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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

To Waltz Matilda: Setting the Story Straight

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Waltzing Matilda and the Australian National Anthem

Contrary to common, international belief and the demand of a large percentage of the Australian population, "Waltzing Matilda" is not the Australian national anthem.

Australia is currently a constitutional monarchy. At a referendum on November 6th, 1999, Australians voted 55% to 45% against a proposed model to make the nation a republic. The Australian national anthem is currently "Advance Australia Fair," which replaced "God Save the Queen" in 1984.

"Waltzing Matilda" is a much loved folk song, the lyrics penned in 1895 by famed Australian nationalist and poet, Banjo Patterson. "Waltzing Matilda" is the tale of an itinerant swagman (or hobo) who meets an untimely end, during a showdown with authority.

Lyrics:

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong
Under the shade of a Coolabah 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 from 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
"Where's that jolly 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
"Where's that jolly jumbuck you've got in your tucker bag?"
"You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me?"

Up jumped the swagman and 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?"

This narrative is of strong appeal to the Australian characteristics of "a fair go", perpetually rooting for the underdog and poking your tongue at authority. It also plays perfectly upon the rural ideals of Australians and our love for the outback. A "Matilda" is a bedroll made of canvas, with leather straps that can be worn on the back like a backpack when traveling. The term "Matilda" has since been replaced by"swag". "To waltz Matilda", is to roam the countryside with your swag and all extraneous possessions on your back.

More than a simple item, the swag is symbolic of a freedom of spirit, of a roving heart that leads Australians out to explore the vast lands. My swag is one of my most prized possessions. Always at the ready, the canvas lining contains a light-weight, foam mattress, down pillow and comfy quilt that are made up permanently in covers. Tightly rolled and fastened with straps, it would stand in the corner of my cupboard, ready to be fetched for a drive into the bush, ready to be unfurled beside a campfire at a moment's notice, so that I might sleep under the stars.

Whether an urbanite or a country kid, Australians generally have a deep connection to the land and its unique wildlife. In my opinion, it is our greatest common, our biggest unifier. I wait in anticipation for the day Australia becomes a republic. When we do, competitions will abound to pen the perfect, Australian national anthem. Whatever it may be, I hope only that it will truly capture the spirit of the land and Australia's history of waltzing Matilda.

If it were my decision, I'd nominate the little ditty, written in 1987 by Bruce Woodley of "The Seekers" and Dobe Newton of "The Bushwackers" and riddled with strong cultural reference, "I Am Australian".

Lyrics:

I came from the Dreamtime from the dusty red soil plains
I am the ancient heart, the keeper of the flame
I stood upon the rocky shore
I watched the tall ships come
For forty thousand years I'd been the first Australian

I came upon the prison ship bowed down by iron chains
I cleared the land, endured the lash and waited for the rains
I'm a settler
I'm a farmer's wife on a dry and barren run
A convict then a free man I became Australian

I'm the daughter of a digger who sought the mother lode
The girl became a woman on the long and dusty road
I'm a child of the depression
I saw the good times come
I'm a bushy, I'm a battler
I am Australian

We are one, but we are many
And from all the lands on earth we come
We share a dream and sing with one voice
I am, you are, we are Australian
I am, you are, we are Australian

I'm a teller of stories
I'm a singer of songs
I am Albert Namatjira
I paint the ghostly gums
I am Clancy on his horse
I'm Ned Kelly on the run
I'm the one who waltzed Matilda
I am Australian

I'm the hot wind from the desert
I'm the black soil of the plains
I'm the mountains and the valleys
I'm the drought and flooding rains
I am the rock, I am the sky
The rivers when they run
The spirit of this great land
I am Australian

We are one, but we are many
And from all the lands on earth we come
We share a dream and sing with one voice
I am, you are, we are Australian
I am, you are, we are Australian



About the Writer

V is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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2 comments on To Waltz Matilda: Setting the Story Straight

Log In To Vote   Score: 2
By Lisa Norris on December 14, 2006 at 11:50 pm
WoW! I can't believe I was one of those people. That was some valuable information. I used to sing that song all the time for some dumb reason. I was just singing it the other day, and my fiance asked me what I was singing. I said, "The Australian National Anthem." Thanks for clearing that up.
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Log In To Vote   Score: 2
By V on December 15, 2006 at 12:03 am
Ha ha!! Brilliant! You singing our informal National Anthem around the house that is. Don't worry, you are one of the majority - hence the article.
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