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Waltzing Matilda- Aussies Greatest Song

Updated on December 24, 2014

Once a Jolly Swagman . . .

Go to any event or any major celebration and you are bound to be rewarded with the outpouring of national pride in the Aussie's favorite song Waltzing Matilda. It's a simple ballad written by Banjo Patterson and sung to an old English tune but it means everything to a person from this country.

In fact, it almost made it to be our National Anthem only Advance Australia Fair was more appropriate. But some in the country are still pushing for it. One guy is getting a degree of publicity handing out how to vote for him to become a politician so he can make it happen.

That's because we are are something of a weird mob.

Along with our songs we have great pride in our animals and pictured is an emu who can be as tame as your cat and as mischievous as a monkey. Don't eat near one of these thieves or your picnic might go west along with it.

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Modern Swaggie looking for work
Modern Swaggie looking for work

A Genuine Swaggie

Once they were everywhere

Australia was a relatively poor country for a hundred and fifty years or more after first settlement and men would go bush looking for work on farms or to grab anything they could for survival. It is called the wide brown land for a very good reason, it is usually brown due to drought and irregular rainfall patterns, That makes farming difficult and it took place mainly in the temperate regions around Sydney and Melbourne before expanding into other regions.

The graziers who bred cattle and the sheep growers employed men known as swaggies in shearing sheds and as station hands. Their properties were located in the hot dryer parts of the country, either in Queensland, New South Wales or in the northern regions of Victoria in the very early days. Here the wool industry, which started Australia on the road to wealth, was the main attraction. It provided gainful employment for many bush wanderers.

Before transport improved, or even came into existence, the only way of getting from property to property was by foot and so gallant men set out and walked the many miles to the next job. Along the way they camped where they could and ate off the land. Around their fires at night they told yarns (stories), sang songs and dreamed of home.

Animals at an Aussie Billabong

One of the great joys of Australia are the unique animals. Many not seen anywhere else in the world, except perhaps in zoos. But here they come up to you, take food from your hand, often will sit on your lap and some (such as roos) can weigh a ton, and when you are not looking they can steal the picnic from under your nose.

Still they are loved, protected and rarely dangerous unless you threaten them. Even the snakes will run away rather than harm you unless you are a threat. So camping and sleeping in the bush is a marvelous thing to do.

The Long Paddock
The Long Paddock

Sheep, Driving to Markets and Shearing Them

Its all in a day's work for these guys.

Drovers drive their sheep or cattle along the major roads and highways to market or to other grazing properties and to shearing sheds, either on their own property or to team up with others. The familiar term for the verge beside the road along which they travel is called the 'long paddock'. During drought, such as the ten years of little rainfall which we are currently experiencing, the livestock are being moved around a great deal chasing whatever bit of greenery or water they can find.

Men are often recruited to help with these drives and to work on properties where they are labeled 'jackeroos, mainly because they are 'on the hop' so to speak. Now we also have 'jillaroos', their female counterparts. But now too we rarely see swagmen although there is one guy who has been walking with a swag for years. He does not buy food or anything much as he eats from the side of the road. He just trudges along day after day and has become somewhat of an icon to all who see or know of him.

This work is called hard "yakka", as we say in Australia. The men who did the job of shearing would have to travel hundreds of miles in a season to get work. So off they went with their backpack, or matildas as they were called. Camping here and there by rivers and ponds, called billabongs, they would boil up their billy and often pick off a lamb or two for dinner.

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Waltzing Matilda and Description - Enjoy the native animals

The Words of 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 till his billy boiled,

"Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda,

Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?"

And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled,

"Who'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 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 a squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred;

Down came the troopers, one, two, three:

"Who'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.

Who'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!"

A Genuine Aussie Billabong

Water lilies, for instance, have a bulb which aborigines claim is delicious. Trees contain witchetty grubs which supposedly are also very delicious, once you get past the squeamish bit. There are ants called 'honey pots' which have honey in their intestines and they expand like mini balloons. They simply put them in their mouths and press with the tongue to get honey out.(picture from Wikipedia open source)

This is a fascinating country and there is plenty of food to be had and yet white explorers died in the midst of this natural supermarket for want of food. They were mainly Europeans used to traditional western style food and when they could not find anything resembling that they simply starved to death. Burke and Wills died near a billabong that was full of yabbies, fish and other edibles. The water lilies in there could also have sustained them. Jumping around were kangaroos and other wildlife but they never shot one of them to eat.

