Minister. In Ireland, the country voted in its first female president, Mary Robinson.

But it was in South Africa where the most dramatic and significant changes took place, under the new presidency of the white National Party’s F W de Klerk. As Education Minister de Klerk had favoured such discriminatory practices as keeping blacks out of white universities, but now as President he could see the inevitability of and end to apartheid.

In his inaugural address to parliament in early 1990, he was applauded by the international community when he promised the lifting of bans of the ANC and other illegal parties, reinstatement of freedom of the press, an end to capital punishment, and the release of political prisoners.

Among those to be released was freedom fighter Nelson Mandela who had never stopped fighting for democracy in his 27 years of imprisonment. Soon after his release, as part of a world tour he was the guest of honour at a mega-concert staged at London’s Wembley Stadium, and televised in 61 countries. On the bill, along with acts like Natalie Cole, Lou Reed, Jackson Browne, Neil Young, Peter Gabriel, and Simple Minds, was Johnny Clegg, a white musician who had formed mixed-race bands in South Africa. His song Asimbonanga was among the many songs written to support Mandela during his imprisonment.

A sea gull wings across the sea
Broken silence is what I dream
Who has the words to close the distance
Between you and me?

Asimbonanga (We have not seen him)
Asimbonang’ u Mandela sina (We have not seen Mandela)
La phe kh-na (In the place where he is)
La phe seli khona (In the place where he is kept).

At the end of 1990, Oliver Tambo, who had led the ANC through its darkest years, returned to South Africa after years of exile in Stockholm. Mandela became the President of the ANC, facing the challenge of making the transition from clandestine organisation to mainstream player. By the end of 1991, at the Convention for a Democratic South Africa, the stage was set for the formation of a multiracial transitional government, a new constitution, and a commitment to an undivided South Africa.


And so to Australian state politics, where in Queensland, the outcomes of the Fitzgerald Inquiry into police corruption were providing much interest.

Police Commissioner Terry Lewis was sentenced to 14 years for corruption and forgery , and Joh Bjelke-Petersen was on trial for perjury.

The perjury charge was related to whether Joh had lied when answering questions about a cash donation of $100,000 by Singapore businessman Robert Sng. Just months after the donation, Sng’s company got the go-ahead to create a new hotel precinct in Brisbane’s Edward Street. Joh pleaded not guilty, and after a trial lasting four weeks, as the jury considered its verdict, Joh had this to say:

I am innocent and these people in here couldn’t prove otherwise. They can try going on as long as they like, they’ll never get any further than they got tonight- up a road, up a dry gully.

After five days when the jury foreman, Luke Shaw, announced that no verdict was reached, the jurors went public, saying that the foreman had dismissed their points of view. There was an uproar when it was discovered that Shaw was an active member of The Friends of Joh group. The case was thrown out of court, and Joh got off, scot free.

Labor’s Wayne Goss was now Premier of Queensland, and was taking the state in a more progressive direction, by bringing in laws that decriminalised homosexuality. Even though Victoria and NSW had made this change a decade earlier, Queensland right-wingers and fundamentalist churches were opposed. According to Elaine Nile of the Call to Australia Party:

It seems that Labor governments are a bit morally bent in that direction.

Unbelievably it wasn’t till 1990 that the World Health Organisation removed homosexuality from its list of diseases. And it was still an offence in Tasmania, ‘against the law of nature’, punishable with 21 years gaol, after a bill to decriminalise it failed to make it through the Upper House.


I love myself, I want you to love me
When I feel down, I want you above me
I search myself, I want you to find me
I forget myself, I want you to remind me

I don’t want anybody else
When I think about you, I touch myself
Oh, I don’t want anybody else, oh, no
Oh, no, oh, no.

I Touch Myself, recorded by Australian group The Divynyls in LA in 1991, is a rare thing, a hit song about female masturbation, although Madonna had taken us there the year before when she simulated the act while singing Like a Virgin on her Blonde Ambition tour.

The song was actually co-written by Mark McEntee and Chrissie Amphlett of The Divynyls, with Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg, who were the writers of Like a Virgin.

Amphlett had come a long way from the day when she was first noticed by McEntee while singing in a massed choir at the Sydney Opera House in front of an audience of priests and nuns.

You’re the one who makes me coming running
You’re the sun who makes me shine
When you’re around I’m always laughin’
I want to make you mine

I close my eyes and see you before me
Think I would die if you were to ignore me
A fool could see just how much I adore you
I’d get down on my knees, I’d do anything for you.

