DESCRIPTION: A swagman (hobo) camps by a pool. He sees a sheep come down to drink, and grabs it. He is spotted by (three troopers/the landowner), who call on him to justify his actions. Rather than face up to his crime, the swagman drowns himself in the pool
AUTHOR: words almost certainly by A. B. "Banjo" Paterson (1864-1941) / original tune fitted (and possibly adapted) by Christina MacPherson; common tune further adapted by Marie Cowan
EARLIEST DATE: probably 1895 (reported date Paterson and Christina Macpherson combined text and tune, although the manuscript is not dated); certainly by 1903 (sheet music by Marie Cowan published)
KEYWORDS: sheep suicide robbery ghost rambling
FOUND IN: Australia US
REFERENCES (20 citations):
Meredith/Anderson-FolkSongsOfAustralia, pp. 73-74, 95, "Waltzing Matilda" (2 texts, 1 tune, the latter being a fragment of a bawdy version)
Fahey-Eureka-SongsThatMadeAustralia, pp. 234-235, "The Blackboy's Waltzing Matilda" (1 text, 1 tune -- a pidgin English semi-parody)
Paterson/Fahey/Seal-OldBushSongs-CentenaryEdition, pp. 308-310, "Black Boy's Waltzing Matlida" (1 text -- the same adaption as the preceding)
Grigson-PenguinBookOfBallads 119, "Waltzing Matilda' (1 text)
Henry/Huntingdon/Herrmann-SamHenrysSongsOfThePeople H566, pp. 122-123, "Waltzing Matilda" (1 text, 1 tune -- but collected from Australian children rather than Ulster natives)
Manifold-PenguinAustralianSongbook, pp. 160-163, "Waltzing Matilda" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Ward-PenguinBookOfAustralianBallads, pp. 180-181, "Waltzing Matilda" (1 text)
Stewart/Keesing-FavoriteAustralianBallads, p. 195, "Waltzing Matilda" (1 text)
Shay-BarroomBallads/PiousFriendsDrunkenCompanions, pp. 122-124, "Australian Highwayman's Song" (1 text, 1 tune)
Fireside-Book-of-Folk-Songs, p. 216, "Waltzing Matilda" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber/Silber-FolksingersWordbook, p. 339, "Waltzing Matilda" (1 text)
Fuld-BookOfWorldFamousMusic, pp. 619-620, "Waltzing Matilda"
ADDITIONAL: A. B. "Banjo" Paterson, "The Works of 'Banjo' Paterson" [with an anonymous introduction], Wordsworth Poetry Library, 1995, p. 207, "Waltzing Matildal" (1 text)
Richard Magoffin, _Waltzing Matilda: The Story Behind the Legend_, 1983; revised and illustrated edition, ABC Enterprises, 1987, p. 5 (epigraph page), "Waltzing Matilda" (1 text, from Pateron's "Saltbush Bill J. P. and Other Verses"); in photo insert following p. 74 is an image of Christina MacPherson's original MS.; p. 116 has a different MacPherson manuscript; p. 83 has a cover of the 1903 sheet music with arrangement by Marie Cowan, with p. 105 showing the sheet music itself
Matthew Richardson, _Once a Jolly Swagman: The Ballad of Waltzing Matilda_, Melbourne University Press, 2006, pp. 1-2, "Waltzing Matilda Carrying a Swag" (1 text); pp. 210-211, "Waltzing Matilda/'A Modern Version'" (1 text); pp. 68-69 give a low-quality version of the MacPherson MS.; pp. 115-116 give a short text and partial tune of "The Bold Fusilier"; p. 124 has the "Buderim/Queensland" tune; pp. 126-127 reprints the Cowan sheet music
W. Benjamin Lindner, _Waltzing Matilda: Australia's Accidental Anthem: A Forensic History_, Boolarong Press, 2019, on p. 43 has a photo of the manuscript of Paterson's first draft; p. 54 has MacPherson's draft of the tune, p. 55 her full transcription with Paterson's text, p. 56 another MacPherson manuscript
Dennis O'Keeffe, _Waltzing Matilda: The Secret History of Australia's Favourite Song_, Allen & Unwin, 2012, pp. 250-251, gives Marie Cowan's text
A. K. MacDougall, _An Anthology of Classic Australian Lore_ (earlier published as _The Big Treasury of Australian Foiklore_), The Five Mile Press, 1990, 2002, p. 301, "Waltzing Matilda" (1 text)
Bill Beatty, _A Treasury of Australian Folk Tales & Traditions_, 1960 (I use the 1969 Walkabout Paperbacks edition), p. 10, "Waltzing Matilda" (1 text)
John Greenway, "Waltzing Matilda" (on JGreenway01)
A. L. Lloyd, "Waltzing Matilda" (on Lloyd4, Lloyd10)
cf. "The Bold Fusilier" (form)
O'er the Hills of Sicily (File: Hopk036)
Ops in a Wimpey (File: Hopk126)
NOTES [7906 words]: For some reason, I've had more mail about this song than any other in the Index. (And it can't be just an Australian thing, because no one has written to me about Ned Kelly.) I'll start with what Keith McKenry wrote:
Virtually every aspect of this song -- its historical basis, its words, its tune(s) - has been the subject of disputation, although there is now consensus among scholars on the following basic facts:
1. While visiting Dagworth station (a pastoral holding in outback Queensland) in 1895, the poet A.B. (Banjo) Paterson heard a tune hummed and played on the autoharp by Miss Christina McPherson, sister of station manager Robert McPherson. [Dagworth is on the Diamantina River, a wide, marshy stream that had many water holes. The nearest important town seems to have been Winton, but it was a long way away. Robert MacPherson managed Dagworth from 1884 to 1907; May, p. 14.]
