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Waltzing Matilda

Photograph of a swagman circa 1901

"Waltzing Matilda" is Australia's most widely known bush ballad. A folk song, the song has been referred to as "the unofficial national anthem of Australia".[1]

The title is Australian slang for travelling on foot with one's belongings (waltzing, derived from the German auf der Walz) in a "Matilda" (swag) slung over one's back.[2] The song narrates the story of an itinerant worker, or "swagman", making a drink of tea at a bush camp and capturing a sheep to eat. When the sheep's owner arrives with three police officers to arrest the worker for the theft, the worker commits suicide by drowning himself in the nearby watering hole, after which his ghost haunts the site.

The original lyrics were written in 1895 by poet and nationalist

  • "Waltzing Matilda" – The Secret History of Australia's Favourite Song by Dennis O'Keefe
  • Roger Clarke's "Waltzing Matilda" homepage
  • Waltzing Matilda - Australia's Favourite Song
  • Who'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me? online exhibition from the National Library of Australia
  • Official website of the Waltzing Matilda Centre, an exhibit in the Qantilda Museum, which is located in Winton, Outback Queensland, Australia
  • Papers of Christina McPherson relating to the song "Waltzing Matilda" digitised and held by the National Library of Australia
  • "Waltzing Matilda" – Standing Stones website
  • "Waltzing Matilda" within MusicAustralia – includes material in a wide variety of formats from via the Australian National Bibliographic Database
  • Waltzing Matilda – The Musical, musically correct transcription of the Christina Macpherson version
  • Playable score, requires the Sorch plug-in from Sibelius (software)
  • Billabong residents file noise complaint against ghost of Jolly Swagman
  • Listen to the first recording of the song version of "Waltzing Matilda" at australianscreen online
  • ABC Radio National "The Matilda Myth" documentary website (February 2011)