The record was accompanied by a sensual video clip, which was banned from daytime TV in Australia.

Amazingly they reacted quite differently in the US. As Amphlett said:

I mean it is on television six times a day. There is no problem with it whatsoever either on radio or TV. I thought that Australia would be more liberal but it seems to be a lot more straight-laced.

Amphlett died of breast cancer 2013, and the song was re-recorded by leading female artists to raise awareness and funds for research.

I don’t want anybody else
When I think about you, I touch myself
Oh, I don’t want anybody else, oh, no
Oh, no, oh, no.


Opera was a newsworthy topic in ‘90/’91 for a number of reasons. Australia’s first opera super star Grammy Award-winner, La Stupenda, Dame Joan Sutherland, retired after a career of 40 years, and The Three Tenors (Domingo, Pavarotti and Carreras) made their debut appearance in Rome, on the eve of the FIFA World Cup Final. The recording of this debut became the best-selling classical album of all time.

Opera also figured in the drama of Australian politics, as Keating gave a famous speech about leadership in which he never mentioned Hawke, but referred to himself as the Placido Domingo of Australian politics, centre stage, always giving quality performances.

Leadership is not about being popular. It’s about being right and being strong.

And as he was making that speech, this song sung by Bette Midler was roaring up the charts.

From a distance
The world looks blue and green
And the snow capped mountains wide
From a distance
The ocean meets the stream
And the eagle takes to flight

From a distance
There is harmony
And it echoes through the land
It’s the voice of hope
It’s the voice of peace
It’s the voice of every man.

While this positive song echoed throughout the land, Mr Keating told us that this was the recession we had to have, and his running of the economy was being blamed for a 30% increase in hair loss.

From a distance
We all have enough
No hungry mouths to feed
Mr Keating, can we believe this stuff?
That no one is in need.

For the first time news of the secret agreement known as The Kirribilli Agreement in which, some years earlier, Hawke assured Keating that he would hand the leadership to him at a suitable time after the 1990 federal election. Keating decided that the suitable time was now, so on June 3 1991 he challenged Hawke, losing by 44-66 and immediately resigned as Treasurer. He vowed not to challenge again, and instead sat and watched from the comfort of his backbench pew.

From a distance
There is no harmony
And it echoes through our land
It’s the voice of Bob
It’s the voice of Paul
It’s the voice of the Big Picture Man.

The conflict between Paul and Bob was being reported everywhere, which led one overseas journalist to interview one Labor politician who knew exactly what was going on. (The journo’s questions in regular italics, the politician’s answers in dark).

Is Bob Hawke from the Right or the Left?
He’s from the Right.

How Right?
He’s the most Right wing Labor PM since Scullin.

So he’s supported by the ALP’s Right wing?

So who is supporting him?
The Left wing.

Oh so the Left like Hawke?
No they can’t stand him.

Why does the Left support him then?
Because by supporting him they can extract concessions from him.

Why doesn’t the left support PK in return for concessions?
Because the Left can’t stand Keating either.

Hasn’t the ALP got a better chance of winning the next election with Keating?

So by sticking with Hawke the Left is guaranteeing the government’s defeat at the next election?

Are you saying the Left would rather see the government thrown out of office than switch from Hawke to Keating?

Have the Left got any brains?
Yes, but cleverly concealed in the rear of their trousers.

Then on December 19, Keating challenged again and by a narrow margin of 56-51, became Australia’s 24th Prime Minister.

And the portrait on the wall
It must be anything but small
Must be as wide as it is tall
Big Picture Man
Big Picture Man.


The never ending fight for rights of our indigenous people was as strong as ever, as three landmark songs were written, all with links to one man, Paul Kelly.

From little things big things grow
From little things big things grow

Vestey was fat with money and muscle
Beef was his business, broad was his door
Vincent was lean and spoke very little
He had no bank balance, hard dirt was his floor

From little things big things grow
From little things big things grow.

In 1991, singer/songwriters Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody went camping at Lake Wivenhoe in Queensland, and one night around the campfire, guitar and mandolin in hand, a cycle of chords started to form, and a song emerged.

Eight years went by, eight long years of waiting
Till one day a tall stranger appeared in the land
And he came with lawyers and he came with great ceremony
And through Vincent’s fingers poured a handful of sand

From little things big things grow
From little things big things grow.

It was Paul Kelly who gave Archie Roach’s career the nudge it needed to record this iconic 1990 song about the Stolen Generation, from his album Charcoal Lane.

