Waltzing Matilda - Australia's Favourite Song More Australians know the words to Waltzing Matilda than any other song

Waltzing Matilda Lyrics


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



Wlatzing Matilda Swagman Under a Coolibar Tree



Wlatzing Matilda Jumbum Approaching a Billabong

Waltzing Matilda Squatter approaching teh swagman by the billabong


Waltzing Matilda Swagman jumping into BIllabong

Art by Trishan

Meaning of Waltzing Matilda Words


Waltzing Matilda has many uniquely Australian words referred to as Strine. Their meaning is explained below.

Jolly - means happy.

Swagman - a hobo, an itinerant worker, who travelled from place to place in search of work, who carried all his belongings wrapped up in a blanket called a swag.

Billabong - a waterhole or pond. It is an aboriginal word that originally meant little or no water.

Coolibah Tree - a eucalyptus tree which usually grows near water. The name coolibah is derived from the aboriginal word gulabaa.

Billy - a tin can with a wire handle used to boil water. If the swagman was fortunate he may have boiled some tea in it.

Jumbuck - a sheep. The origin of the word is uncertain. It's most likely derived from two words jumping buck.

Tucker Bag - a bag for storing food. It was usually an old sugar or flour sack. Tucker is a slang word for food.

Squatter - a wealthy landowner, a rancher.

Thoroughbred - a very good quality horse. The Mercedes Benz equivalent of its day.

Trooper - a policeman, a mounted militia-man.

What does Waltzing Matilda Mean? Meaning of the phrase 'Waltzing Matilda'

The phrase Waltzing Matilda is believed to have originated with German immigrants who settled in Australia.

Waltzing is from the German term auf der walz which meant to travel while learning a trade. Young apprentices in those days travelled the country working under a master craftsman earning their living as they went - sleeping where they could.

Matilda has Teutonic (German and Norwegian) origins and means Mighty Battle Maiden. It is believed to have been given to female camp followers who accompanied soldiers during the Thirty Year wars in Europe. This came to mean "to be kept warm at night" and later to mean the great army coats or blankets that soldiers wrapped themselves with. These were rolled into a swag tossed behind their shoulders while marching.

So Waltzing Matilda means to travel from place to place in search of work with all one's belongings on one's back, wrapped in a blanket or cloth. This is what Swagmen did in outback Australia.

Waltzing Matilda Story Events Behind the Waltzing Matilda Story

Dagworth Station

In 1895 Banjo Paterson and his fiancée, Sarah Riley, visited the Dagworth Station in outback Queensland. This huge property, of over a quarter of a million acres, was owned by the family of Sarah's school friend, Christina Macpherson. Christina's brother, Bob, managed this vast property.

While riding a drag coach to Dagworth they saw a swagman walking along the dusty road. Bob Macpherson pointed this out to Banjo and said "that's what they call Waltzing Matilda".

During his stay at Dagworth, Bob Macpherson and Banjo frequently went for long rides around the station. One day they stopped at a billabong, the Combo Waterhole, where they found the remains of a recently slaughtered sheep. At this time there were thousands unemployed swagmen roaming the outback in search of work. Obviously one of these men had killed the sheep.

Shearers Strike

Bob Macpherson also told Banjo about the Sheep Shearers' Strike of September 1894. This was a major revolt by the workers who sheared sheep against the rich squatters who owned these huge properties. These troubles also spilled over to Dagworth where a group of 16 shearers set fire to the Dagworth Shearing Shed killing over a hundred forty lambs.

Macpherson and three policemen had given chase and one of them, a man named Samuel Hoffmeister who was said to be responsible for starting the fire. They didn't catch Hoffmeister but he was found dead a day later at the Four Mile Billabong near Kynun with a gunshot wound which appeared to be clear case of suicide. In a radio interview in 1936 Banjo is quoted as saying "The shearers staged a strike by way of expressing themselves, and Macpherson's woolshed was burnt down and a man was picked up dead". There was also a story doing the rounds at that time about a police posse on the lookout for Harry Wood, a man accused of beating an Aboriginal boy to death. They didn't find Harry but they did come across a hapless swagman camped by a billabong (possibly the Como billabong) who took fright at the sight of the approaching police and jumped into the billabong and drowned.

Hearing a Tune

Click on the image to hear an Zither

While at the station Banjo frequently heard Christina play a tune on her zither (sometimes also called an autoharp). Banjo liked the "whimsicality and dreaminess" of the tune and thought it would be nice to set some words to it.