Swagmen usually look for good tucker when on the road. They know the law means no stealing of local sheep or other livestock but who's to know if no one is around to spot them. A nice lamb cooked on the open fire just has to be too delicious to pass up.

WARNING: This video contains some colourful language from the blokes doing the cooking and eating.

Ned Kelly from Jail records
Ned Kelly from Jail records

Ned Kelly and Others Like Him

The underdog gains popularity

The fact that the swaggie is a loved icon in Australian folklore coupled with his rebellious nature for another's property sets the scene. We are a country that allows the little guy his place in the scheme of things and we often barrack for the underdog. That's what this story represents. Genuine Australians never sought to be rich but to get by and that often meant working jolly hard for every cent made. We are also basically an honest lot and until a few years ago it was more unusual to lock your front door than to leave it open when you went out.

My mother used to leave the key in the door day and night and if she took it out she left the backdoor unlocked and we could always get into the house, as could anyone else who had a mind. But the rich were a race apart. They lauded over those who had less and drove around in their fancy cars and lived in their big houses and there was an air of arrogance about many of them that Australians don't like. In that regard little has changed.

Genuine Aussies don't express pride in possessions as the rich do, we don't laud over others, as they tend to do, and we certainly don't rob anyone as those seeking riches tend to do. So when someone gets away with escaping the law because he takes from a rich guy they often applaud it as long as no one is hurt. We don't condone such activity but we understand it.

One of our most notorious criminals was a highway robber named Ned Kelly (1885 - 1888). He did everything, including wearing a hood of iron to shield his face from the law. His luck ran out when he shot three policemen and fought a fierce gun battle at a place called Glenrowan. He was arrested and tried. Sentenced to hang a death mask of his face was made and is still an icon in the history of Australia. Even today he is some kind of a national hero and yet he was a young man who probably had no intention of doing anyone any good. But, like the swaggie who stole the sheep he was the underdog.

That's what Australian's love about Waltzing Matilda.


Australian Icons

Our National pride

Australians love their icons, We have many we savor and let no one insult them. You can run down our politicians, call us names, degrade our way of life but don't ever think of touching, hurting or insulting our icons.

The Australian Government Foreign Affairs Dept has posted the following information about our national icons:-


"There is no absolute agreement on what constitutes a national icon-that elusive 'thing' or concept that is regarded as quintessentially Australian or instantly recognisable as uniquely Australian.

However, one thing is certain: stocktakes of popular Australiana are not limited to the great or the pompous and, in that sense, they reflect the innate irreverence and individualism of many Australians. What other country, for example, would include in its Olympic Games opening ceremony a sequence that commemorates mountain horsemen, a colonial fugitive and a humble backyard lawnmower, as Sydney did for the 2000 Olympics.

Most Australians would include on their lists of national icons natural wonders such as the Northern Territory's huge monolith, Uluru, man-made architectural marvels like the Sydney Opera House and the country's unique kangaroos and koalas. But their lists would be just as likely to include a cricketer named Don Bradman, a mighty racehorse called Phar Lap, a bushranger (outlaw) named Ned Kelly and a hat called Akubra, as well as the Aussie meat pie, vegemite, and a sponge cake square dipped in chocolate and coconut called a lamington."

Australia's High Country - A Taste of Australia

Everything from the proud map of Australia on t-shirts to the stars of the Southern Cross in this company's Eureka Flag gifts. They can be found in their Australian Souvenir T-Shirts section. They also carry Aussie pride gift packs and Australian t-shirts to fit the entire family.

Wear a shirt that says you love Australia. Australian Native T-Shirts carries a wide range of Ned Kelly T-Shirts, Singlets and Gifts - check out the full range of Ned Kelly Bushranger gear and be amazed at the designs and quality of these goods..

Something for the children (and of course adult sized children!) - browse the wonderful range of fluffy native animal plush toys including the ever popular kangaroo and koala toys, plush toy wombats, stuffed toy platypus and stuffed crocodile toys - sometimes other Aussie favourites might drop by too!

Fairies, Angels, Pixies, Faeries, Women from Legends and Fantasy art can be found in this range. Notable are the famous Amy Brown designs scattered throughout. You'll find a wide range of fantasy designs in fantastic hand dyed colours - something for everyone!

Still images from Dreamstime - click here

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© 2010 norma-holt


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    • norma-holt profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago

      @asereht1970: That's amazing. It's one of those tunes that bring Aussies to tears and fills them with pride. It's all about a thief after all, so that says a lot about us, doesn't it?

