A tribute to our national song “Waltzing Matilda” - Lyrics by A.B. (Banjo) Paterson

© Brenda Joy

Winner, 2012 ‘Mudgee Valley Writers 13th Bicentennial Award for Adult Poetry’, Mudgee, NSW.

A jumbuck-duffing swagman camped by billabong one day

came into conflict with the law, then gave his life away.

Is this a song that we should sing to glorify our land –

too silly for an anthem theme, too old to understand?

But is there deeper meaning cloaked in metaphor and rhymes,

an allegory of events depicting troubled times?

The era of its origin saw discord running rife

as landowners and shearers fought to keep their way of life.

An epoch of depression reigned throughout our southern world.

When price of wool hit lowest point fierce passions were unfurled.

With workers struggling to attain some very basic rights,

the use of ‘blackleg’ labour led to protest, strikes and fights.

When desperation spurred the bulk of shearers to rebel

and burn down woolsheds, arms were used to stifle and to quell

defiant outbreak of revolt.   Then into all this fray

solicitor , come bard , was called, who’d often passed that way. (i)

And through his mediation came solutions they could test

whilst through his simple lyrics came a song to ease unrest.

For in amongst legalities, when lunch times came around,

McPherson’s sister, sweet Christina, played a tune she’d found. (ii)

And in amongst diverse accounts regarding Dagworth’s role

were rumours of a man found dead beside a water hole. (iii)

A roving shearer thought to have committed suicide,

our ‘Banjo’ used as symbol of rebellion, guts and pride.

With many forced to take up swags — for work could not be found —

It was ideal to weave a story ‘round a victim drowned.

A bloke preferring freedom’s way with spirit unsuppressed

evoked compelling images to vitalise a quest.


Our song has echoed through the years of comradeship in wars,

has held together troops that fought on hostile, foreign shores.

It will resound in distant lands wherever Aussies roam

and always it will stir the heart and conjure thoughts of home.

For all of our achievements we will waltz “…Matilda” loud.

We’ll share it round the campfire’s glow and roar it in the crowd.

We may be called a ‘weirdo’ mob to sing of suicide,

but being criticised just serves to rouse our Aussie pride.

For what was true in ‘Banjo’s’ time is relevant today,

as honest people fight the banks and have to walk away;

as foreign interests intervene and global systems strive

to steal our hard won heritage to keep our dreams alive.

It doesn’t matter where we’re from, the outback or the crowd,

we’ll honour our uniqueness as a country young and proud,

and we will welcome to our shores all those who yearn to be

allowed to live the Aussie way —  at liberty and free.

The swaggie stands for battlers, right of choice, heroic deeds,

egalitarians embracing democratic creeds,  

who’ll challenge life’s inequities and rise to heed the call

expressed within the nation’s song that ‘Banjo’ gave us all.