This story’s right, this story’s true
I would not tell lies to you
Like the promises they did not keep
And how they fenced us in like sheep

Said to us come take their hand
Sent us off to mission land
Taught us to read, to write and pray
Then they took the children away

Took the children away
The children away
Snatched from their mother’s breast
Said this is for the best
Took them away.

Back in ’88 Bob Hawke had promised to enter into a treaty with indigenous Australians by 1990. The magic year had come, but alas no treaty or any steps towards it becoming a reality. So Galarrwuy Yunupingu from Yothu Yindi invited Paul Kelly up to Arnhem Land to work on the song with him, and once again it was around a campfire that a verse of lyrics were developed.

According to Paul Kelly:

We got pretty stuck for a while. I’m not really someone who writes from the top up, or from a theme down. So we struggled.

Then in Darwin, as the band were rehearsing songs for their next album, Kelly jammed with them and a groove started to develop. Over the top of the groove they started singing the words they had so far, including an improvised chant:

Treaty yeah, Treaty now

Some time later, Yothu Yindi’s manager rang Paul Kelly to tell him that the band had recorded Treaty and that the record company were keen to release it except no one can really hear the words properly.

Kelly informed him that that was probably because they weren’t all written yet, so he quickly convened with Yunupingu, and the two collaborated with Peter Garrett who made a few suggestions. The next day the song was recorded, and its remixed version that came out in 1991 went global, taking Aboriginal music and language to the world.

Well I heard it on the radio
And I saw it on the television
Back in 1988, all those talking politicians
Words are easy, words are cheap
Much cheaper than our priceless land
But promises can disappear
Just like writing in the sand

Treaty yeah treaty now treaty yeah treaty now

Nhima djat’pangarri nhima walangwalang
Nhe djat’payatpa nhima gaya nhe
Matjini Yakarray
Nhe djat’pa nhe walang gumurrt jararrk gutju.

(which translates as-‘dance, improvise, keep going, my grandson’).


Looking back at these years from 2017, it’s interesting to see who’s still around, and how little some things change.

For example, Donald Trump divorced his then wife Ivana who was moaning that she might have to survive in a $5 million mansion on a mere $33 million pay-out. The poor darling needed millions a year just to cover basic necessities like bodyguards, chauffeurs, servants and cosmetic surgery. Not to mention the therapy for the poodles, and the goldfish’s personal trainer.

In Australian politics, Barrie Cassidy was Bob Hawke’s press secretary, and Tony Abbott was John Hewson’s.

A $2.50 Medicare co-payment was proposed by the Hawke government, and a 15% GST by the Liberals.

It was alleged that there was a political bias to the left in the press gallery, and a claim of ABC bias from Bob Hawke, so Gerard Henderson was called in to appear on the ABC for balance.

And in sport, South Sydney footballers were caught up in a drug scandal.

Some things never change.


Hey hey hey hey
There’ll be food on the table tonight
Hey hey hey hey
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 token
Who’ll strike the flint up on 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 to night
Still I walk up and down on the blue sky mine
There’ll be pay in your pocket tonight.

Blue Sky Mine from Midnight Oil, a response to reports of a rapid increase in cases of Mesothelioma, which had doubled over the past decade. The main culprits were power stations, the building industry, and ship-building.

But Rear Admiral Holthouse of the Australian Navy didn’t agree, declaring in front of 15,000 sailors and their families that the deadly blue asbestos which still infested the Navy’s ships and bases ‘is a naturally occurring fibre and is so harmless you can eat it’.

Midnight Oil’s song was about the town of Wittenoom in WA where blue asbestos had been mined for many years.

But if I work all day on the blue sky mine
There’ll be food on the table to night
Still I walk up and down on the blue sky mine
There’ll be pay in your pocket tonight.


1990/1991 movies
Terminator 2
Naked Gun 2 ½
Godfather 3
Omen 4
Rocky 5

1990/1991 births
Harry Potter
Wyatt Roy
The Australian Republic Movement
The Wiggles

1990/1991 deaths
Sir John Kerr
Manning Clark
Patrick White
Roald Dahl
Greta Garbo
Leonard Bernstein
And Freddie Mercury


Girls, is your under-arm area a little on the nose? On the bugle? A bit funky? Then you need Teen Spirit deodorant. It comes in a full range of aromas- Pink Crush, Sweet Strawberry, Romantic Rose, California Breeze, Ocean Surf, Caribbean Cool and Orchard Blossom. Teen Spirit Deodorant- it leaves no white residue.