    • asereht1970 profile image


      4 years ago

      Last night, I watched an interview of the late Heath Ledger on youtube. He mentioned that Waltzing Matilda is popular in Australia. Today I read your lens about Waltzing Matilda. Great lens, very informative. Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Such a beautiful tribute lens. I should do my own about Croatia. Thank you for inspiring me :)

    • pheonix76 profile image


      6 years ago from WNY

      Love this song -- great lens! Thanks for sharing the information. :)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Love Aussie Folk Songs... For a long time it was my go-to music for house cleaning! Upbeat and fun.

      Saddest song ever ... "and the band played waltzing Matilda".

    • joannalynn lm profile image

      joannalynn lm 

      6 years ago

      I've had Waltzing Matilda running through my mind since I visited this lens Wednesday, and today is Friday! I hear it over and's stuck. Do you have an anecdote?

    • SayGuddaycom profile image


      6 years ago

      I grew up in Australia (big surprise) and I'm a little puzzled that you didn't warn people about the dangers of drop bears. Those things are vicious and can take the unsuspecting tourist by surprise ;)

    • UKGhostwriter profile image


      6 years ago

      So, was Matilda a Brit?

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      A great tribute, and I loved the black swans.

    • VeseliDan profile image


      6 years ago

      I love Waltzing Matilda! *blessed*

    • domjohnson lm profile image

      domjohnson lm 

      6 years ago

      Waltzing Matilda is a classic. I love it! :)

    • joannalynn lm profile image

      joannalynn lm 

      6 years ago

      We sang Waltzing Matilda but we loved the Kookaburra song even more. Do you know the song I'm referring to? Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree...? I even have a book about the bird that was my brother's favourite, it must be 40 years old. It seems there is another song we sang over and over, but it's late, and my brain power is waning. Your lens is bringing back such sweet childhood memories. Thanks :).

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I remember this song as a kid....pretty awesome facts about the song! great lens!

    • KimGiancaterino profile image


      6 years ago

      I learned this song in grade school and still love to hear it.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Very cool!

    • BunnyFabulous profile image


      6 years ago from Central Florida

      I've known Waltzing Matilda since I was a young child. My dad had sung it at sleepaway camp when he was a boy, and then taught it to us kids. My family's not Australian, but we love the song. Thanks for the background about it and all the fascinating Australia facts.

    • blessedmomto7 profile image


      6 years ago

      My kids loved the animal videos!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Once, a group we were with in an old train ride and dinner just burst into this Matilda song and we all joined in. It was fun.

    • flycatcherrr profile image


      6 years ago

      Ah, that song always makes me go weepy.

    • SecondHandJoe LM profile image

      SecondHandJoe LM 

      6 years ago

      First time hearing it for me! Wonderful song, really fascinating lens- Loved the videos.Congratulations!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      What a beautiful tribute to Australia. Thank you!

    • cynthiannleighton profile image


      6 years ago

      I enjoyed your lens! The honey filled ants intrigues me. I wonder if that's part of the "locusts and honey" that John the Baptist ate. Great photo choices. And I remember hearing Waltzing Matilda in younger years. Good job.

    • FionaCarroll profile image

      Fiona Carroll 

      6 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      "Once a jolly jumbuck camped by a billabong, under the shade of a coolabah tree", is going to be stuck in my head for the remains of the day. Hehehe. Great lens! Congrats from a fellow Orstrayleyen!

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image


      7 years ago

      I remember this from when I was a child. Then I was astounded the first time I heard it sung properly. Amazing song.

    • profile image

      Pete Schultz 

      8 years ago

      As kids, we were often introduced to UK culture because of the proximity to Canada, I live within a stones throw. We learned Waltzing Matilda, got a basic concept of Australia and then spent the disco era listening to the Bee Gees....followed by Men at Work and so on. But the Aussie bit that sticks in my head is a 60's ditty called "Tie me Kangaroo down."

    • KarenHC profile image


      8 years ago from U.S.

      Fun lens to read! We learned "Waltzing Matilda" in grade school (in the northern U.S.) and it was always fun to sing :-) I remember learning what some of the terms meant, but never could quite figure out what exactly "waltzing matilda" meant, and the YouTube video does explain it.

      Yabbies look like our local crayfish (or crawdads) that live in streams.

