The song uses a recurring Australian problem (drought) to pose the question "What for?", meaning "why did Europeans bother to colonize this harsh place". The song mentions two prominent indigenous Australians (Truganini and Albert Namatjira) whose lives were altered by European settlement and discusses current day sentiment towards the old country, namely the monarchy.
The single's liner notes included the claim that Truganini was the "sole surviving Tasmanian Aborigine" when she died. This sparked protest by some of the 7,000 people who identify as Tasmanian Aboriginal. Lead singer, Peter Garrett issued an apology.