Banjo was a lawyer by trade and a journalist by profession and an accomplished poet. Naturally he would have stored away a wealth of knowledge; stories and other titbits about life in the outback and the people who lived there. When the opportunity came he was quick to piece together a "case" - a story to produce a light-hearted ditty as part of an evening's entertainment. So it appears that Banjo linked up all these events to create the story line and the lyrics for the song. Christina played the tune on her zither and later wrote down the musical score.

In the same radio interview in 1936 Banjo goes on to say "Miss Macpherson used to play a little Scottish tune on a zither and I put words to it and called it 'Waltzing Matilda'.

First Recital of Waltzing Matilda

On a visit to Winton town, Banjo and Christina polished the song up using a piano in the parlour of the North Gregory Hotel in Winton town. Soon after it was sung for the first time by Herbert Ramsay who lived at Oondooroo Station close by and was said to be the best tenor in the district. Herbert sang the song either at Sarah's brother's house or the Post Office Hotel in Winton.

The song spread rapidly by word of mouth throughout the district and was an instant hit. On 25 September 1900 the Governor of Queensland, Lord Charles Lamington, visited Winton. Herbert Ramsey sang the song again at a banquet held in the governor's honour at the North Gregory Hotel.

Who Wrote the Waltzing Matilda Lyrics? Banjo Paterson Wrote the Lyrics to Waltzing Matilda

Banjo Paterson author of Waltzing Matilda

The lyrics to the song were written by Andrew Barton (Banjo) Paterson (1864-1941).

Banjo Paterson was born on 17 February 1864 at Narrambla near Orange, New South Wales. He was the eldest of seven children. Banjo's early childhood was spent in Australian outback. He used his early childhood experiences frequently in his poems and writing. In 1874 he was sent to Sydney Grammar School and then studied law. He became a lawyer in 1886. It was while a law student that he began writing poetry. It was also at this time that he adopted the nickname "Banjo". His first poem, 'El Mahdi to the Australian Troops', was published in the Bulletin newspaper in February 1885. A string of other poems and Waltzing Matilda soon followed. These were very popular with the public and he was soon a local celebrity. Banjo served as a war correspondent in South Africa during the Boer War. In 1902 he gave up his legal practice to concentrate on his writing. In 1903 he was appointed editor of the Sydney Evening News. On 8 April 1903 he married Alice Emily. They had two children. In World War I he drove an ambulance and later served in the Middle East. He was wounded in 1916 but served until the end of the war. After the war Banjo resumed journalism. He retired from active journalism in 1930 to devote his leisure to creative writing. He also became a successful broadcaster with the Australian Broadcasting Commission. He died on 5 February 1941.

Banjo Paterson, while acknowledging authorship of Waltzing Matilda, never considered it one of his better works. He was rather bemused by its popularity and never set out to profit from it.


Some other great poems by Banjo Patterson:

Mulga Bill's Bicycle — Kids and adults alike will love it.
The Man from Snowy River — Acclaimed as Australia's greatest poem.
Clancy of The Overflow — The story of a city-folk's yearning for the wide open spaces.

Who Wrote the Music for Waltzing Matilda? Waltzing Matilda Music was Composed by Christina Macpherson

Christina Macpherson inspired Banjo Paterson to write Waltzing Matilda. She also played and arranged the original music for the song.

Christina was 31 years old when she visited the family property of Dagworth in 1995. While at Winton , a town close to the property, she happened a chance meeting with an old school friend Sarah Riley. Sarah was visiting her family with her fiancée Banjo Paterson. Christina and her family invited Sarah and Banjo to come visit them at Dagworth.

As part of an evening's entertainment at Dagworth Homestead (ranch house) Christina played a tune on her zither. Banjo asked her what the tune was and she told him she didn't know. (The tune in question is the Scottish song "Bonnie Wood O' Craigielea") Banjo liked the tune and immediately started to put down some words to it. Christina and Banjo worked though the score, Christina playing the tune on her zither and Banjo penning the words as they came to mind.



Click here for the fascinating story of Christina Macpherson



It was only in the 1990's that a letter and music sheet in Christina's personal handwriting were discovered and presented to the National Library of Australia. These documents provided clear evidence of Christina's contribution to this iconic song. In the letter, written in 1934, Christina describes how she and Banjo Paterson came to write Waltzing Matilda. Also in this collection is an original music sheet by her for the song.

