My Word | Waltzing Matilda

Never the Same: My big dictionary says to walk or waltz Matilda means to carry one’s swag or to travel the road.

Never the Same: My big dictionary says to walk or waltz Matilda means to carry one’s swag or to travel the road.

Matilda went waltzing a long time ago and Australia has never been the same since.

I was watching television recently when the song Waltzing Matilda came on.

Some people have said it should be the national anthem, but would you stand to attention while somebody sang a song about a man who committed suicide?

Anyway. Matilda has a lot of meanings, including a woman’s Christian name, but I was more interested in Waltzing Matilda.

Waltzing Matilda is Australia's best-known bush ballad, based on an old Scottish ballad and has been described as the country's unofficial national anthem.

The title was Australian slang for travelling on foot, waltzing, derived from the German auf der Walz  with one's belongings in a matilda (swag) slung over one's back.

Susan Butler says Mathilde was a common name for a girlfriend in Germany.

The song narrates the story of an itinerant worker, or "swagman", making a drink of tea at a bush camp and capturing a stray jumbuck (sheep) to eat.

When the jumbuck's owner, a squatter (wealthy landowner), and three mounted policemen pursue the swagman for theft, he declares "you'll never take me alive" and commits suicide by drowning himself in a nearby billabong, after which his ghost haunts the site.

The Macquarie says to waltz Matilda was to wander about as a tramp with a swag.

The German meant to move in a circular fashion, as apprentices moving from master to master.

The original lyrics to the song were written in 1895 by Banjo Paterson, and were first published as sheet music in 1903.

The Macquarie says Waltzing Matilda was first sung in public at

Winton in 1895,

The book Singer of the Bush, page 250, starts “Oh, there once was a swagman camped in the billabongs”. But the original manuscript. published on the next page, says “billabong”.

And he crossed out what seems to be a few words, one of which is Australia, and he inserted Waltzing Matilda.

Crooked Mick in the Dinkum Aussie Dictionary says: “almost everyone in the civilised world believes it is the Australian national anthem. Quite a few Australians  hink so as well.”

In 2008 the National Film and Sound Archive said there were more recordings of Waltzing Matilda than any other Australian song.

My big dictionary says to walk or waltz Matilda means to carry one’s swag or to travel the road.

John “Nino” O’Grady says Waltzing Matilda means wandering around the country with all your possessions on your back looking for work “and hoping you won’t find it”. He goes on to say “young professional Australians” visiting other countries like to sing it because “it makes them feel superior.

GA Wilkes says the matilda a might have been blue and it was sometimes called a shiralee or a duncan “for reasons unknown to me”.

Bill Hornage says jumbuck has been kept alive only because it is in Waltzing Matikda.

The Macquarie dictionary says Matilda was the daughter  of Henry 1 of England and then it goes on to say matilda is “colloquial a swag”.

But as Henry Lawson said: “A swag is not generally referred to as a bluey or matilda. It is called a swag.

The Bulletin, and I believe it was written by Henry Lawson, for it is in the same year, says:

“No bushmen thinks of going on a wallaby or walking matilda. He goes on the track.”

I wasn’t sure whether to cap Matilda or to lower case matilda.

My big dictionary caps it. The Macquarie does both. The Australian National Dictionary, published by Oxford, caps it.

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