External links

  1. ^ The National Library of Australia. Retrieved 14 March 2008.
  2. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, Draft Revision March 2001. "Matilda, n."
  3. ^ "Waltzing Matilda Centre". Retrieved 2013-01-07. 
  4. ^ a b Arthur, Chrissy (6 April 2012). "Outback town holds first Waltzing Matilda Day". ABC News. 
  5. ^ "Waltzing Matilda Day". Waltzing Matilda Centre, Winton. 
  6. ^ "National Film and Sound Archive: Waltzing Matilda on australianscreen online". Retrieved 2013-01-07. 
  7. ^  
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h O'Keeffe, Dennis (2012). Waltzing Matilda: The Secret History of Australia's Favourite Song. Sydney: Allen and Unwin.  
  9. ^ National Library of Australia, Robyn Holmes (2011-06-07). "National Library of Australia history". Retrieved 2013-01-07. 
  10. ^  
  11. ^ National Library of Australia, Robyn Holmes (2011-06-07). """National Library of Australia "The Creation. Retrieved 2013-01-07. 
  12. ^ "Waltzing Matilda an old cold case". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 10 February 2010. Retrieved 20 January 2013. 
  13. ^ National Library of Australia, Robyn Holmes (2011-06-01). """National Library of Australia "The Bold Fusilier. Retrieved 2013-01-07. 
  14. ^ The Times, 15 September 2003, "Sporting anthems", Section: Features; p. 17.
  15. ^ "Waltzing Matilda" 'not socialist', BBC News, 5 May 2008
  16. ^ a b c "Waltzing Maltida" a little ditty, historians say, ABC News, 5 May 2008
  17. ^ a b  
  18. ^ Clarke, Roger (2001). """Copyright in "Waltzing Matilda. Roger Clarke's "Waltzing Matilda" site. Retrieved 3 November 2008. The copyright has presumably expired in Australia (and in almost every other country in the world), because in most Western countries copyright lasts for only 50 years after the death of the originator. Carl Fischer Musics' copyright hold is due to end in 2011. Banjo Paterson died in 1941 and Marie Cowan in 1919, so these copyrights ought to have expired in 1991 and 1969 respectively. In the United States other rules hold and copyright for the song still appears to exist. It is claimed by Carl Fischer New York Inc. 
  19. ^ Pollack, Michael (25 January 2001). "Screen Grab; Tale of the Jumbuck and the Billabong, Interpreted". The New York Times. 
  20. ^ "WebVoyage Record View 1". Retrieved 1 July 2009. 
  21. ^ For instance, compare the lyrics at the NLA to the ANU
  22. ^ "A Popular Bush Song". The Capricornian (1875–1929) (Rockhampton, Queensland:  
  23. ^ Clarke, Roger (2003). "'"Australianisms in 'Waltzing Matilda. Roger Clarke. Retrieved 24 November 2007. 
  24. ^ a b Glossary,  
  25. ^ National Library of Australia, Electronic Publishing, Noel Wendtman, Lynette Thompson, Gunther Glesti. "Who'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me?". Retrieved 1 July 2009. 
  26. ^ Waltzing Matilda" – Lyrics, midi, history""". Retrieved 1 July 2009. 
  27. ^ "Plebiscite results – see 1977 National Song Poll". Elections and referendums. Department of the Parliament (Australian federal government). 2002. Archived from the original on 20 November 2007. Retrieved 21 November 2007. 
  28. ^ "Passport gets the hop on fraudsters". Archived from the original on 7 December 2003. 
  29. ^ "A word to the wise guy – Sport". 9 April 2005. Retrieved 1 July 2009. 
  30. ^ Independent Online (27 October 2007). "News – SA Soccer: If a name works, why fix it?". Retrieved 1 July 2009. 
  31. ^ "1st Marine Division celebrates 65 years".  
  32. ^ Clarke, Roger (2003). "Roger Clarke's "Waltzing Matilda" Home-Page". Roger Clarke (hosted on ANU computers). Retrieved 14 February 2008. I understand that the tune (without the words) is the marching song of the U.S. 1st Marine Division. In 2003, Col Pat Garrett USMC confirmed that it was/is played every morning immediately after The Marines Hymn ('From the Halls of Montezuma ...') following the raising of the National colo(u)rs at 0800, and at Divisional parades. Further, "The Division was raised at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina in early 1941, and became associated with "Waltzing Matilda" when the Marines came to Melbourne in early 1943 for rest and refit following the successful retaking of Guadalcanal, and before it returned to combat at Cape Gloucester in New Britain in the Northern Solomons in September of that year" 
  33. ^ "Once a Jolly Swagman (1949)". 1 August 2004. Retrieved 1 July 2009. 
  34. ^ "Stan Walker and Jessica Mauboy to Release New Collaboration Together For The Olympics".  
  35. ^ "iTunes – Music – Waltzing Matilda – Single by Jessica Mauboy & Stan Walker".  
  36. ^ Waltzing Our Matilda – Tour dates
  37. ^ Waltzing Our Matilda at Opera Queensland
  38. ^ Waltzing Our Matilda – Artists
  39. ^ Griffith, Tony (2005). "Chapter 4: Beating the Bolshoi". Beautiful Lies: Australia from Menzies to Howard. Australia: Wakefield Press. pp. 57–58.  
  40. ^ Bebbington, Warren (1997). The Oxford Companion to Australian Music. Oxford University Press. pp. 427–428. 
  41. ^ Casimir, Jon (20 April 2002). "Secret life of Matilda". Music (Sydney Morning Herald). 
  42. ^ "Rambling Syd's Ganderbag". Retrieved 2013-01-07. 
  43. ^ mp3
  44. ^ Mossman, Tam. (1983). The Family Car Song Book. Philadelphia: Running Press.


