Waltzing Matilda

From Academic Kids

"Waltzing Matilda" is Australia's most widely known folk song and one that has been popularly suggested as a potential national anthem many times. The song is well-known and strongly associated with Australia outside the country as well.

There have long been persistent calls for the establishment of Waltzing Matilda as the national anthem over the current national anthem, "Advance Australia Fair". The song is certainly easily recognisable and easily sung, but its lyrics, relating the story of a swagman who steals a sheep and drowns himself when law enforcement arrives, render it unlikely to ever gain acceptance in official circles. Many Australians, however, continue to regard it with great favour and sentimentality. Some have suggested using the same tune but with different lyrics, but it is undoubtable that the lyrics contribute substantially to the song's character.

The lyrics to the song were written by the poet and nationalist Banjo Paterson in 1895, who originally set them to a slightly different tune. Extensive folklore surrounds the song and the process of its creation, to the extent that the song has its own museum, the Waltzing Matilda Centre, of Winton, Queensland.

It enjoyed a brief period of official recognition as the Australian national song (coexisting with "Advance Australia Fair" as the National Anthem). It was used at the Montreal Olympic Games in 1976, and, as a response to the New Zealand All Blacks haka, it has gained popularity as a sporting anthem for the Australian Rugby Union Team. It is also performed, along with Advance Australia Fair, at the annual AFL Grand Final. As of 2004 it has no official status, but it continues to be used unofficially (and sometimes in error) in many contexts.

It was also performed at the closing ceremony of the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney by Slim Dusty.



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?"

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 stowed that jumbuck in his tucker bag,
"You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me?".

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
"Whose is that jumbuck you've got in your tucker bag?",
"You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me?".

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 his ghost may be heard as you pass by the billabong,
"Who'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me?"

The words unfamiliar to non-Australians are:

is the Australian equivalent of a hobo, but a romanticised figure who travelled the country looking for work, usually sporting a hat hung with cork to ward off flies. The swagman's "swag" was his bundle of belongings.
is derived from the German term auf der Walz, which meant to travel while working as a craftsman.
A romantic term for a swagman's bundle. See below, "Waltzing Matilda."
Waltzing Matilda 
From the above terms, "to waltz Matilda" is to travel with a swag, that is, with all one's belongings on one's back wrapped in a blanket or cloth. The exact origins of the term "Matilda" are disputed; one fanciful derivation states that when swagmen met each other at their gatherings, there were rarely women to dance with. Nonetheless, they enjoyed a dance, and so they danced with their swags, which was given a woman's name. However, this appears to be influenced by the word "waltz", hence the introduction of dancing. It seems more likely that, as a swagman's only companion, the swag came to be personified as a woman.
a stagnant pool found along the side of a river where eddies and directional changes of the water keep it from moving.
coolibah tree 
a kind of eucalyptus which grows near billabongs.
a sheep. A "jombok" is a large, fluffy cloud that drifts across inland Australia. The aboriginals, when they saw sheep for the first time, were reminded of jomboks and called them a similar word. An alternative explanation is that it is an Aboriginally pronounced "jump up."
a can for boiling water in, usu. 2-3 pints.
tucker bag 
a bag for carrying food ("tucker") in.


Other current variations include the third line of the chorus constantly saying "And he sang as he sat and waited by the billabong" or "And he sang as he watched and waited 'til his billy boiled".

Banjo Paterson's original version has slightly different lyrics to the ones generally known today.

The first verse originally ran like this:

Oh, there once was a swagman camped in the billabong,
Under the shade of a coolibah tree,
And he sang as he looked at the old billy boiling,
Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?


Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda my darling,
Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?
Waltzing Matilda and leading a waterbag,
Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?

An even earlier version used the term "A-roving Australia" rather than "waltzing matilda". However, he was talked out of using this.


The song was written in 1895 by Banjo Paterson, a famous Australian poet, and the music written (or possibly adapted) by Christina Macpherson. Banjo Paterson wrote the piece while staying at the Dagworth Homestead, a bush station in Queensland. While he was there his hosts played him a traditional Celtic folktune called the Craigeelee, and Paterson decided that it would be a good piece to set lyrics to, producing the song during the rest of his stay.

The tune is most probably based on the Scottish song "Thou Bonnie Wood of Craigielea" which Christina Macpherson heard played by a band at the Warrnambool steeplechase. Robert Tannahill wrote the words in 1805 and James Barr composed the music in 1818. In 1893 it was arranged for brass band by Thomas Bulch. The tune again was possibly based on the old melody of "Go to the Devil and Shake Yourself" composed by John Field (1782-1837) some time before 1812. It's sometimes also called: "When Sick is it Tea you want?" (London 1798) or "The Penniless Traveller" (O'Neill's 1850 collection).

There is also speculation about the relationship it bears to "The Bold Fusilier", a song dated by some back to the eighteenth century.

"Waltzing Matilda" is probably based on the following story:

In September 1894, on a station called Dagworth (north of Winton), some shearers were in a strike that turned violent. The strikers fired off their rifles and pistols in the air and then set fire to the woolshed at the Dagworth Homestead, killing dozens of sheep.
The owner of Dagworth Homestead and three policemen gave chase to a man named Samuel Hoffmeister - also called Samuel "French(y)" Hoffmeister. Rather than be captured, Hoffmeister shot and killed himself at the Combo Waterhole.

Bob Macpherson (the brother of Christina) and Banjo are said to have taken rides together at Dagworth. Here they may have passed the Combo Waterhole, where Bob may have told this story to Banjo.

The song itself was first performed on 6 April 1895 at the North Gregory Hotel in Winton, Queensland. The occasion was a banquet for the Premier of Queensland. It became an instant success.

In 1903 it was picked up by the Billy Tea company for use as an advertising jingle, making it nationally famous. A third variation on the song, with a slightly different chorus, was published in 1907. Paterson sold the rights to Waltzing Matilda and "some other pieces" to Angus and Robertson Publishers for "five quid" (a "quid" is Australian slang for a pound, the then unit of currency).

The song was falsely copyrighted by an American publisher in 1941 as an original composition. However, no copyright applies in Australia.

The song has been covered by a number of Australian artists over the years, notably Lazy Harry, and it is invoked as an Australian icon in Eric Bogle's anti-war song "And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda". The American singer Tom Waits combined "Waltzing Matilda" with original material in "Tom Traubert's Blues (Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen)". In 1958, Bill Haley and His Comets recorded a version with new lyrics entitled "Rockin' Matilda" (Haley's version is about a beautiful Australian girl named Matilda).

The score of the 1959 film On the Beach, written by Ernest Gold is based heavily on motifs from "Waltzing Matilda". The film, about the end of the world in a nuclear holocaust, is set in Australia and director Stanley Kramer was insistent on the "Waltzing Matilda" motif. The song itself is heard in the last minutes of On the Beach.

External links

de:Waltzing Matilda nl:Waltzing Matilda pl:Waltzing Matilda sv:Waltzing Matilda


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools