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It's one of those songs that skewers time, place and sensibility: the energy of a Britannic proletarian culture liberated by distance from the confines and class resentments back home. The chorus is marvelous:. And over the years I still get a chuckle out of the verses, a rueful meditation on the vicissitudes of Outback life:. Our sheep were dead a month ago, not rot but blooming fluke Our cow was boozed last Christmas Day by my big brother Luke And Mother has a shearer cove forever within hail The family will have grown a bit since Dad got put in gaol As the metropolitan reaction to the death of croc hunter Steve Irwin reminded us, not all Australians want to be celebrated for the blokey camaraderie of the bush.

No doubt it's very frustrating when Sydney has so many fine Thai restaurants and firebreathing imams to be continually cheered in popular culture for boomerangs and kangaroos and mates and cobbers and larrikins. But, musically, you can't beat something with nothing, and "Advance Australia Fair" is one big zero. We've been frolicking down the "W" end of the folk-song index — "Wallaby Stew", "Wild Colonial Boy" — and we've only just reached the biggest "W" of all:. Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong Under the shade of a coolibah tree And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?

And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me? The poet Banjo Paterson is traditionally credited with the song in the version generally performed, though some scholars continue to question this. Still, the song we know today began life in January , when Paterson was visiting the Macpherson property at Dagworth Station in Queensland, north-west of Winton.

Also visiting, from Victoria, was Christina Macpherson, who'd come home to spend Christmas with her father and brothers after the death of their mother. One day Christina played Paterson a tune she'd heard at the races in western Victoria, and the poet said he thought he could put words to it. Paterson claimed never to have heard the earlier lyric but its pattern is so similar it's impossible to believe that "Matilda" wasn't laid out to the scheme of the earlier number:.

A gay Fusilier was marching down through Rochester Bound for the war in the Low Country And he cried as he tramped through the dear streets of Rochester Who'll be a sojer for Marlb'ro with me? Who'll be a sojer? Who'll be a sojer for Marlb'ro with me? Marlborough being the Duke thereof: Winston Churchill's forebear. Don't tell me that's not a conscious evocation. Nonetheless, "Waltzing Matilda" is a splendid improvement on the original.

Education resources for schools teachers and students - ABC Education

If you're a non-Australian who learned the song as a child, chances are you loved singing it long before you had a clue what the hell was going on. What's a swagman? What's a billabong? Why's it under a coolibah tree? Who cares? It's one of the most euphonious songs ever written, and the fact that the euphonies are all explicitly Australian and the words recur in no other well known song is all the more reason why "Matilda" should have been upgraded to official anthem status. And yes, a "swagman" is a hobo, and this one steals a "jumbuck" sheep , but he ends up drowning, which gives the song a surer moral resolution than most similar material.

Yet in a sense that's over-thinking it. It's not about the literal meaning of the words, but rather the bigger picture that opens up when they're set to the notes of that great rollicking melody: the big sky and empty horizon and blessed climate, all the possibilities of an island continent, a literally boundless liberation from the Victorian tenements and laborers' cottages of cramped little England.

Few of us would wish to be an actual swagman with a tucker bag, but the song is itself a kind of musical swagman with a psychological tucker bag, a rowdy vignette that captures the size of the land. One early version of it went "Rovin' Australia, rovin' Australia, who'll come a-rovin' Australia with me" — which is a lousy lyric, but accurately describes what the song does. One sign of the song's muscular quality is the number of variations.

To use it for the story of a soldier who loses his legs at Gallipoli is unduly reductive: It's too good a real marching song to be recast as an ironic marching song. I don't know whether today's diggers marched to "Matilda" in Afghanistan and Iraq and East Timor and wherever's next but it's one of the greatest marching songs ever, and today as a century ago it remains the great Australian contribution to the global songbook:. 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.

Can you de-march and de-Australianize Matilda? It always reminds me of a young Mathilde whom I recall fondly:.

Waltzing Matilda - Johnny Cash

Waltz on, Mathilde. It's quite something to take all the swagmen and billabongs and make it a tender love ballad - although, on balance, M Montand would have done the world a greater service if he'd so transformed "Advance, Australia Fair". Personally autographed copies are exclusively available from the Steyn store. If you're a Mark Steyn Club member, don't forget to enter the promo code at checkout to enjoy special Steyn Club member pricing. And there's many more great songs in our annual Twelfth Night live-music special with Mark and his guests.

If things get sluggish on stage, Mark may kill an idle twenty minutes by explaining the lyrics of "Waltzing Matilda" to Dennis Miller. Dennis and Mark will be together on stage for the first time next month in Pennsylvania and New York. They'll be starting their tour in Reading where tickets are disappearing fast and Syracuse where they're not disappearing quite so fast. And remember that with VIP tickets you not only enjoy the best seats but you also get to meet Dennis and Mark after the show.

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If you are not yet a member, please click here to join. If you are already a member, please log in here:. Shortly before the nuclear fallout from the final war is to engulf Australia and kill everybody in it, new friends Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner decide to spend a few happy days fishing in the mountains.

Unfortunately, all sorts of people get the same idea and the quiet streams are now filled with drunks continuously singing and murdering Waltzing Matilda.

The Story Of A Swagman

Later at night, back in the cozy cabin, Greg and Ava begin to fall in love. Mysteriously the drunks raucous singing turns into a beautiful rendition of WM by beautiful trained voices. I always assumed it was the same drunks singing, but the excitement and anticipation of new romance caused the lovers to hear beautiful music. And WM can be beautiful. It's very impressive that as a non-Aussie you get things so right about the local culture. As far as a national anthem goes I'd like to point out that decades ago late 50s or early 60s a competition was held.

It was won by Henry Krips a Viennese expat, the conductor of the SA symphony orchestra with a rather touching anthem called Land of freedom and went from memory, Land of Freedom, Land we cherish, wearing beauty like a crown, Where in Heaven, Brightly shining, All the stars of God look down, etc. NIce singable tune too, but it didnt catch on.

With reference to rollicking folk songs try, Flash Jack from Gundagai. All among the wool boys, all among the wool Keep your blades full boys, keep your blades full I can do a respectable tally meself Whenever I like to try And I'm known around the backblocks as Flash Jack from Gungagai. As a descendant of one of the old mercantile wool families from 19th century Australia it always always humbles me when i read of some reference to wool in some cultural form.

As they used to say Australia was built-in on the sheep's back. And it's a devastating crying Shame that that legacy is not taught in Australian schools anymore. The blokes, the mates, the boys — I would spend my life on the outer, ever dreading their mean turns. To watch these men was to watch someone attempt to revive landscapes and people long gone, landscapes that were maybe shop fronts, people that were maybe store mannequins.

To look back to an Australia of misplacement, memory and myth. But the old ghost of the old song lingers.


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While he has stopped being a shadowy wraith beckoning me to a watery end, he has morphed more fully into a phantom that represents my unease with a homeland still reverberating with colonial violence. It is at once a lament, a protest, a piss-take and a threat. It may be heard beneath the cries of refugee children, the PM speaking in tongues and looping SportsBet ads. Will you take this waltz?

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Waltzing Matilda

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Waltzing Matilda is Australia's creepiest ballad. Let me tell you why

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