WALTZING MATILDA

Waltzing Matilda is, briefly, a song about a tramp who camps by a creek and steals a sheep. Three policemen arrive; rather than submit to capture, the tramp commits suicide by drowning himself in the creek.

It's not exactly in the same league as " The Star-Spangled Banner " or " La Marseillaise", but it's the song that Australians get teary-eyed over when they hear it played a long way from home. The official anthem, by the way, is " Advance Australia Fair"; on Royal occasions in Australia, " God Save our Queen " is played.

Why do Australians find Waltzing Matilda so unutterably poignant? I'm not sure, but I think the answer lies deep in the Australian psyche. Waltzing Matilda is very much a nationalist song.

The tramp steals a sheep; he then chooses to die at his own hand for this trifling crime - as though the sheep's life were more valuable than his own.  Remember that Australia was colonised by convicts sentenced to "transportation" from England, often for trivial property offences; Australians are still suspicious of authority, and cynical about the pomposity and hypocrisy of the judicial and police systems.

Waltzing Matilda - to me, at least - brings thoughts of the slaughter of Australian troops at Gallipoli (Turkey) in 1915. Massive incompetence on the part of British politicians (chiefly Winston Churchill) and generals led to a death toll that hit every town and every city in what was then still a tiny nation.

The cynicism about war and the concept of "Empire" is elegantly expressed in Eric Bogle's " And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda ". You can hear a few bars of this in RealAudio this by clicking here.

There's an entire web site devoted to Waltzing Matilda at www.waltzingmatilda.com, and also some urban legend debunking at www.urbanlegends.com/songs/waltzing_matilda.html.

Waltzing Matilda is sometimes performed as a brisk march; but I'd much rather hear it played in sad, almost wistful measures.


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?
Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda,
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?"

Down came a jumbuck to drink at the 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 a squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred;
Down came the troopers, one, two, three:
"Who'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.
Who'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!"

* swagman: an intinerant farmhand, carrying his "swag" (his blankets) rolled into a cylinder
* billabong: a creek (normally with a pronounced "oxbow" bend)
* coolibah tree: a eucalypt (gum) tree )
* waited till his billy boiled: a billy is a tin can used to heat water over a campfire to make tea
* jumbuck: sheep
* tucker-bag: bag or box used to store food
* squatter: farmer/grazier who simply found good land and took possession; some became extremely rich
* trooper: policeman or soldier on horseback

Einst saß ein fröhlicher Tramp am Wasserloch
Im Schatten eines Coolibah-Baumes ..,