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Waltzing Matilda - Australia's Favourite Song

The lyrics to Waltzing Matilda were written by Banjo Paterson while holidaying on a huge cattle and sheep station (ranch) in the Australian Outback. He was inspired by a tune he heard being played by Christina Macpherson the daughter the owner of the property. Christina set the music for Waltzing Matilda.. more


Waltzing Matilda Lyrics to Song

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?

Related Article: What does Waltzing Matilda Sound Like?

Meaning of Words Used

This song has many uniquely Australian words referred to as Strine. They are explained below.

Jolly - means happy.

Swagman - a hobo, an itinerant worker, who travelled from place to place in search of work. A swagman usually 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 - An expensive pedigreed horse. The Mercedes Benz equivalent of its day.

Trooper - a policeman, a mounted militia-man.


Meaning of the Phrase 'Waltzing Matilda'

The title of the song is derived from an Australian phrase "waltzing the matilda" which is no longer in use today. It is believed to have originated from German immigrants who started settling in Australia from 1838.

Waltzing is from the German term 'auf der walz' which meant to travel while learning a trade. Young German apprentices in those days travelled from place to place working under a master craftsman earning a living as they went and sleeping wherever they could. The German word 'walz' became 'waltz' in Australia. The waltz was a fashionable dance at the time and Australians were familiar with it.

Matilda has German origins too and means Mighty Battle Maiden. It is believed to have been given to females 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 and carried behind their shoulders while marching.

So 'waltzing the matilda' came to mean to travel from place to place in search of work with all your belongings on your back, wrapped in a blanket. This is what Swagmen did in outback Australia. When the song was written the word "the" was dropped from the title becoming Waltzing Matilda.


Waltzing Matilda Story

The song tells the story of a swagman in outback Queensland, Australia in the mid-1890s.

1st Verse

A swagman is resting under a eucalyptus tree on the banks of a watering-hole. He is singing and passing the time. He has lit a fire and is boiling something in a tin can (most likely tea).

2nd verse

While there, he notices a sheep wandering down to the watering-hole for a drink. The swagman catches the sheep, kills it, probably eats what he can and stows the rest in his backpack. (Swagmen were disadvantaged workers who were so poor they didn't know where their next meal would come from. So this sheep was an opportunity too good to miss).

3rd Verse

Unfortunately for the swagman, the wealthy landowner comes by the water-hole. He is mounted on his fine, expensive horse and is accompanied by three policemen. They catch the hapless swagman red-handed with the remains of the sheep, telling him that he is under arrest for stealing and killing the sheep.

4th Verse

Absolutely terrified the swagman leaps up and jumps into the watering-hole hoping to escape. Unfortunately, he drowns in the waterhole. Ever since that day his ghost still haunts the waterhole and can be heard singing his song.

Related Article: How Waltzing Matilda was Written.


Waltzing Matilda Song - Listen on YouTube

Wondered what Waltzing Matilda sounds like? Well there are over 700 different versions of of this song, recorded by such famous singers as Rod Stewart, Jonny Cash, The Seekers, Slim Dusty and Bill Haley & Comets. Included below is a small sample.

Nursery Rhyme Version

This version has a nice beat to it and also has "sing-a-long" words.

 

Slim Dusty sings Waltzing Matilda

This country and western version of is sung by Slim Dusty a famous Australian country and western singer.

 

A Rendition by the band Bachelor Girl

This is a beautiful rendition of the song sung by Tania Doko of the group Bachelor Girl.

 

An Aboriginal Version

Here is an interesting Aborigine version of the song by Ali Mills in the Kriol, the Gurindji-Kungarakan Aboriginal tribal language.

 

An evocative antiwar song titled "And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" written by balladist Eric Bogle has been recorded by many artists including the Pogues and Joan Baez. It uses the iconic song as a symbol of lost innocence and the futility of war.


More Poems by Banjo Paterson

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.


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.


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