  • During the 1950s, a parody of the original entitled "Once a Learned Doctor" gained some currency in university circles. It featured lyrics rewritten with reference to the split in the Australian Labor Party in the period 1954 to 1957.[39]
  • In 1958, Bill Haley & His Comets recorded a version with new lyrics entitled "Rockin' Matilda" about a beautiful Australian girl named Matilda.
  • In 1961, Australian songwriter Jack O'Hagan provided new lyrics to the traditional tune to be called "God Bless Australia" (see that article for its lyrics) that he hoped would become the Australian national anthem.[40]
  • "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda" was written by Scottish-Australian songwriter Eric Bogle in 1971. The song concerns the Australian experience at the Battle of Gallipoli and Anzac Day. It incorporates the melody and a few lines of "Waltzing Matilda"'s lyrics at its conclusion.[41]
  • Rambling Syd Rumpo in the late 1960s BBC radio program Round the Horne did a parody of "Waltzing Matilda" beginning "Once long ago in the shade of a goolie bush..."[42]
  • American singer-songwriter Tom Waits combined "Waltzing Matilda" with his own material in "Tom Traubert's Blues (Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen)" on his 1976 album Small Change. This song was subsequently performed by Rod Stewart and released as a single titled "Tom Traubert's Blues (Waltzing Matilda)" in 1992. He then included it on his Lead Vocalist album in 1993.
  • The melody is used in Harold Baum's "Waltz Round the Cycle" in his 1982 The Biochemists' Songbook.[43]
  • The Family Car Songbook (1983) presents a "translation" of the song, using the same musical score, into an "American" version of singing the same ballad.[44]
  • In 1995 two Canberra musicians, Bob Smoothey and Kevin Rallings, wrote "Long Live the Anzacs" to the tune of "Waltzing Matilda" and recorded it at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Canberra. The National Executive of the RSL of Australia approved the sentiment of the song. Smoothey's and Ralling's aim was for a well known Australian artist to record it and release it on Anzac Day 1996 with a percentage of the proceeds going to the RSL, but none of the artists contacted were able to record it in time, so Smoothey sang it himself with local singer Linda Dane.
  • A Pitjantjatjara language version of the song, performed by Trevor Adamson, an Australian country/gospel singer, can be found on the 1999 album Putumayo Presents: World Playground.
  • Canadian folk musician Stompin' Tom Connors performed a cover of "Waltzing Matilda" on his 1999 album titled Move Along with Stompin' Tom [1]
  • In 2003, the Scared Weird Little Guys released "Cleanin' Out My Tuckerbag", a comedic spoof of the song, done in the style of Eminem's songs "Cleanin' Out My Closet" and "Lose Yourself".

Derivative musical works

  • In the science fiction story "The Mountain Movers" (1971) by Australian writer A. Bertram Chandler, the song gets new words in the mouth of future Australian space adventurers.
  • The plot of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel The Last Continent (1998) is set in an Australia-like locale and includes a parody on the events of "Waltzing Matilda".
  • The book A Waltz for Matilda (2010), by Australian author Jackie French is about a girl called Matilda, whose father in the story was the swagman about which the song was written.


On the occasion of Queensland's 150-year celebrations in 2009, Opera Queensland produced the revue Waltzing Our Matilda, staged at the Conservatorium Theatre and subsequently touring twelve regional centres in Queensland.[36] The show was created by Jason and Leisa Barry-Smith and Narelle French.[37] The story line used the fictional process of Banjo Paterson writing the poem when he visited Queensland in 1895 to present episodes of four famous Australians: bass-baritone Peter Dawson (1882–1961), soprano Dame Nellie Melba (1861–1931), Bundaberg-born tenor Donald Smith (1922–1998), and soprano Gladys Moncrieff, also from Bundaberg. The performers were Jason Barry-Smith as Banjo Paterson, Guy Booth as Dawson, David Kidd as Smith, Emily Burke as Melba, Zoe Traylor as Moncrieff, and Donna Balson (piano, voice).[38]


"Waltzing Matilda" is a fixture at many Australian sporting events. These uses have included:

