Waltzing Matilda

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Original song manuscript from 1895

"Waltzing Matilda" is one of Australia's best known songs. The bush ballad, a country folk song, has been called "the unofficial national anthem of Australia".[1] The title, Waltzing Matilda, is Australian slang for walking through the country looking for work, with one's goods in a "Matilda" (bag) carried over one's back.[2]

The song tells the story of a traveling farm worker making a drink of tea at a bush camp and capturing a sheep to eat. When the sheep's owner arrives with three policemen to arrest the worker for taking the sheep (a crime punishable by hanging), the worker drowns himself in a small watering hole. The worker's ghost stays to haunt the site.

The words to the song were written in 1895 by a poet and nationalist Banjo Paterson. It was first printed as sheet music in 1903. There are many stories about the song and how it was written. The song has its own museum, the Waltzing Matilda Centre in Winton, Queensland.

History[change | change source]

Writing of the song[change | change source]

The music, based on a folk song, was written by Christina Macpherson. Paterson wrote the words while staying at the Dagworth Homestead, farm in Queensland. While he was there the owners played him an old Celtic folk tune called "The Craigeelee". Paterson decided that it would be a good tune to write words for and completed during his stay at the farm.

The tune is probably the Scottish song "Thou Bonnie Wood Of Craigielea", which Macpherson heard played by a band at the Warrnambool steeplechase. Robert Tannahill wrote the words in 1805 and James Barr wrote the music in 1818. In 1893 it was arranged for brass band by Thomas Bulch. The tune may have been based on the melody of "Go to the Devil and Shake Yourself", written by John Field (1782–1837) sometime before 1812. It is sometimes also called: "When Sick Is It Tea You Want?" (London 1798) or "The Penniless Traveller" (O'Neill's 1850 collection).

There is also an idea that tune may be similar to "The Bold Fusilier" (also called Marching through Rochester), a song sung to the same tune and dated by some back to the eighteenth century[3] but first printed in 1900.

A bold fusilier came marching back through Rochester
Off from the wars in the north country,
And he sang as he marched
Through the crowded streets of Rochester,
Who'll be a soldier for Marlboro and me?

Lyrics[change | change source]

There are no "official" words to "Waltzing Matilda", and slight differences can be found in the sources.[4] This version uses the famous "You'll never catch me alive said he" variation introduced by the Billy Tea company.[5] Paterson's original words use 'drowning', which the tea company felt was too negative.

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong
Under the shade of a coolibah tree,
And he sang as he watched and waited 'til his billy boiled
"You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me"

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
"You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me"
And he sang as he watched and waited 'til his billy boiled,
"You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me".

Down came a jumbuck to drink at that billabong,
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee,
And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag,
"You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me".

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
"You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me"
And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag,
"You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me".

Up rode the squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred,
Down came the troopers, one, two, three,
"Where's that jolly jumbuck you've got in your tucker bag?"
"You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me".

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
"You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me"
"Where's that jolly jumbuck you've got in your tucker bag?",
"You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me".

Up jumped the swagman and sprang into the billabong,
"You'll never catch me alive", said he,
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong,
"You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me".

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
"You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me"
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong,
"You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me."
"Oh, You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me."

References[change | change source]

  1. The National Library of Australia. Retrieved 14 March 2008.
  2. Oxford English Dictionary, Draft Revision March 2001. "Matilda, n."
  3. The Times (September 15, 2003) Sporting anthems. Section: Features; Page 17.
  4. For instance, compare the lyrics at http://www.nla.gov.au/epubs/waltzingmatilda/3-versions_of_WaltzingMatilda.doc to http://www.anu.edu.au/people/Roger.Clarke/WM/WMText.html
  5. Safran, John (20 December 2002). "Waltzing Matilda, courtesy of a tea-leaf near you". Sydney Morning Herald. http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2002/12/19/1040174344781.html.