Sunday, April 06, 2008

The true origins of Waltzing Matilda

Today according to Australian Eastern Standard Time when this item was posted
1895 AB 'Banjo' Paterson's song 'Waltzing Matilda' (with traditional tune first notated by Christina Macpherson) was first sung in public, at a Winton, Queensland, hotel. It is considered Australia's unofficial national anthem and is certainly its favourite song.

It relates the story of a swagman who steals a sheep and drowns himself when law enforcement arrives. The swaggie was a radical union organizer named Samuel 'Frenchy' Hoffmeister who had burned down a shearing shed (that's not Frenchy pictured, but he is a fair dinkum swaggie). There had been other arson attacks around this time, including the bombing of the SS Aramac by anarchist Larry Petrie (1893), the burning of the Paddle Steamer Rodney and the shooting of Billy McLean, both in August, 1894.

Banjo probably wrote it in January at Dagworth Station (a station is a ranch in Australia, as well as the usual meanings), which had been destroyed by arson on September 1, 1894, during the 1890s Depression when many pastoral labourers were 'on the wallaby', that is, tramping the outback roads looking for work, thus becoming 'swaggies' who carried their blankets and goods rolled in a 'swag' or 'bluey' ...

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