2. Miss McPherson indicated she had heard the tune some time previously at a race meeting in Warrnambool in Victoria, played by a local band. She understood the tune was called "The Bonnie Wood of Craigielea." (A ballad of this name by Robert Tannahill of Scotland was set to music by Robert Barr in the early 1800s and, according to Magoffin, a march arrangement by Gordon Parker was performed at the Warnambool races on 24 April 1894. [For this cf. Magoffin, pp. 28-29; he however cautions that the tunes are significantly different. On p. 38, Magoffin describes the evidence that the song was played at Warnambool. - RBW.] At Dagworth Miss McPherson rendered the tune from memory.
3. While at Dagworth Paterson wrote words to fit Miss McPherson's tune. The words he wrote were those of the poem/song "Waltzing Matilda."
4. Paterson's setting of McPherson's tune was quickly picked up and sung around the district, including at the Winton races on 24 and 25 May 1895.
5. At these races Christina McPherson wrote out and gave to family friends the Barlams the song's words and music. (This manuscript only came to light in 1971. Its authenticity has since been verified by, for example, by the National Library of Australia, which included it in its recent major exhibition of treasures from the world's libraries.) [That date is slightly uncertain, e.g. Lindner, p. 211, dates the discovery "around 1972" - RBW.]
6. Following the Winton race meeting the song travelled further afield, entering oral tradition. In the process the song's words (and possibly also its tune) evolved through the "folk process." The major change was that Paterson's wimpish "drowning himself by the Coolibah tree" in the last verse gave way to the more defiant "'You'll never catch me alive!' said he."
7. The song first appeared on sheet music in 1903, published in Sydney by James Inglis & Co. While the lyrics were attributed to Paterson they were in fact the "folk processed' words (possibly with additional textual changes introduced by the publisher); the music was cited as being "arranged' by Marie Cowan. Cowan was the spouse of Mr. W. Cowan, James Inglis & Co.'s Manager. (Cowan's version has similarities with, but is distinct from, the tune in the McPherson manuscript. The extent to which the Cowan version reflects the tune as it evolved through oral transmission, and the extent to which it incorporates changes introduced by Mrs. Cowan, is not known. While Mr. Cowan later claimed the sheet music tune was entirely his wife's composition, its similarities with that in the 1895 McPherson manuscript suggests "arrangement' was indeed the more appropriate term.) The sheet music version became the standard rendering of the song.
8. Paterson gave his approval to the 1903 sheet music text and music. Fourteen years later he included his original text as a poem in his book Saltbush Bill J.P. and Other Verses.
9. An entirely different tune, set to Paterson's original 1895 lyric, was obtained in the early 1950s by John Manifold from John O'Neill, who later indicated he had heard his father singing it around 1912. This is known as the Queensland, or sometimes the "Buderim," version.
There have been suggestions the song predates 1895, and so was, at best, modified by Paterson. Certainly, it is possible that Paterson, either consciously or unconsciously, drew upon an earlier song in writing his text. Claims however that the song itself predates Paterson rely upon second-hand accounts of persons who claim to remember hearing it prior to 1895 [in particular one Rufus Perrin, who claimed his father had known the song in the 1870s; Lindner, p. 211. This obviously amounts to hearsay evidence - RBW]. No documentary evidence to support this proposition has come to light, and these days the claim is given little credence.