Teen Spirit, the deodorant of choice of the girlfriend of Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Seattle band Nirvana. When a friend told him he smelt like Teen Spirit, Kurt took it as having a revolutionary meaning, a good name for a song, so he wrote Smells Like Teen Spirit, although he never actually used those words in the lyrics. The song became a Generation X anthem, introducing grunge, a hybrid of punk and heavy metal, to the world.

Load up on guns, bring your friends
It’s fun to lose and to pretend
She’s overboard, self assured
Oh no, I know a dirty word

Hello, hello, hello, how low?
Hello, hello, hello, how low?

With the lights out, it’s less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid, and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us
A mulatto
An albino
A mosquito
My libido.

Cobain grew up in the logging town of Aberdeen, 100 miles west of Seattle. Through his father’s record collection he became familiar with the heavy metal sounds of Black Sabbath. His connection to punk is a little more obscure, because record shops in his home town didn’t sell the works of the Sex Pistols and the like, so he had to make do with reading about the punk lifestyle in magazines.

A fellow high school mate, bassist Krist Novoselic, formed a band with him and an ever-changing array of drummers. They became Nirvana, eventually found themselves the right drummer, Dave Grohl, and were working on their second album Nevermind when Cobain sent a distorted cassette recording of Smells Like Teen Spirit to producer Butch Vig. Even through all the roughness of this demo he could tell it was a great song.

Rolling Stone gave the album 3 stars.

With Nirvana the latest underground bonus baby to test mainstream tolerance for alternative music, given the small corner of public taste that non-metal guitar rock now commands, the Washington State’ trio’s version of the truth is probably as credible as anyone’s. Nevermind finds Nirvana at the crossroads- scrappy garageland warriors setting their sights on a land of giants.

Nirvana certainly succeeded in the conquest mentioned in the review, with Nevermind eventually selling over 30 million copies worldwide. Smells Like Teen Spirit makes it into many lists of Greatest Songs of All Time, and has been covered by a cappella and jazz groups, there’s a beat-box version, it’s been sampled, and even satirised by Weird Al Jankovic…

What is this song all about?
Can’t figure any lyrics out
How do the words to it go?
I wish you’d tell me, I don’t know
Don’t know, don’t know, don’t know, oh no

A garage band we’re from Seattle
‘Cos it sure beats raising cattle
Well we don’t sound like Madonna
Here we are now, we’re Nirvana.

And so we come to the time when we introduce Professot Nicholas Brown, who’s been poring through the cabinet documents of ‘90/’91 to give you the lowdown on the machinations of the final years of the Hawke government and the early Keating days.

In the Archives, it is dangerous
So here he is now, entertain us
Doctor Nick is all bravado
Give the man an avocado
Hello hello, hello, hello, hello, hello, hello

Ladies and Gentlemen, Professor Nicholas Brown.

To find Nicholas Brown’s in-depth take on the cabinet documents of 1990/’91, go to Professor Nicholas Brown 90 & 91


Songs, YouTubes, Credits
All parodies by John Shortis (except for Weird Al’s)
Nothing Compares 2U written by Prince
Nothing Compares 2 U Sinead O’Connor
For Prince’s version go to Nothing Compares 2U Prince
For Gina Riley’s parody, go to Nothing Compares 2U Gina Riley
Unforgettable written by Irving Gordon
Watch the 1990 ALP election ad
Boris Yeltsin written by John Shortis
Asimbonanga written by Johnny Clegg
For an ad for McDonald’s in Russia, go to McDonalds in Russia
I Touch Myself written by Chrissie Amphlett, Mark McEntee, Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg
From a Distance written by Julie Gold
Big Picture Man written by John Shortis
From Little Things written by Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly
Took the Children Away written by Archie Roach
Treaty written by Galarrwuy Yunupingu and Paul Kelly
Blue Sky Mine written by Midnight Oil
Teen Spirit written by Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl
Acoustic version at Teen Spirit acoustic
For Weird Al Jankovic’s  parody, go to Smells Like Nirvana

Books and newspapers
A Long Walk To Freedom by Nelson Mandela
All Fall Down by Matthew Condon
Reflections of a Bleeding Heart by Don Watson
How To Make Gravy by Paul Kelly
The Canberra Times
Australian Magazine

Treaty J Files

Show performed March 2016
Essay written August 2017