    • davemin profile image


      8 years ago

      nice lens thouroughly enjoyed the read I am one who would have like this as our national anthem .Have never tried a witchity grub but we used them for bait when we fished in the river. Thankyou for your blessing.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I heard a reference to Waltzing Matilda just last week when I was watching an old episode of "House" (it's a TV program about doctors and one of the doctors is Australian). I was going to look it up because I had never heard of it before, but then I forgot. And now I land on your lens and can now say I've heard Waltzing Matilda. :-)

    • Spook LM profile image

      Spook LM 

      9 years ago

      I have just returned from doing a bit of swagging in Australia, albeit a more luxurious form. Great place, great people, I had a ball. Advance Australia Fair, but I prefer good old Waltzing Matilda. I'm actually hoping to get in.

    • paperfacets profile image

      Sherry Venegas 

      9 years ago from La Verne, CA

      I enjoyed this. Thanks

    • justholidays profile image


      9 years ago

      What a pleasure to learn more bout the Australian National Anthem!

      I love the name Aussies chose for the song! Watzling Matilda... so nice! It also does sound sweeter to a French-speaking person than the Brabanonne, lol.

      Blessed by a SquidAngel.

    • norma-holt profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      @aka-rms: Wow, thank you Robin for that honor

    • Elle-Dee-Esse profile image

      Lynne Schroeder 

      9 years ago from Blue Mountains Australia

      Great lens - I'm lensrolling to all my Aussie lenses. Wonder if everyone gets Russell Coight

    • aka-rms profile image

      Robin S 

      9 years ago from USA

      Thanks for sharing this. It's being featured at the Showcase blog today.

    • norma-holt profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      @Paleo: you will find John Williamson's version of this song on this site under the heading of Spirit of Australia. Enjoy

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I really love the song written by Eric Bogle which 'waltzing matilda' is used at the end. It's called 'And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda' and is about the horrors and futility of World War 1. I think the Pogues made a version a few years back. Wonderful. Check it out if you can find it. if WM brings a tear to your eye, this will have you bawling!

    • KangarooJase1 profile image


      9 years ago

      This is the great thing about these songs. No matter where in the world we are, we hear this and many others of our classic Australian songs, we know know we have a piece of 'home' with us

    • JenOfChicago LM profile image

      JenOfChicago LM 

      9 years ago

      Very interesting song - I had no idea of the history of it.

    • poptastic profile image

      Cynthia Arre 

      9 years ago from Quezon City

      Oh Norma my dad used to sing this to me as a child (we're not even Aussies, LOL) because we had a tapestry that had the lyrics and we have a lot of family who live down under. Thank you for telling me more about its background, it brought back fond memories of my childhood. *angel blessed*

    • Ramkitten2000 profile image

      Deb Kingsbury 

      9 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      What an interesting lens! I sure hope to make it to Australia someday and to stay for a long visit, to see and experience as much of your wonderful country as I can.

    • eclecticeducati1 profile image


      9 years ago

      I love this song! I'll have to admit, whenever I hear it now, I think of the tv show JAG. lol!!! There was an Aussie on the show for awhile and when he went back home to Australia, the cast started singing this song to him. lol!!! I know it's corny, but I loved the show and the song makes me think of it now. Blessed by an Angel! :)

    • StevenCousley profile image

      Steven Cousley 

      9 years ago from Young, NSW, Australia

      Very nice work on this lens Norma and thank you for the inclusion. Living in Australia sure gives us plenty of unique material to work with. :)

      P.S.: You're about to be lensrolled on my Aussie lenses

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image


      9 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      The song Waltzing Matilda has long been a favorite. We almost moved to Australia in 1971, so have been especially familiar with the song ever since. Also love "Tie Me Kangeroo Down", sport :).

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 

      9 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      Wonderful lens! I really enjoyed reading it and listening to the song!

    • Kylyssa profile image

      Kylyssa Shay 

      9 years ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      I love it! Funny and informative. I think the videos you chose are great, too.

    • mysticmama lm profile image

      Bambi Watson 

      9 years ago

      I'm a big Rolf Harris fan, love "tie me kangaroo down" so of course I love this lens!

      Blessed by a Squid Angel!

    • jennysue19 profile image


      9 years ago

      Amusing and informative - deserves a 5* rating

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      excellent many things to know..5 star from me.

    • maryspeller lm profile image

      maryspeller lm 

      9 years ago

      I really liked your lens. it was a great read, lots of different info and gave a really good picture of the unique character of Australia.


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