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Waltzing Matilda Australia's Favourite Song

Waltzing Matilda is an Australian icon. It is quite likely that more Australians know the words to this song than even their national anthem. There is probably no other song that is more easily recognised by a populace: young or old: native or a newly arrived immigrant.

The lyrics to Waltzing Matilda were written in 1895 by Banjo Paterson, an Australian bush poet, 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. Banjo and Christina worked together composing the song. She set the music for Waltzing Matilda. The song was an instant hit... 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?


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.


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.


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.


Listen to Waltzing Matilda Listen on YouTube

Wondered what Waltzing Matilda sounds like? Click on the image on the left to find out.

Waltzing Matilda was first sung publicly in 1895. Since then it has gone on to become Australia's favorite song.

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 even Bill Haley & Comets.

The oldest surviving recording of the song was made in 1926 on a wax disk and lasted only two minutes.


Banjo Paterson Wrote the Lyrics for Waltzing Matilda

Andrew Barton (Banjo) Paterson (1864-1941) was one of Australia's greatest poets. He 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 went on to became a lawyer in 1886. It was while a law student that he began writing poetry and 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 died of a heart attack at the age of 76, on 5 February 1941.

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.


Christina Macpherson Wrote the Music for Waltzing Matilda

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

Girl playing an AutoharpClick on the image to hear an Autoharp

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.


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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