Waltzing Matilda

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Australia’s best-known bush ballad and has been described as the country’s “unofficial national anthem”. This is the poem as it was originally written.

Sound Design by Caetlyn McLean
Music by Paul Danger McLean

This poem is full of words that are unique to Australia. Here are what they actually mean:

waltzing – derived from the German term auf der Walz, which means to travel while working as a craftsman and learn new techniques from other masters.

Matilda – a romantic term for a swagman’s bundle.

swagman – a man who travelled the country looking for work. The swagman’s “swag” was a bed roll that bundled his belongings.

billabong – a watering hole.

coolibah tree – a kind of eucalyptus tree which grows near billabongs.

jumbuck – a sheep

billy – a can for boiling water in, usually 2–3 pints (1–1.5L)

tucker bag – a bag for carrying food (“tucker”).

squatter – Australian squatters started as early farmers who raised livestock on land which they did not legally have the right to use; in many cases they later gained legal use of the land even though they did not have full possession, and became wealthy thanks to these large land holdings. The squatter’s claim to the land may be as uncertain as the swagman’s claim to the jumbuck.


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