"Waltzing Matilda"
Single by Jessica Mauboy and Stan Walker
Released 3 August 2012 (2012-08-03)
Format Digital download
Recorded 2012
Length 3:46
Label Sony
Jessica Mauboy singles chronology
  • "Waltzing Matilda"
  • (2012)
Stan Walker chronology
  • "Waltzing Matilda"
  • (2012)


  • The film Once a Jolly Swagman (1949)[33] uses "Waltzing Matilda" throughout its musical score and the song is heard sung as well.
  • The score of the 1959 film On the Beach, written by Ernest Gold, is based heavily on motifs from "Waltzing Matilda". The song is first heard during the opening credits to the film. The song itself is heard in the last minutes of the movie. At the time of the film, Jimmie Rodgers had his version of the song in the US charts at #41. Rodgers also recorded another version of the song in 1958.
  • The 1980 Australian TV series Secret Valley had "Waltzing Matilda" with different lyrics as its theme song.
  • The closing theme for the 1982 Australian film The Man from Snowy River, itself based on another poem by Banjo Paterson, incorporates a small piece of the tune of "Waltzing Matilda".
  • The closing of Season 9 Episode 1 of JAG used the first stanza of "Waltzing Matilda" as a Tribute to Trevor Goddard who played Lieutenant Commander Mic Brumby from 1998 to 2001. A longer version of the same clip is also seen in JAG Season 5, Episode 13, "Life or Death" when Lieutenant Commander Mic Brumby returns to Australia.
  • The score of the 2008 Baz Luhrmann film Australia featured a version of "Waltzing Matilda" performed by Australian singer Angela Little.

Versions of the song have been featured in a number of mainly Australian movies and television programs, which have included:


"Waltzing Matilda" has been recorded by many Australian musicians and singers, including John Williamson, Peter Dawson, John Schumann, The Seekers, Tenor Australis, Thomas Edmonds, Rolf Harris, The Wiggles and Lazy Harry. Bands and artists from other nations, including Helmut Lotti, Wilf Carter (Montana Slim), The Irish Rovers, The Swingle Singers, and the Red Army Choir, have also recorded the song.

Covers and derivative works

It is used as the quick march of the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment and as the official song of the U.S. 1st Marine Division, commemorating the time the unit spent in Australia during the Second World War.[31][32] Partly also used in the British Royal Tank Regiment's slow march of "Royal Tank Regiment", because an early British tank model was called "Matilda".

Military units

The Australian women's national soccer team is nicknamed the Matildas after this song.[30]

Matilda the Kangaroo was the mascot at the 1982 Commonwealth Games held in Brisbane, Queensland. Matilda was a cartoon kangaroo, who appeared as a 13-metre high (42 feet 8 inches) mechanical kangaroo at the opening ceremony,[29] accompanied by Rolf Harris singing "Waltzing Matilda".

"Waltzing Matilda" was used at the 1974 World Cup and 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 Australia national rugby union team. It is also performed, along with "Advance Australia Fair", at the annual AFL Grand Final.


The lyrics are hidden on the final pages of Australian passports, such as above and below the words "notice" on some passports.[28]

The song has never been the officially recognised national anthem in Australia. Unofficially, however, it is often used in similar circumstances. The song was one of four included in a national plebiscite to choose Australia's national song held on 21 May 1977 by the Fraser Government to determine which song was preferred as Australia's national anthem. "Waltzing Matilda" received 28% of the vote compared with 43% for "Advance Australia Fair", 19% for "God Save the Queen" and 10% for "Song of Australia".[27]

Official use

In the mid-1990s, Ansett painted a Waltzing Matilda mural on the side of one of its Boeing 737-300s.


But the swagman he up and he jumped in the water hole
Drowning himself by the coolibah tree
And his ghost may be heard as it sings in the billabong
Who'll come a'waltzing Matilda with me?
Down came the squatter a'riding his thoroughbred
Down came policemen one two three
Whose is the jumbuck you've got in your tucker bag?
You'll come a'waltzing Matilda with me
Down came a jumbuck to drink at the water hole
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee
And he sang as he stowed him away in his tucker bag
You'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 water bag
Who'll come a'waltzing Matilda with me?
Oh there once was a swagman camped in a billabong
Under the shade of the coolibah tree
And he sang as he looked at his old billy boiling
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me?

