Waltzing Matilda-Peter Baskerville
Waltzing Matilda-Peter Baskerville
Waltzing Matilda-Peter Baskerville
Waltzing Matilda-Peter Baskerville
Waltzing Matilda-Peter Baskerville

Waltzing Matilda-Peter Baskerville

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Did you ever wonder about the history of Waltzing Matilda? Here's the history in glorious detail.

Text of Waltzing Matilda-Peter Baskerville

  • Peter Baskerville, Australian citizen.

    Waltzing Matilda is the act of carrying a swag and wandering aimlessly

    through the outback of Australia, looking for work as the need arose.

    According to Henry Lawson in The Romance of the Swag, 1907:

    Travelling with the swag in Australia is variously and picturesquely described

    as humping bluey, walking Matilda, humping Matilda, humping your

    drum, being on the wallaby, jabbing trotters, and tea and sugar

    burglaring, but most travelling shearers now call themselves travellers, and

    say they are simply on the track, or carrying swag.

    Now the term waltzing comes from the German expression Auf die Walz

    gehen which means to take to the road and rove as a journeyman carrying

    their tool-roll, often called their Mathilda.

    Apprentices in various trades or crafts in the Middle Ages, were required to

    serve an allotted period traveling around the country or outside of Germany

    gaining experience and new techniques for their trade. The apprentice gained

    employment with master craftsmen in various towns, earning their living as

  • they went and sleeping where he could. All this was part of the guild system

    for apprentice tradesmen and was not abolished until about 1911.

    Once their allotted time on the waltz was complete, the apprentice would

    report back to the master craftsman to secure their release to be able to

    practice as a tradesman. Waltzing then came to mean to travel while working

    as a craftsman. Waltzing About also became a colloquial term meaning to

    walk around aimlessly.

    The term Matilda is an old Germanic name meaning mighty battle maid,

    although more likely named Mathildas or Mechilde. It was initially a name

    given to female camp followers, but eventually it evolved into meaning to be

    kept warm at night. For most soldiers, this duty was performed by their large

    grey overcoat that they would wrapped around themselves. These coats were

    then rolled up and carried over their shoulder while they were marching.

    In Australia then, Matilda became a mock-romantic word for a swag and so to

    waltz matilda was to hit the road with a swag on your back. In the Australian

    bush, Matilda became a slang term to mean the de facto wife who

    accompanied a wanderer and was their sleeping partner. For the vast majority

    of swagmen, their Matilda was their warm blue blankets.

    So, Waltzing Matilda means to wander the Australian outback from place to

    place in search of work (Waltzing) with ones sleeping blanket (Matilda) and

    belongings wrapped up as a swag.

    Waltzing Matilda's meaning to Australians

    Waltzing Matilda is Australias national song ... our unofficial national anthem

    This tune this poem this song. It is an Australian legacy, suckered from our

    mothers milk. We were born into it. It surrounded us and comforted us as a

    certitude, as we struggled to find our own identity. Though its original context

    is shrouded in mystery, this 120 year old song strangely defines us as a people.

  • It was a part of our make-up and psyche long before we could sing the song or

    recite the words. It stands alone as the icon that speaks to us Aussies of our

    home among the gum trees. Most Aussies have only a limited understanding

    of its context yet can still identify fully with its sentiment. Waltzing Matilda has

    truly become Australias national song and who better to sing it and remind us

    of our great heritage, than the late great country legend, Slim Dusty.

    It may be ironic to the rest of the world that our song should be about a free-

    spirited drifter who took a gleeful opportunistic chance at a free feed, yet

    when accosted by the wealthy landowner and the police, chose a suicidal

    death over the loss of a free life wandering carefree through the outback of

    Australia. But to the average egalitarian, underdog supporting, non-privileged,

    resourceful, authority defiant, freedom loving Aussie it makes perfect sense.

    Some may have incorrectly called it waltzing mathilda or walzing matilda,

    but whatever you call it, the sound and the words still smell as sweet.

    Believe it or not, but Australias national song and poem Waltzing Matilda, is

    actually a wildly romantic invitation. Wholl come a waltzing matilda with me

    is an invitation to live the life we dare not.

    A life carefree and unattached, without the dragging anchors of


    A life of enjoying simple pleasures like having a fresh cup of billy tea

    while sitting in the shade of a tree on the banks of a cool reflective pond.

    A life so jolly that a song fills every vacant moment.

    A life of no responsibilities apart from the need to secure your next


    A life with no boss and no one telling you what to do, yet not lonely for

    the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him[1]

    A life lived beneath the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars[1] by

    night and the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended[1] by day.

  • A life of scented eucalyptus on the murmur of the breezes[1], and an

    ear attuned to the distinctive bush songs of the silver-voiced bell birds

    and the laughing chorus of kookaburras

    Is it any wonder then, that when faced with the loss of this free life, that the

    Aussie swagman would chose death over a life lived in custody. Its not quite

    up there with Emiliano Zapatas statement It is better to die on your feet than

    live on your knees but the message from the Aussie swagman is the same. It is

    this belief in freedoms importance to the Australian way of life, that has seen

    hundreds of thousands of our countrymen go to war in defence of that

    freedom, with over 100,000 of them making the ultimate sacrifice.

    Australians know full well, that as one of the most urbanized nations in the

    world and being a part of the western capitalist system, that we can never take

    up the swagmans romantic invitation. We want to so much but we just cant

    see how we can come waltzing matilda with him through the Australian

    outbacks wide open spaces, but it is fun every so often to pretend that we

    could. Singing this poem reminds us of the possibility of a simpler happier life

    as depicted by the swagman and the pertinent lesson that a life without

    freedom is no life at all.

    As Bevan Potter says in his family blog about his German heritage:

    So, dont be disillusioned if you sometimes feel that you want to leave your

    secure job, pack your bag and go on the road, because you are simply feeling

    some genetic urge to do exactly as your ancestors did, it is why you are


    There are other strong emotions tied to this poem that are peculiarly

    Australian; like always siding with the underdog and any Aussie down on their

    luck; like the healthy suspicion we have of the motives of those in authority

    and our support for the lovable rogues that stand up to them; like a general

    disdain for the privileged, silver-spooners and unfairly advantaged who where

    gifted a life without having to work hard for it like the rest of us did; and the

    pettiness of an establishment that could condemn a man for taking one sheep

    in ten thousand, just as the English judges made an Australian convict of a man

    that stole a loaf of bread to feed a hungry family. Australians are bigger than

  • that, and in this poem, as in our way of life we are on the jolly swagmans

    side and not the establishments.

    For Australians, the swagman never dies. He speaks to us constantly in his

    ghostly call contained in the lines of the poem. He asks us the same question

    time after time; Wholl come a Waltzing Matlda with me? and entreats us to

    consider this simpler happier life where possessions do not own us, where

    generosity of spirit and the mateship principles of the Aussie sawgman apply

    while being ever vigilant in the defence of the freedom we still enjoy.

    As Heather Blakey says:

    The ghost of the swagman may be found in the faces of the pioneers who

    settled the Never Never; in the eyes of the hardened shearing unionist who

    paved the way for Unionism in Australia; within the defiance of the Anzac

    storming the beaches of Gallipoli; in the stride of the Bondi life-saver and in the

    face of the determined protester thumbing his nose at government officials and


    [1] Extracts from "Clancy of the Overflow" - a poem by the same author as

    Waltzing Matilda - Banjo Patterson.