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Waltzing Matilda

Waltzing Matilda is Australia's most widely known folk song and one that has been popularly suggested as a potential National anthem many times. It is certainly easily recognisable and easily sung, but its lyrics describe a swagman who steals a sheep and drowns himself when law enforcement arrives, and as such it is unlikely to ever gain acceptance in official circles over the current national anthem, Advance Australia Fair. Many Australians, however, continue to regard it with great favour and sentimentality.

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Lyrics

 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
 "Who'll come a-waltzing, Matilda, with me?"

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

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

 Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
 Who'll come a-waltzing, Matilda, with me
 And he sang as he stowed that jumbuck in his tucker bag,
 "Who'll come a-waltzing, Matilda, with me?".

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

 Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
 Who'll come a-waltzing, Matilda, with me
 "Whose is that jumbuck you've got in your tucker bag?",
 "Who'll come a-waltzing, Matilda, with me?".

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

 Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
 Who'll come a-waltzing, Matilda, with me
 And his ghost may be heard as you pass by the billabong,
 "Who'll come a-waltzing, Matilda, with me?"

The words unfamiliar to non-Australians are:

swagman
is the Australian equivalent of a hobo. The swagman's "swag" was his bundle of belongings.
waltzing
is derived from the German term auf der walz, which meant to travel while working as a craftsman[?].
waltzing Matilda
is to travel from place to place in search of work with all one's belongings on one's back wrapped in a blanket or cloth. This is what a swagman did.
Matilda
has Teutonic[?] origins and means Mighty Battle Maiden. Female camp followers who accompanied soldiers during the Thirty Years' War in Europe were probably called Mathildas[?]. It evolved into to be kept warm at night and later to mean the great army coats or blankets that soldiers wrapped themselves with. These were rolled into a swag[?] tossed over their shoulder while marching.
billabong[?]
a stagnant pool, literally "dead water", normally found along the side of a river.
coolibah
a kind of eucalyptus
jumbuck
a sheep, apparently an Aboriginal corruption of "jump up"
billy
a can for boiling water in
tucker bag
a bag for carrying food ("tucker") in

Variations

Other current variations include the third line of the chorus constantly saying "And he sang as he sat and waited by the billabong" or "And he sang as he watched and waited 'til his billy boiled".

Banjo Patterson's original version has slightly different lyrics to the one generally known today.

The first verse originally ran like this:

 Oh, there once was a swagman camped in the billabong,
 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?

 Chorus

 Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda my darling,
 Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?
 Waltzing Matilda and leading a waterbag,
 Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?

An even earlier version used the term "A-roving Australia" rather than "waltzing matilda". However, he was talked out of using this.

History

The song was written in 1895 by Banjo Patterson, a famous Australian poet, and the music written (or possibly adapted by) Christina Macpherson. Banjo Patterson wrote the piece while staying at the Dagworth Homestead, a bush station in Queensland. While he was there his hosts played him a traditional celtic folktune called the Craigeelee, and Patterson decided that it would be a good piece to set lyrics to, producing the song during the rest of his stay.

The tune is most probably based on the Scottish song Thou Bonnie Wood of Craigielea which Christina Macpherson[?] heard played by a band at the Warrnambool[?] steeplechase. Robert Tannahill[?] wrote the words in 1805 and James Barr[?] made the music in 1818. In 1893 it was arranged for brass band[?] by Thomas Bulch[?]. The tune again was possibly based on the old melody of Go to the Devil and Shake Yourself composed by John Field (1782-1837) sometime before 1812. It's sometimes also called: When Sick is it Tea you want? (London 1798) or The Penniless Traveller (O'Neills 1850 collection).

There is also speculation about the relationship it bears to The Bold Fusilier, a song dated by some back to the eighteenth century.

"Waltzing Matilda" is probably based on this story: In September 1894, on a station called Dagworth (north of Winton), some shearers were in a strike that turned violent. The strikers fired off their rifles and pistols in the air and then set fire to the woolshed at the Dagworth Homestead, killing dozens of sheep. The owner of Dagworth Homestead and three policemen gave chase to a man named Samuel Hoffmeister[?] - also called Samuel "French(y)" Hoffmeister. Rather than be captured, Hoffmeister shot and killed himself at the Combo Waterhole.

Bob Macpherson (the brother of Christina Macpherson[?]) may have told this story to Banjo at believed a ride together to the Combo Waterhole[?].

The song itself was first performed on April 6, 1895 at the North Gregory Hotel in Winton, Queensland. The occasion was a banquet for the Premier of Queensland. It became an instant success.

In 1903 it was picked up by the Billy Tea company for use as an advertising jingle, making it nationally famous. A third variation on the song, with a slightly different chorus, was published in 1907. Paterson sold the rights to Waltzing Matilda and "some other pieces" to Angus and Robertson[?] Publishers for "five quid".

The song was falsely copyrighted by an American publisher in 1941 as an original composition. No copyright applies in Australia, however.

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