WALTZING MATILDA

Photo-National Geographic, August 2004 Leaving the city behind, Paterson, pipe in hand, regularly ventured into the bush for poetic inspiration.  National Library of Australia.
Photo-National Geographic, August 2004 Leaving the city behind, Paterson, pipe in hand, regularly ventured into the bush for poetic inspiration. National Library of Australia.
Oh! There once was a swagman camped in the Billabong,
Under the shade of a Coolabah tree;
And he sang as he looked at his old billy boiling,
“Who’ll come a- waltzing Matilda with me.”

 

The words were written by “Banjo” in 1895. Banjo was the pen name for A.B. Paterson, who was born in 1864, in New South Wales, Australia.

A swagman is a sheep shearer, an itinerant worker. This was a true story about a hungry, out of work itinerant worker, who was camped in the Billabong, which is the Australian outback. He was hungry because the sheep shearers’ were on strike against the wealthy land barons, and his billy boiling was his pot of water on the campfire.

 

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?

 

Matilda is his sleeping bag and waltzing with his sleeping bag means camping and sleeping in the openness of the outback. His freedom is his work and his spirit soars when he is allowed to ply his trade. He needs little more than his sleeping bag and the wide-open spaces.

 

Down came a jumbuck to drink at the water-hole,
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!”

 

A jumbuck is a sheep and the hungry swagman grabs the sheep to keep himself from starving. He has plans to sacrifice the sheep to his own nourishment, thereby bringing the sheep into his own dance through the outback.

 

Down came the Squatter a-riding his thoroughbred;
Down came Policemen—one, two and three.
“Whose is the jumbuck you’ve got in the tucker-bag?
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.”

 

The landowner came with three policemen and caught the swagman red-handed. He told the swagman, “You’re going to jail boy” or as it says in the verse, “You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

 

But the swagman, he up and jumped in the water-hole,
Drowning himself by the Coolabah tree;
And his ghost may be heard as it sings in the Billabong,
“Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?”

 

The swagman jumps in the waterhole and drowns himself. He chooses death over surrender. He’d rather die than lose his freedom. He sacrifices his life, thereby un-tethering his spirit to roam the Australian outback.

The Waynedale News Staff

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