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History of Waltzing Matilda

Updated Fri 29 Sep 2023

History of Waltzing Matilda

Waltzing Matilda by Banjo Paterson Image sourced: All Gifts Australia

Waltzing Matilda has been labelled Australia's 'unofficial' national anthem. The song (originally a poem) was written by Australian poet, Banjo Paterson in the late 19th Century while he was staying at Dagworth Station, a cattle station near Winton in Central West Queensland. Based on a true story, it is about a man who lives in the Australian outback in his swag, where he gets himself into trouble by killing the sheep of a landowner nearby. While the song sounds like a 'boppy' tune, it actually has quite a dark meaning behind it.  

Artwork of Waltzing Matilda by Banjo Patterson
Image sourced: Culture Trip

The household song has a much more loaded history than many realise. It's not just about a swagman living in the bush. In the song, the man lives in the bush and sleeps under the stars (which is where the name comes from; 'Waltzing' meaning to travel by foot, and the 'Matilda' is his swag or tent). He captures and kills a sheep - or a jumbuck - as the song puts it, and finds himself face to face with a 'squatter' or rich landowner. The owner, clearly mad, gets the police after him. Rather than be captured, he kills himself in the nearby billabong or watering hole. While it all seems really straightforward and presents itself as a simple story of a man in trouble, it is actually referring to events that happened in the late 1800s involving a sheep shearers strike that turned violent and left a man dead.

Lyrics to Waltzing Matilda
Image sourced: Culture Trip 

As the true story goes, in 1891, Australia experienced a Great Sheep Shearer's Strike where several of the shearers went on strike and began firing their guns, killing over one hundred sheep. The sheep owner (represented as the squatter in the song) sent three policemen after one of the men (just as in the song). Rather than being taken alive the man shot and killed himself at Combo Waterhole, which is where the song is said to have been based.

The well-known Australian song is so famous that it even has its own museum, The Waltzing Matilda Centre in Winton, QLD. In fact, it is the first museum in the world which has been dedicated to a song. The centre celebrates the song and Waltzing Matilda music. It also has a display of photos and interactive art.


Waltzing Matilda in the Whitsundays

The name "Waltzing Matilda" is so iconic in Aussie culture that there is even a boat in the Whitsundays with the same name! The 60-foot ship runs overnight tours and sunset sails out into the stunning Coral Sea every week. You can even book this ship for a private charter as well! Combining Australian culture, history, sailing, and scenery, a sail out on Waltzing Matilda is an excellent way to spend your time in the Whitsundays


If you're a history buff and keen to learn about more Australia's past, book a sunset sail on one of our historic Australian Tallships by live chatting today or call +61 74914 2425 today!

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