Waltzing Matilda Becomes Australia's Favorite Song How it evolved to what we know today

The story of Waltzing Matilda didn't end with Banjo and Christina writing the song and gaining popularity as a bush ballad in the Australian outback. In 1900 Paterson sold the lyrics, to what he considered to be a minor ditty, together with a number of other works to Angus and Robertson publishers for the princely sum of "five quid" (about A$670 in today's currency).

According to records held by the State Library of New South Wales, James Inglis & Co bought a bundle of lyrics from Angus & Robertson in 1902. In this bundle were the lyrics for Waltzing Matilda. James Inglis & Co was a major importer of tea and sold over 680,000 kilos (1.5 million lbs) of tea an year under the "Billy Tea" trademark. They were in search of a catchy tune to promote their tea. Waltzing Matilda, they thought, with a little improvement would surely fit the bill. Marie Cowan the wife of one of the managers and a gifted musician was entrusted with the task of writing a tune to the lyrics. Now serendipitously, Marie had heard the original tune Christina had written. So she set about recomposing the tune and also changing some of the words to better fit the melody. The sheet music and lyrics were then printed and wrapped around the containers of Billy Tea and as a promotional gimmick. It wasn't long before the song gained widespread popularity.

In 1907 the Student's Songbook Board of Sydney University requested permission to use the song and received a letter on 11 October 1907 from James Inglis & Co claiming sole ownership of the song but giving permission for its usage provided there was an acknowledgment that the song is published "with the permission of the proprietors of James Inglis & Co." The letter was signed by a Mr W. Cowan, director, and included a copy of the lyrics and music, with a note that the music was arranged by Marie Cowan. This version of the song, known as the Marie Cowan version, is the one we hear today.


Click here to learn more about the other versions of Waltzing Matilda

What does Waltzing Matilda sound like?

There are over 700 different versions of Waltzing Matilda. These have been recorded by such famous singers as Rod Stewart, The Seekers, Slim Dusty and Bill Haley & Comets.

There is even an interesting aborigine version of the song by Ali Mills in the Kriol the Gurindji-Kungarakan Aboriginal tribal language.

Here is a cute 1930's or 1940's cartoon version of Waltzing Matilda story. The swagman in the video clip looks very fat. In real life they were thin, poor and underfed.


Click here to hear Waltzing Matilda

First Recording of Waltzing Matilda

Click on image to hear the first recording of Waltzing Matilda

The first known recording of the song was made in 1926 in London, England by a singer named John Collinson. The recording is barely two minutes long. It almost seems like the singer was rushing through the song to make sure it all fitted in the old-fashioned wax recording disc which only had a recording capacity of about two and a half minutes.

While it can clearly be recognized as Waltzing Matilda, it is interesting to note that this version is different from the one we are familiar with today. There is a subtle but noticeable difference in the melody.

"Craigielea" the song that inspired Waltzing Matilda

The tune that Christina Macpherson heard that day in 1994 was the "Bonnie Wood O' Craigielea". It is a Scottish song written by Robert Tannahill. The music was written by James Barr sometime between 1808 and 1810. The song was first published in 1818.

In 1894 Godfrey Parker converted the music into a marching tune. It was this march that was being played by the Garrison Artillery band at Warnambool Races in 1894. Christina Macpherson heard this while she was at the races with her family. In 1895 Christina played what she remembered of the tune on a zither to Banjo Paterson.


Click here to hear Craigielea being sung

Waltzing Matilda Copyright Status You Won't Believe who owns Waltzing Matilda

There is some controversy and angst in Australia about the copyright status of Waltzing Matilda. Whilst the general public would believe it belongs in the public domain and to the people of Australia, in actual fact it isn't that simple.

The song was never copyrighted in Australia or any other country in the world except the United States, where it was copyrighted as an original work, some say, fraudulently by Carl Fischer Music. Royalty payments are collected by Carl Fischer Music for any performances of Waltzing Matilda in the United States.





Click here to learn all about the copyright status of Waltzing Matilda

A Note About This Web Page

This page was originally written in 1997 by Trishan, an eleven year old Australian boy and his dad. Over the years this page continued to rate in the top 10 sites in Google's ranking on the subject. We have now given the page a long overdue face-lift with new video clips (which didn't exist at the time the page was originally written) and lots of additional content. We have, however, decided to maintain some of the "look and feel" of the original website. So you will still see Trishan's artwork and explanation of the song as it appeared on the original website. We hope you find our site informative and fun.

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