Waltzing Matilda


For those that need a translation from the Australian bush vernacular, this famous folksong and unofficial national anthem of Australia tells the story of an itinerant worker or "swagman" making a cup of tea in a bush camp. When a sheep wanders to the watering hole for a drink, he steals it. When the police come to get him he drowns himself in the "billabong" or watering hole, leaving his ghost behind to haunt the site. So it's like this; a swagman is a drifter or itinerant worker, a billy is a tin can; a Coolibah is a type of eucalyptus tree that is often found at a billabong; a jumpbuck is a sheep which belongs to the squatter; a tucker bag is a bag for storing food. Now comes the hard part for American and other non-Australian English speakers . . . a matilda is a bag that is slung over one's shoulder and if you are "waltzing matilda" it means you are walking around with all your belonging in a single bag slung over your back. The bundle is the swag part of the term swagman, but in a romantic gesture the swagman refers to his swag as "matilda" as though it were a companion accompanying him on his wanderings through the bush.
Waltzing Matilda
Original manuscript, music by Christina Rutherford Macpherson, 1895

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 and leading a water-bag
Who'll come a'waltzing Matildta with me

2nd verse
Down came the jumbuck to drink at the billabong,
Up jumped the swagman & grabbed him with glee,
And he said as he put him away in the tucker bag
"You'll come a'waltzing Matilda with me"!—

Chorus: "You'll come" etc

3rd verse
Down came the squatter a'riding his thoroughbred,
Down came policemen, one, two and three,
"Whose is the jumbuck you've got in the tucker bag?
You'll come a'waltzing Matilda with me."

Chorus: "You'll come" etc

4th verse
But the swagman he up & he jumped in the water-hole
Drowning himself by the Coolibah tree,
And his ghost may be heard as it sings by the billabong
Who'll come a'waltzing Matilda with me.

Chorus: "Who'll come" etc

Australian billabong (watering hole) below

Australian Billabong

Waltzing Matilda was featured as The Short Story of the Day on Thu, Jan 26, 2017

Featured in our collection of Poems for Children.


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