Waltzing Matilda

Waltzing Matilda is pretty much considered to be Australia's unofficial national anthem.

We all learn the words as kids and we know it was written by Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson but how many of us know how the song came to be written? 


How It All Began

In January 1895, Banjo Paterson was travelling in Queensland with his fiance, Sarah Riley, when they stayed for a few weeks at Dagworth Station, a 100,000 hectare property near Winton in north-western Queensland.

The station was managed by Bob Macpherson, the brother of one of Sarah's old school friends, Christina Macpherson. 

Waltzing Matilda

During the couple's stay, Christina played for the group a traditional Celtic folk tune called 'The Craigeelee' which captured Paterson's interest.

Christina had played the song from memory and didn't remember any words to it or even if there were any words to it. 

But Banjo Paterson decided that it would be a good piece to set lyrics to and wrote the words during his stay at Dagworth. 

Christina was not a musician but she ended up writing the score for the song.

While he was at Dagworth Station, Banjo heard the story of a shearers' strike which took place on the station in September 1894.

In those days, shearers worked long hours in stiflingly hot tin sheds and were often treated unfairly by the station owners. On this occasion the strikers were protesting against their treatment and things became violent. The strikers fired their rifles and pistols in the air and set fire to the woolshed, killing dozens of sheep.

The man thought to have been one of the ringleaders was Samuel Hoffmeister.

He was pursued by the owner of Dagworth, accompanied by three policemen and, rather than be captured, shot and killed himself at the Combo Waterhole.

waltzing matilda, combo waterholeThe Combo Waterhole

Bob Macpherson and Banjo Paterson rode together during Paterson's stay and, on one ride, came across a newly-killed sheep at the Combo Waterhole (pictured on the left).

The sheep looked to have been killed by a swagman.

The story of the shearers' strike, the discovery of the dead sheep and the setting of the waterhole combined to inspire the words to Waltzing Matilda. 


The Early Days

Waltzing Matilda was written by hand and Paterson revised it several times so the original copy has notes scribbled in the margins and quite a bit of crossing out. This makes it hard to decipher accurately so we're not completely sure what some of the original words were.

To complicate things further, changes have been made to the song over the years, most famously by the Billy Tea company who used the words in an ad in 1903.

The company felt that the line 'drowning himself by the coolibah tree' was too dark so they removed it, creating the version that's most widely-known today.

Waltzing Matilda was first recited in public by Sir Herbert Ramsay at the North Gregory Hotel in Winton on 6 April 1895 at a banquet for the Premier of Queensland.

The first version on this page is the original words, using the words Banjo Paterson scribbled at Dagworth Station in 1895.

Below that you'll see a second version, using the words as they are usually sung today. 


Waltzing Matilda

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. 

Who'll come a Waltzing Matilda my darling 
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me 
Waltzing Matilda leading a water bag 
Who'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 said as he put him away in the tucker bag 
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me. 

You'll come a Waltzing Matilda my darling 
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me 
Waltzing Matilda leading a water bag 
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me 

Down came the squatter a riding on his thoroughbred 
Down came policemen one two three 
Where is the jumbuck you've got in the tuckerbag 
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me 

You'll come a Waltzing Matilda my darling 
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me 
Waltzing Matilda leading a tucker bag 
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me. 

But the swagman he up and he jumped in the waterhole 
Drowning himself by the Coolibah tree 
And his ghost can be heard as it sings in the billabong 
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me.


You can hear The Seekers sing this version here on YouTube. 


Waltzing Matilda

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 
'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 watched and waited 'til his billy boiled, 
You'll come a-waltzing matilda with me. 

Down came a jumbuck to drink at the billabong 
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee. 
And he sang as he stuffed 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 stuffed that jumbuck in his tucker-bag 
'You'll come a-waltzing matilda with me.' 

Up rode the squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred, 
Up rode the troopers, one, two, three. 
'Where's that jolly 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.
 
'Where's that jolly 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 catch me alive!', said he. 
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong. 
'You'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. 
'You'll come a waltzing matilda with me.'


The last two lines of the final verse are sung in a hushed, ghostly tone, after which the song goes back to its cheerful, up-beat tempo. 

You can hear Slim Dusty sing this version here on YouTube. 


Down On His Luck, Frederick McCubbin'Down On His Luck' by Frederick McCubbin, 1889

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