Monday, March 02, 2009

Classic Gauze: Waltzing Matilda

Waltzing Matilda is a classic Australian song. The song represents Australia rural roots while showing the classic contempt of authority and desire to be free that is the traditional nature of the Commonwealth.
Originally published April 4, 2007

Waltzing Matilda is the song of Australia. While not the official nation anthem it is the song which can stir up patriotic feelings in any Australian.

The song is one of the rural nature of Australia. It describes one labor giving up everything to remain free. This appeals to many Australians who take pride in the rogue past of the island nation. The villains in the song are the land owner and the police who seek to limit the labor's freedom of movement and action.

The song has several versions of lyrics. One of the most common versions come from the Waltzing Matilda Centre. (To listen to another version go to the Centre's song page)

Oh there was once a swagman camped in the billabongs,
Under the shade of a Coolibah tree;
And he sang as he looked at the old billy boiling,
'Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.'


Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda, my darling,
Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.
Waltzing Matilda and leading a water-bag,
Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.

Up came the jumbuck to drink at the waterhole,
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him in glee;
And he sang as he put him away in his tucker-bag,
'You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.'


Up came the squatter a-riding his thoroughbred;
Up came policemen - one, two and three.
'Whose is the jumbuck you've got in the tucker bag?
You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with we.'


Up sprang the swagman and jumped in the waterhole,
Drowning himself by the Coolibah tree;
And his voice can be heard as it sings in the billabongs,
'Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?'


The use of Australian words ties the song with Australian culture. However, to many non-Australians the words can muddle the meaning.
  • A swagman was a laborer who wandered from town to town across Australia looking for work.
  • A billabong is an oxbow lake. It litterally means "dead creek." The term billabong is now used as a brand ware of swimware which plays up its Australian roots.
  • Waltzing Matilda means to wander around looking for work while wearing a Matilda, a bag to keep all of one's possessions.
  • Jumbuck is slang for a sheep. It comes from the Aborigines who thought sheep looked like clouds with a similar name. Now days the Jumbuck name is used as an Australian-based moblie phone service company and a popular car in Australia.
  • Tucker bag is a bag for food
  • The Squatter had legal rights to randomly squat on land in Australia. He uses troopers, police, to enforce this right to limit land use. Even today land seizures are controversial in Australia. In the Men at Work music video "Down Under" squatters are shown as killing Australians right to roam.
  • The Coolibah tree is a type of Eucalyptus tree. Coolibah is also a the name of a wine made in Australia.
The song is very popular in Australia. The "libertarian" nature of the song has always been its downfall though with the elite. It is unlikely that the government would make a song about a wandering worker and is oppressed by the legal establishment the national anthem. However, to many Australians the song captures their feelings about the right to be free perfectly.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If you like old movies, try "On The Beach". It seems to have aged pretty well. "Walzing Matilda" is the background music at several places.