There is also the very popular so-called Queensland version[25][26] that has a different chorus, one very similar to that used by Paterson:

Current variations of the third line of the first verse are "And he sang as he sat and waited by the billabong" or "And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled". Another variation is that the third line of each chorus is kept unchanged from the first chorus, or is changed to the third line of the preceding verse.

By contrast with the original, and also with subsequent versions, the chorus of all the verses was the same in this version. This is also apparently the only version that that uses "billabongs" instead of "billabong".

Up sprang the swagman and jumped in the waterhole,
Drowning himself by the Coolibah tree.
And his voice can be heard as it sings in the billabongs,
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me.
Up came the squatter a-riding his thoroughbred,
Up rose the troopers—one, two, a and three.
"Whose the jolly jumbuck you've got in the tucker-bag?
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with we."
Down came a jumbuck to drink at the waterhole,
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him in glee,
And he sang as he put him away in the tucker-bag,
You'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 water-bag,
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me?
Oh there once was a swagman camped in the billabongs,
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?"

The first published version, in 1903, differs slightly from this text:

It has been suggested that these changes were from an even earlier version, and that Paterson was talked out of using this text, but the manuscript does not bear this out. In particular, the first line of the chorus was corrected before it had been finished, so the original version is incomplete.

Who'll come a rovin (rest missing)
Who'll come a waltzin' Matilda with me?
Waltzing Matilda and leading a tucker bag.
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me?
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 roving Australia with me?

Some corrections in the manuscript are evident; the verses originally read (differences in italics):

You'll come a waltzing Matilda my darling,
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me.
Waltzing Matilda and leading a water bag,
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me.
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 the tucker bag,
You'll come a waltzin' Matilda with me.
Who'll come a waltzin' Matilda my darling,
Who'll come a waltzin' Matilda with me?
Waltzing Matilda and leading a water bag,
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me?
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?

In a facsimile of the first part of the original manuscript, included in Singer of the Bush, a collection of Paterson's works published by Lansdowne Press in 1983, the first two verses appear as follows:

The lyrics of "Waltzing Matilda" have been changed since it was written.


a man who travelled the country looking for work. The swagman's "swag" was a bed roll that bundled his belongings.
an oxbow lake (a cut-off river bend) found alongside a meandering river.
coolibah tree
a kind of eucalyptus tree which grows near billabongs.
a sheep.[24]
a can for boiling water in, usually 2–3 pints.
tucker bag
a bag for carrying food ("tucker").
Australian squatters started as early farmers who raised livestock on land which they did not legally have the right to use; in many cases they later gained legal use of the land even though they did not have full possession, and became wealthy thanks to these large land holdings. The squatter's claim to the land may be as uncertain as the swagman's claim to the jumbuck.
The National Library of Australia states:
Matilda is an old Teutonic female name meaning "mighty battle maid". This may have informed the use of "Matilda" as a slang term to mean a de facto wife who accompanied a wanderer. In the Australian bush a man's swag was regarded as a sleeping partner, hence his "Matilda". (Letter to Rt. Hon. Sir Winston Churchill, KG from Harry Hastings Pearce, 19 February 1958. Harry Pearce Papers, NLA Manuscript Collection, MS2765)[24]
derived from the German term auf der Walz, which means to travel while working as a craftsman and learn new techniques from other masters before returning home after three years and one day, a custom which is still in use today among carpenters.[23]
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 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.

The lyrics contain many distinctively Australian English words, some now rarely used outside of the song. These include:


  1. ^ sometimes "Where's"
  2. ^ sometimes "Whose the jolly"

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong
Under the shade of a coolibah tree,
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled:
"Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me?"

