waltzing matilda

Who’ll Come A Waltzing Matilda With Me?

waltzing matilda

Original Waltzing Matilda Manuscript: Christina Macpherson: Public Domain

We have three patriotic songs in Australia we like to sing. First, in moments of colonial fervour we may sing God Save the Queen. Then our official national anthem is Advance Australia Fair which is a tad ‘dull and unappealing to most Australian people’. And thirdly there’s  our national bush ballad, Who’ll Come A Waltzing Matilda With Me. Many Australians prefer it because it represents the true spirit of our pioneering country. Before we tell you more about it, here is the full version of Waltzing Matilda we would like you to enjoy.

Who’ll Come A Waltzing Matilda With Me

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?

000o00

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 watched and waited ’til his billy boiled,
Who’ll come a-waltzing, Matilda, with me?

000o00

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

000o00

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

Now Hear Waltzing Matilda Sung by Slim Dusty

Unpacking the Meaning behind The Australian Strine

Australian settlers were largely cut off from the rest of the world for the first century after they landed. In fact, their ‘old country’ was an eight-month sailing ship voyage away. And so they developed their own culture, and their own extended English vocabulary using  terms cobbled  from Aboriginal languages, and slang used by settlers. We call this strange collection of words ‘strine’. Strine itself is a highly exaggerated pronunciation of ‘Australian’ expressed with an extremely broad accent.

The Unofficially Official History of Waltzing Matilda

We did not have too many museums and libraries when poet Banjo Patterson wrote the words of the bush ballad down in January 1895. He was staying at Dagworth Cattle Station in Central West Queensland when he heard the Celtic Folk Tune ‘The Craiglee March’ played on a mechanical harp by a young girl. Life in the isolated settlement was pretty basic. Since then, some holiday establishments are as fine as our exclusive Wanggulay holiday rental. Banjo decided the tune needed some words to go with it, and based them on a true incident during the Great Shearers’ Strike of 1892.

waltzing matilda

A Group of Shearers During the Strike: John Oxley Library: Public Domain

What’s in a Word, and Title of the Song

The violent end to the shearers’ strike that almost became a civil war, left the Queensland farming industry in disarray. Small groups of farm hands, and individuals became itinerant tramps. They wandered through the countryside with their worldly possessions on their backs, and surviving on what they could lay their hands on because they knew no other way.

waltzing matilda

Elderly Swagman c 1901: New South Wales Government Printer: Public Domain

Australian strine, or slang for wandering was ‘waltzing’. Our ancestors borrowed this from the German tradition of artisans taking gap years after qualifying, ending their indentureship, and wandering the countryside with their ‘matilda’ shoulder bags slung over their backs. There’s something tragically-comical about the poet applying this romantic phrase to a tragic period in Australian history. But then we Australians do have a habit of bouncing back from hard times and laughing about it.

waltzing matilda

Banjo Patterson’s Book of Old Bush Songs: A B Patterson: Public Domain

Let’s Unpack the Strange Words of the Song Together

First Verse of Waltzing Matilda

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?

A Swagman, meaning a hobo or itinerant worker has paused to rest under a shady Coolibah  tree, being a eucalyptus found growing near Billabongs, or waterholes and shallow ponds. We can assume he has his worldly belongings wrapped up in a blanket or Swag, and is planning to have a jolly old time catching up with himself.

First he gathers together some kindling. Then he lights a fire to boil tea in a Billy tin can with wire handle, and sings ‘Who’ll come a-waltzing, Matilda, with me?’ He is calling out in his heart for a lady friend to join him. But alas, he only has his ‘Matilda’ Tucker Bag containing his food supplies slung over his shoulder for company.

waltzing matilda

Billy Can on Campfire: Flickr user “Johan Larsson“: CC 2.0

In those days an itinerant wanderer was said to be ‘waltzing matilda’ as his tucker bag swayed to and fro across his back. All is peace for a while though. Matilda is at rest. But there is opportunity on the horizon for some ‘grub‘ i.e. fresh food …

Second Verse of Waltzing Matilda

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 watched and waited ’til his billy boiled,
Who’ll come a-waltzing, Matilda, with me?

As luck would have it a Jumbuck, or sheep strolls down to the waterhole for a refreshing drink. Our swagman grasps his opportunity with both hands with glee, being great delight. After he stuffs it in his tucker bag he knows this will swing more slowly on his back.  The pace of the song slows a little too, for there is trouble brewing as surely as the tea is in his billy can nestling in the embers of his campfire. A shepherd and his dogs are out hunting for the missing sheep …

waltzing matilda

Australian Red and Blue Merle Sheepdogs: Tshay: CC 3.0

Third Verse of Waltzing Matilda

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

The story and the song gain pace. A squatter, meaning a wealthy rancher or owner-farmer rides up on his expensive horse. He is in the company of three troopers, being mounted policemen the equivalence of local cavalry. Poaching was a serious problem in Australia back then.  Between 1787 and 1852 16,280 men, and 920 women were exported from Britain for stock thieving and arrived with the required skills loaded onboard…

The rancher will want to present the swagman, and his matilda to a local magistrate as evidence. Conviction could earn the swagman a lifetime of hard labour. Hardly the way an itinerant  worker would choose to end his days after roaming on the plains.

Fourth and Final Verse of Waltzing Matilda

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

We hope you’ll come to stay in our luxurious accommodation in Cairns. We have super-comfortable facilities for couples of all ages, their children, and their pets. At a pinch we can accommodate twelve people provided the kids don’t mind roughing it a little. While you may not go dancing matilda in the moonlight we are confident you will love what you find. 

waltzing matilda

Wanggulay 5 Star Accommodation

Let’s Hear Waltzing Matilda Sung by Slim Dusty One More Time

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