Waltzing Matilda

Album: Waltzing Matilda (1895)


  • The most recognized Australian folk song, "Waltzing Matilda" is filled with argot specific to that country. The song is about a swagman (itinerant worker) who sets up camp near a billabong (small lake formed by a river) and starts to boil water in his billy (a tin pot for boiling water and basic cooking, one waits for it to boil).

    When a stray jumpbuck (sheep) comes down to the billabong for a drink, he grabs it and throws it in his tucker bag (food bag) to eat later. The squatter (land owner) sees him and the troopers (police) come to question him. He evades them by jumping in the billabong, but his plan is flawed: he can't swim.

    He drowns, and now his ghost inhabits the billabong.
  • The "swag" is the collection of items a swagman carries in his travels, typically in a pack of some kind. He calls his swag "Matilda," and "waltzing" means walking, so "Waltzing Matilda" means he is walking with his stuff.

    There are various legends that explain how the swag came to be named "Matilda." One popular story states that this swagman's wife was named Matilda, and when she died, he named it after her in her memory.
  • Like many folk songs originating in the 1800s, the origins of "Waltzing Matilda" are murky. According to the Australian historian Roger Clarke, who culled the Australian National Library for information, the song was written in 1985, with lyrics by a poet named Banjo Paterson and music by a musician named Christina Macpherson.

    Paterson was not a Swagman, but was traveling with fiancee in Queensland, and came across Macpherson when they stopped in Dagworth Station for a stay. Paterson heard the term "Waltzing Matilda" during his stay, and when he came across a water hole on the grounds, he made up the story.
  • An explanation of more of the terms:

    "Humping the Bluey" is to carry a swag traveling, so named after the blue wool blanket that formed the swag.

    A Coolabah tree is correctly a type of Eucalypt.

    A "Billy" is a tin pot for boiling water and basic cooking; one waits for it to boil. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Toby - Hobart, Australia
  • The intro explanation of this song mentions Don Quixote, who was the famous character in the book by the same name written by Miguel de Cervantes. Both Quixote and the man in the song travel the countryside looking for adventure.
  • ESPN sportscaster Chris Berman, who was known for obscure nicknames, sang this song for Minnesota Vikings running back Mewelde Moore. Whenever Moore had the ball, Berman sang "Waltzing Mewelde" to the tune of this traditional song. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bert - Pueblo, NM
  • The song's copyright expired in Australia in 1991. However its copyright in the USA remained until 2011, meaning that at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Australia had to pay to use its own song.

Comments: 7

  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn January 12th 1960, "Waltzing Matilda" by Jimmie Rodgers entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; eventually it peak at #41 and spent 8 weeks on the Top 100...
    The record's A-side, "Tender Love and Care (T.L.C.)" also chanted, it reached #24 and stayed on the Top 100 for 10 weeks.
  • Aussie from Blue Mountains , AustraliaErrata and addendum

    The words to the song were written in 1895 by Banjo Paterson, a famous Australian poet, and the music was written (based on a folk tune) by Christina Macpherson,

  • Aussie from Blue Mountains , AustraliaA. B. Patterson is far better known by his pen name 'Banjo Patterson"
  • Aussie from Blue Mountains , AustraliaG'day Folks

    I hate to tell you but Waltzing Matilda isn't a traditional song It was written by The great Australian Bush Poet Andrew Barton Patterson witrh a melody contributed by Marie Gowan (which is said to have owed a lot to a traditional Irish Melody)

    So the entry shoyuld read Patterson / Gowan

    Aussie Swagman
  • John from Fort Worth, TxI learned this song when I was 9 and 10 years in Fort Worth, Texas, USA. The lyrics we learned, as I remember them, were very different. Only now, I have leard a shade or two of the original poetry of this song. The melody is hauntingly beautiful. I also remember hearing when I was kid that many Australians were pushing for this song to be the Australian National Anthem. In my ignorance, I did not know till just now that "Advance Australia Fair" is still the anthem.
    Greetings from a US citizen to our friendly neighbors in Australia, Tazmania and New Zeeland.
    John Martin, 46
  • Ashlee from Hobartalot of people think that it isn't just about stealing a sheep but something more ie buggery/beastiality
  • Max from Karratha, AustraliaA lot of people have said they want this to replace 'Advance Australia Fair', but I don't think it really fits. Yes, its a true blue Aussie song, but it isn't really about a nation. I personally think we should keep AAF, but change the tune to that of Jimmy Barnes 'Work Class Man' (It's been done before, and it works beautifully)

    Its a story about the homeless (swagman), stealing (steals a sheep), animal cruelty (stuffs said sheep into a swag) and suicide (swagman drowns himself)

    FYI- Matilda is the name for a swag- to waltz her is to go walkabout with a swag.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

History Of RockSong Writing

An interview with Dr. John Covach, music professor at the University of Rochester whose free online courses have become wildly popular.

Jack Tempchin - "Peaceful Easy Feeling"They're Playing My Song

When a waitress wouldn't take him home, Jack wrote what would become one of the Eagles most enduring hits.

90s MetalFact or Fiction

Test your metal - Priest, Maiden, and Beavis and Butt-head show up in this one.

Dexys (Kevin Rowland and Jim Paterson)Songwriter Interviews

"Come On Eileen" was a colossal '80s hit, but the band - far more appreciated in their native UK than stateside - released just three albums before their split. Now, Dexys is back.

Joe JacksonSongwriter Interviews

Joe talks about the challenges of of making a Duke Ellington tribute album, and tells the stories behind some of his hits.

Song CitiesMusic Quiz

Nirvana, Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen are among those who wrote songs with cities that show up in this quiz.