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
You'll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled:
"You'll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me."

Down came a jumbuck to drink at that billabong.
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee.
And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag:
"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 shoved 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, and three.
"Whose[N 1] is that [N 2] jumbuck you've got in your tucker bag?
You'll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me."

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
"You'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 and sprang into the billabong.
"You'll never take me alive!" said he
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong:
"Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me?"

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
"You'll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me",
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong:
"Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me?"

Tune for "Waltzing Matilda"

Problems playing this file? See .
The original manuscript of "Waltzing Matilda", transcribed by Christina Macpherson c. 1895.

There are no "official" lyrics to "Waltzing Matilda" and slight variations can be found in different sources.[21] This version incorporates the famous "You'll never catch me alive said he" variation introduced by the Billy Tea company.[17] Paterson's original lyrics referred to "drowning himself 'neath the coolibah tree".[22]

Typical lyrics


The song was 1996 Summer Olympics held in Atlanta.[18][19] Carl Fischer continues to hold the copyright today. Arrangements such as those claimed by Richard D. Magoffin remain in copyright in America.[20]

In 1903 Marie Cowan was hired to alter the song lyrics for use as an advertising jingle for Billy Tea, making it nationally famous.[17] 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 & Robertson Publishers for five pounds (the currency of the time).


In 2008 amateur Australian historian Peter Forrest claimed that the widespread belief that Paterson had penned the ballad as a socialist anthem, inspired by the Great Shearers' Strike, was false and a "misappropriation" by political groups.[15] Forrest asserted that Paterson had in fact written the self-described "ditty" as part of his flirtation with Macpherson, despite his engagement to someone else.[16] This theory was not shared by other historians like the Emeritus Professor in history and politics at Griffith University, Ross Fitzgerald, who argued that the defeat of the strike in the area he was visiting only several months before the song's creation would have been in Paterson's mind most likely consciously, but at least "unconsciously", and thus was likely an inspiration for the song.[16] Fitzgerald stated "...the two things aren't mutually exclusive",[16] a view shared by others who, while not denying the significance of Paterson's relationship with Macpherson, nonetheless recognise the underlying story of the shearer's strike and Hoffmeister's death in the lyrics of the song.[8]

A bold fusilier came marching back through Rochester
Off from the wars in the north country,
And he sang as he marched
Through the crowded streets of Rochester,
Who'll be a soldier for Marlboro and me?

There has been speculation[13] about the relationship "Waltzing Matilda" bears to an English song "The Bold Fusilier" (a.k.a. "Marching through Rochester", referring to Rochester in Kent, and the Duke of Marlborough), a song sung to the same tune and dated by some back to the 18th century but first printed in 1900.[14] There is however no documentary proof that the "The Bold Fusilier" existed before 1900, and evidence suggests that this song was in fact written as a parody of "Waltzing Matilda" by English soldiers during the Boer War where Australian soldiers are known to have sung "Waltzing Matilda" as a theme.[8] The first verse of "The Bold Fusilier" is:

There have been a number of alternative theories proposed for the origins or meaning of "Waltzing Matilda" since the time it was written, however most experts now essentially agree on the details outlined above. Some oral stories collected during the twentieth century claimed that Paterson had merely modified a pre-existing bush song, but there is no evidence for this. In 1905 Paterson himself published a book of bush ballads he had collected from around Australia entitled Old Bush Songs, with nothing resembling "Waltzing Matilda" in it. Nor do any other publications or recordings of bush ballads include anything to suggest it pre-dated Paterson. Meanwhile handwritten manuscripts from the time the song originated indicate the song's origins with Paterson and Christina Macpherson, as do their own recollections and other pieces of evidence.[8]

Alternative theories

In February 2010 ABC News reported an investigation by barrister Trevor Monti that the death of Hoffmeister was more akin to a gangland assassination than to suicide. The same report asserts "Writer Matthew Richardson says the song was most likely written as a carefully worded political allegory to record and comment on the events of the shearers' strike."[12]

The song itself was first performed on 6 April 1895 by Sir Herbert Ramsay at the North Gregory Hotel in Winton, Queensland. The occasion was a banquet for the Premier of Queensland.

