Waltzing Matilda

Tom O'Lincoln suarsos at alphalink.com.au
Thu Aug 21 17:47:55 MDT 2003

The ABC website informs me: "It is 100 years since the words and music of
Australia's unofficial national anthem were first published as a song."

I first learned it in school in California, long before I thought of going
to Australia. It was just a curious fairy story full of things called
jumbucks (I thought they were an insect called jumbugs) and swagmen.

Only much later did I realise that it's about class conflict; the 1890s saw
bitter strikes in the shearing industry, which were associated with
economic depression that sent many jobless tramping around looking for
work, carrying their "swags" ("Waltzing Matilda").

In the song, the swagman steals a sheep (jumbuck - a corruption of "jump
up") and the squatter (rich landholder) calls the cops. The swagman jumps
in the billabong (lake) and dies.

Now non-Australians can perhaps make sense of it -- and better understand
why the ruling class is unlikely to let this ever be the national anthem:

Up came the jumbuck to drink at the waterhole,
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him in glee;
And he sang as he put him away in his tucker-bag,
'You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.'

Up came the squatter a-riding his thoroughbred;
Up came the troopers - one, two and three.
'Whose is the jumbuck you've got in the tucker bag?
You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.'

Up sprang the swagman and jumped in the waterhole,
Drowning himself by the Coolibah tree;
But his voice can be heard if you pass by that billabong,
'Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?'

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