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Friday, August 9, 2013

Waltzing Matilda - An Explanation Of What It Might Be To Be Australian

It is sometimes rather funny how you come up with a good idea but then later in the day you find an additional layer or meaning to the idea which is how I came up with this post. The other evening as I was returning home from my work I was rather startled when I heard Waltzing Matilda playing on my car stereo. It was pretty stupid since I put it there on the playlist, but none the less it felt like I had made a discovery. I listened to Slim Dusty sing this ballad by Banjo Paterson and I got a little misty eyed. It is after all considered to be more of a national anthem than our own national anthem 'Advance Australia Fair'. Written by Paterson in 1895, it has been covered by hundreds of music artists, it has been painted, sculpted, and printed and, most importantly, it has been sung by drunken Australians all over the world. In it's short verse it tells a more epic Australian tale than the entire 3 hours of Baz Luhrmann's ridiculous 'Australia' which assumes far too much for what it is.

It was in the later afternoon today that I relayed this conversation to my friend Dennis Dowlut of Electric Empire as we had coffee and discussed music. I said to him "Dennis, it must be so difficult to take people on a journey within the small time frame you have to sing your song. Even a song like Waltzing Matilda, it takes you on such a gritty journey into the psyche of Australians in such a small time frame".

So what is Waltzing Matilda all about? In a nutshell, as far as I can tell, it is about a lonely workman who walks through the bush with his rucksack he calls 'Matilda', and in his loneliness he talks to the bag as if it were a person, which is bouncing around on his back or 'waltzing'. The workman, referred to as a swagman, sits by a billy (a pot in which you make tea) which sits on a fire. He steals a sheep (a jumbuck) and is going to eat it when he is set upon by the owner of the sheep and some police officers. When he realises that he is going to be arrested, he decides it's better to jump in the billabong ( a deep watering hole caused by overflowing rivers) and commit suicide, than to suffer the long arm of the law. And in his death he creates a certain mysticism as it is said that his ghost haunts the billabong. 

There is a charm about this small story which I believe has a similar thread to that of the Eureka Stockade when Australians (before Australia was a sovereign state) fought a battle against English colonial forces in what some regard as Australian modern history's most famed act of civil disobedience. More than anything you might find on a Saturday night in Kings Cross anyway....

I should not waste your time any longer. Watch the video below and read the lyrics. When you are done, consider yourself a little more understanding of Australians.


And here are the word's to Banjo Paterson's most revered bush ballad. 

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong
Under the shade of a coolibah tree,
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled:
"Who'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 till his billy boiled:
"You'll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me."

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

Up rode the squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred.
Down came the troopers, one, two, and three.
"Whose is that 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",
"Whose is that 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 take me alive!" said he
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong:
"Who'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:
"Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me?"

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