Bob Macpherson (the brother of Christina) and Paterson are said to have taken rides together at Dagworth. Here they would probably have passed the Combo Waterhole, where Macpherson is purported to have told this story to Paterson. Although not remaining in close contact, Paterson and Christina Macpherson both maintained this version of events until their deaths. Amongst Macpherson's belongings, found after her death in 1936, was an unopened letter to a music researcher that read "... one day I played (from ear) a tune, which I had heard played by a band at the Races in Warrnambool ... he [Paterson] then said he thought he could write some words to it. He then and there wrote the first verse. We tried it and thought it went well, so he then wrote the other verses." Similarly, in the early 1930s on ABC radio Paterson said "The shearers staged a strike and Macpherson's woolshed at Dagworth was burnt down and a man was picked up dead ... Miss Macpherson used to play a little Scottish tune on a zither and I put words to it and called it "Waltzing Matilda"."[8]

In Queensland in 1891 the Great Shearers' Strike brought the colony close to civil war and was broken only after the Premier of Queensland, Samuel Griffith, called in the military. In September 1894, on a station called Dagworth (north of Winton), some shearers were again on strike. It turned violent with the strikers firing their rifles and pistols in the air and setting 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 known as "French(y)". Rather than be captured, Hoffmeister shot and killed himself at the Combo Waterhole.

It has been widely accepted[11] that "Waltzing Matilda" is probably based on the following story:

A fortified temporary shearing shed at Dagworth Station following the 1894 arson of the main shed. The three troopers at left are thought to be those referred to in "Waltzing Matilda", while the squatter was Bob Macpherson, fourth from right[8]

The march itself was based on the Scottish Celtic folk tune "Thou Bonnie Wood of Craigielea",[8] written by Robert Tannahill and first published in 1806, with James Barr composing the music in 1818.[10] In the early 1890s it was arranged as the "The Craigielee" march music for brass band by Thomas Bulch.[8] This tune itself was possibly based on the old melody of "Go to the Devil and Shake Yourself", composed by John Field (1782–1837) sometime before 1812. It is sometimes also called "When Sick Is It Tea You Want?" (London 1798) or "The Penniless Traveller" (O'Neill's 1850 collection).

The Australian poet Banjo Paterson wrote the words to "Waltzing Matilda" in January 1895 while staying at Dagworth Homestead, a livestock station near Winton in western Queensland owned by the Macpherson family. The words were written to a tune played on a zither or autoharp by 31 year-old Christina Macpherson,[7] one of the family members at the station. Macpherson had heard the tune "The Craigielee March" played by a military band while attending the Warrnambool steeplechase horse racing in Victoria in April 1894, and played it back by ear at Dagworth. Paterson decided that the music would be a good piece to set lyrics to, and produced the original version during the rest of his stay at the station and in Winton.[8][9]

The Combo Waterhole is thought to be the location of the story that inspired "Waltzing Matilda".

Writing of the song



  • History 1
    • Writing of the song 1.1
    • Alternative theories 1.2
    • Ownership 1.3
  • Lyrics 2
    • Typical lyrics 2.1
    • Glossary 2.2
    • Variations 2.3
  • Status 3
    • Official use 3.1
    • Sports 3.2
    • Military units 3.3
  • Covers and derivative works 4
    • Film 4.1
    • Sport 4.2
    • Stage 4.3
    • Literature 4.4
    • Derivative musical works 4.5
  • References 5
  • External links 6

The song was first recorded in 1926 as performed by John Collinson and Russell Callow.[6] In 2008, this recording of "Waltzing Matilda" was added to the Sounds of Australia registry in the National Film and Sound Archive which says that there are more recordings of "Waltzing Matilda" than any other Australian song.[4]


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