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May 14, 2012
The original version of ‘Waltzing Matilda' was written by Banjo Paterson to a tune played to him by Christina Macpherson in January 1895 at Dagworth station in Western Queensland. The tune Christina played was ‘The Craigielee March' which was a variant of the Scottish song ‘Thou Bonnie Wood of Craigie-lea'.[i]
Australians know Waltzing Matilda, written by our most popular poet Banjo Paterson, as our most loved song and unofficial national anthem. What Australians don't know is that their song is embroiled in a web of secrecy, violence and a triangular love affair. Written at a pivotal time in Australia's history, Waltzing Matilda is as important to Australian culture as events like the Eureka Stockade and the story of Ned Kelly. In the middle of remote Queensland, shearing sheds were being burnt to the ground by striking union shearers, amid violent gun battles and sheep being burnt to death. A swagman mysteriously died beside a remote billabong, possibly shot by the squatter or one of the three policemen. Then a secret deal was done by unionists to conceal the truth of the swagman's death. Banjo Paterson becomes entangled in a love affair that destroys the lives of two women. This is the story of Waltzing Matilda.
One hundred and fifteen years after the writing of Waltzing Matilda, Australians continue to be fascinated with the song and sing it proudly wherever they meet to celebrate. Given the facts outlined in this story, they will be further captivated and embrace the song for decades to come.
For centuries many songs of protest like the treason songs written during early Australian settlement, were written as allegories, to disguise the subject matter of the song.
In the same simple tradition, many Australians, and people throughout the world, think Waltzing Matilda is a simple song about a petty thief stealing a sheep. A common misconception. Which more than likely prevented the song being selected as the National Anthem in the 1970s. But it is not a simple song! Written in simple language yes, but vividly pictorial and displaying much of our national characteristics. Created during an intense socio-political time, which embroiled the lives of many well know Australian families, from opposite ends of the political spectrum. Here we have the master poet at work, spontaneously continuing an oral tradition that was centuries old. Penning a quintessential Australian song as an allegory. Based on real events, using words that have created an Australian story that could not have been written in any other country.