Learn English with Music: I Come from a Land Down Under (Men at Work)

“Ô Brasil, samba que dá, Bamboleio, que faz gingar, Ô Brasil do meu amor, Terra de Nosso Senhor, Brasil, Brasil Prá mim, prá mim.”

How so you feel when you hear that song? What does it mean to you? For Brazilians, that song would have a lot more significance and cultural meaning than it would for me (an Australian). This song really projects many aspects of Brazilian culture that most Brazilians could really understand, and feel.

leia a tradução do texto em português | RLE International Community

Like in many other countries, there are these kinds of songs that give us these feelings of patriotism, Born in the USA, God save the Queen, even though there’s no formal connection, like an anthem. I’m sure there’s a song like this for every nation.

Let’s have a look at the famous Australian track “Land down under” by Men at Work.

You’ve probably heard this song a bunch of times, and maybe even tried to sing along, but did you know that this song is considered patriotic amongst Australians? In this post we’re going to use this classic track to learn a thing or two about Australian culture, and pick up some Aussie terminology as we go along.

In my previous article “Learn English with Flow and Rythym,” we learnt about deciphering the language through phonetic sounds. In this article, we’re going to focus on the cultural aspect of the song, and the vocabulary, so that when you’re singing it doesn’t come out like this.
[media url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=00aV3Yu05oI” width=”600″ height=”400″]

As Peter Griffin has shown us, the lyrics to this 80’s rock classic sound just like noises, but what is he actually singing about in this song? A lot of my students aren’t even sure if he’s singing in English. Most people (Australians included) believe this song is simply about the story of a man travelling around the world, meeting people and telling them about Australia. If we look a little deeper into the lyrics, we see that he (Colin Hay) is also trying to express how he feels about the development of the country/ land ownership and the destroying of the spirit of the country. Before listening, let’s read Colin’s description:

“The chorus is really about the selling of Australia in many ways, the over-development of the country. It was a song about the loss of spirit in that country. It’s really about the plundering of the country by greedy people. It is ultimately about celebrating the country, but not in a nationalistic way and not in a flag-waving sense. It’s really more than that.”

[media url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqWOlTqn6YU&feature=related” width=”600″ height=”400″]

Let’s start with the title of the song, “The Land Down Under.” This is a popular nickname we give to Australia due to its location geographically on the map. Australia is really far down, its down under the rest of the world.

In this song we have three verses and the chorus, which has two versions (after the second verse they change a line).


“Do you come from a land down under?
Where women glow and men plunder?
Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover.” 

Land down under = Australia
Women glow = Colin suggests that Australian women are very radiant
Plunder = This term means to rob. He is making a reference to how white Australians were stealing the land from the Aborigines.

The alternative chorus is: “Where the beer does flow and the men chunder?”
Beer flows = Australia has a very large beer drinking culture.
Chunder = To vomit (only used in Australia).

Verse 1.

Travelling in a fried-out combie 
On a hippie trail, head full of zombie
I met a strange lady, she made me nervous
She took me in and gave me breakfast
And she said, 

A fried out combie = A Volkswagen van that has overheated/broken down (these vans were very common at that time for Australian travelers)
A hippie trail = A common trip made by hippie travelers,
Head full of zombie = Zombie was an alternative name for marijuana at the time
She took me in = She accepted me, hosted me as a guest.

Verse 2

Buying bread from a man in Brussels
He was six foot four and full of muscle
I said, “Do you speak-a my language?”
He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich,  And he said,        

“Do you speak-a my language” = For some reason English speakers think that if you put an “a” at the end of some words foreigners will understand you better.
Vegemite =  For whoever doesn’t know what this is, you’re really missing out.

Verse 3

Dying in a den in Bombay
With a slack jaw, and nothin’ much to say
I said to the man, “Are you trying to tempt me
Because I come from the land of plenty?”
And he said, 

Den = Can be a cave, or a secluded room in a house.
Slack-jaw = Having your mouth open as an indication of astonishment, bewilderment.

As you can see, Colin is singing about his love for Australia, but not in a typical patriotic way. The lyrics are more about Australian lifestyle, and the things he believes are typically Australian (for that time). There’s no specific reference to politics or the government.

Colin says: “It’s ironic to me that so many people thought it was about a specific thing and that really wasn’t the intention behind the song. If you listen to ‘Born in the USA,’ it’s a similar song in that there’s a lot of nuance missed because people like drinking beer and throwing their arms up in the air and feeling nationalistic. It’s ultimately a song about celebration, but it’s a matter of what you choose to celebrate about a country or place. White people haven’t been in Australia all that long, and it’s truly an awesome place, but one of the most interesting and exciting things about the country is what was there before. The true heritage of a country often gets lost in the name of progress and development.”

With this example of analyzing the lyrics of one song, we see that learning language through music has many more benefits. Through music we are learning, vocabulary, colloquial expressions, pronunciation and the cultural aspect behind every song. When listening to a song in Portuguese, I always want to know not only the lyrics to the song, but the story behind it, and what it says about Brazil.

What about you? What songs do you identify with? Feel free to share here or in the Real Life English International Community.

  • Beth Nieto says:

    Oh, oh! Brasil! My country! What a happy surprise! 🙂

  • Excelent post! Love it =)

  • Angie says:

    My first language is American English. This was very helpful! 😜

    • Thomas Muller says:

      Glad to hear it was helpful for you, Angie! Thanks for learning with us!