Poetry and song and maybe culture

Saturday, June 12, 2004


Waltzing Matilda


"Banjo" Paterson, 1893


Once a jolly swagman sat beside the billabong,

Under the shade of a coulibah tree,

And he sang as he sat and waited till his billy boiled:


Chorus:

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 sat and waited by the billabong

Who'll come a waltzing matilda with me.


2. Down came a jumbuck to drink beside the billabong

Up jumped the swagman and seized him with glee

And he sang as he tucked the jumbuck in his tuckerbag


Chorus:

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 tucked the jumbuck in his tuckerbag

You'll come a waltzing matilda with me.


3. Down came the stockman, riding on his thoroughbred,

Down came the troopers, one, two, three.

"Where's that jolly jumbuck you've got in your tuckerbag?"


Chorus:

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 tuckerbag?

You'll come a waltzing matilda with me.


4. Up jumped the swagman and plunged into the billabong,

"You'll never catch me alive," cried he

And his ghost may be heard as you ride beside the billabong,


Chorus:

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 ride beside the billabong,

Who'll come a waltzing matilda with me.





Waltzing Matilda Definitions



Billabong
- Originally an aboriginal word for a section of still water adjacent to a river, cut off by a change in the watercourse, cf. an oxbow lake. In the Australian outback, a billabong generally retains water longer than the watercourse itself, so it may be the only water for miles around.



Billy - A tin can, maybe two litres (four pints) in capacity, usually with a wire handle attached to the top rim, in which 'swaggies' (and contemporary Australian campers) boil water to make tea (and to kill the beasties in the water they've taken out of the billabong).



Coolibah tree (also coolabah) - A particular kind of eucalyptus which grows beside billabongs.



Jumbuck - A sheep



Squatter - As Australia was settled, there was of course little or no authority and bureaucracy in place. People 'squatted' on patches of land, grazed their animals, grew their crops and built their houses and fences. In due course, as authority arrived, it generally accepted the claims of whoever was in apparent possession of the land (aboriginals had been no match for armed blue men, and anyway were largely nomadic across reasonably large areas). Particularly in good quality grazing country, squatters quickly became relatively very well off, hence the term 'squattocracy' which blends 'squatter' with 'aristocracy'. The constabulary tended to work with them to maintain law and order. To non-land-owners, squatters were an object of resentment.



Swagman - A gentleman of the road, an itinerant roaming country roads, a drifter, a tramp, a hobo. Carried his few belongings slung in a cloth, which was called by a wide variety of names, including 'swag', 'shiralee' and 'bluey'. Given the large number of names for them, they must have been a pretty common sight.



Troopers - Cavalry soldiers, or perhaps mounted militia-men or policemen. To a swaggie, what was the difference??



Tucker-bag - A bag to keep tucker in. (Tucker is food.)



Waltzing matilda - Matilda was a mock-romantic word for a swag, and to waltz matilda was to hit the road with a swag on your back. The term is thought to come from a German expression, Auf die Walz gehen, meaning to take to the road, and Matilda is a girl's name, applied to one's bed-roll. So the poem (doggerel? folk song?) can be interpreted as yet another Aussie complaint about them in authority. We're one of the most urbanised nations in the world, who sort-of yearn for the wide open spaces (there's so much of it out there!), and the freedom that goes with it (or at least seems to go with it, to those that don't live there). So Waltzing Matilda strikes a chord (so to speak), generation after generation, for the same reason that Crocodile Dundee was as popular here as anywhere else - we know we're not like that; but it's fun pretending for a while that we are.