In 1941 the suggestion was raised via the Sydney Bulletin that the tune and word structure of Waltzing Matilda is based upon a song "The Bold Fusilier' which, on account of its reference to the Duke of Marlborough, was assumed to date from the early 1700s. Several correspondents attested to the song's existence. One claimed to have heard it as a child in England, another to have heard it in Australia from his grandfather. The tune was said to be recognisable as that used for Waltzing Matilda, and while only one verse and a chorus of the text were remembered in either case, a strong structural resemblance to that song was apparent. Unfortunately, extensive efforts by scholars to trace the song have thus far been fruitless, and no full text, musical notation or other documentary evidence of its existence prior to 1895 has come to light.
The "Bold Fusilier' vs "Craigilea' debate impacts hardly at all on Paterson's claim to authorship. Should further research establish the existence of the Bold Fusilier prior to 1895, then obviously it is a possibility that Paterson knew of it and drew upon its word structure in writing Waltzing Matilda. A number of Australian bush songs are parodies, and so such a circumstance would be unremarkable. Regarding the Bold Fusilier tune we can say little, for at present the only version of it we have dates from the 1940s, some four decades after the publication of the Cowan tune for Waltzing Matilda. In that time all manner of opportunity existed for failures or tricks of memory to occur.
For these various reasons, the consensus in Australia is clear: Paterson wrote the words in 1895 to a tune played from memory by Christina McPherson, and subsequently both text and tune evolved in oral transmission. Further changes may have been introduced consciously at the time the song was published as sheet music in 1903. - KM
The above was written in response to my original rather caustic comments about the authorship of "Waltzing Matilda." I must admit that I still have some misgivings. And, being the editor, I get to rebut....
Also, I want to thank W. Benjamin Lindner, author of one of the books cited below, for corrections and suggestions.
First, I think it likely that "The Bold Fusilier" is an authentic folk song, and most unlikely that it was composed after "Waltzing Matilda" -- although May, p. 17, cites Ann Gilchrist's opinion that the song was popular rather than folk; she thinks it real but does not think that a folk song of that era would have used this rhythmic pattern. Nor do I regard it as believable that this stanza form would have been evolved independently by Paterson. Of course, the likeliest explanation is that he wrote his text to fit a Christina MacPherson's tune, so that's no argument; the real question is whether "The Bold Fusilier" influenced "Waltzing Matilda" or if the two are independent.
Richardson, pp. 113-116, outlines an hypothesis that the "Bold Fusilier" tune, being about the War of the Spanish Succession, was somehow associated with the Germans who went "auf der walz" with their "matildas" more on that below). I think this most unlikely -- but I agree with the statement on p. 116 that "The Bold Fusilier" is "So close... to 'Waltzing Matilda' that a direct creative link is indisputable." The only question is, which influenced the other? Richardson, p. 117, mentions several early allusions to 'The Bold Fusilier," and on p. 214 mentions a claim that Kathleen Cooper heard part of it from her grandfather, who had it from his grandfather (born c. 1760) -- but she never got to hear the whole song, apparently because it was dirty. None of these mentions is individually particularly compelling (since they're all after the fact); it is only collectively, and when combined with the fact that the song only makes sense when referring to the War of the Spanish Succession, that the claim that it is early becomes strong. It should be admitted, though, that all mentions of the tune are post-Waltzing Matilda. So it is theoretically possible that there was an old "Bold Fusilier" text which used a different tune, and that it picked up the "Waltzing Matilda" tune later.
On the other hand, the claim that Christina MacPherson must have known "Thou Bonnie Woods of Craigilie" has its problems too. It is true that she attended an event, the 1894 Warrnambool races, where it was played (the photo insert following p. 150 of O'Keeffe shows the program for the race she attended, although not the list of songs; Richardson, p. 118, has the musical program, on which the march "Craigielea" is listed). That's strong evidence, although not quite proof, that she heard the piece. But....
Anyone who knows anything about human memory knows that the fact that Christina MacPherson once heard "Craigielea" does *not* mean she would remember it based on that one hearing; this is extraordinarily unlikely. If anything, she would remember a tune she actually knew which sounds a little like "Craigielea." We know that the tune she actually played was not identical to the one she would have heard (Richardson, p. 25), though Lindner offers evidence that the differences are slight. To put it another way, although there is good reason to think MacPherson heard "Craigilie," there is every reason to think she remembered something more familiar which sounded a bit like "Craigilie" -- which might (or might not) be "The Bold Fusilier." Richardson, p. 119, explains the differences between MacPherson's tune and "Craigilie" (and, for that matter, the differences between MacPherson's tune and the common version of "Waltzing Matilda") as due to the effects of oral tradition. Possible, but the amount of assimilation is curious. Richardson's conclusion, p. 119, is that "However firmly common sense says 'Fusilier', historical research keeps saying 'Craigilee'" ("Craigiliee" being the name Godfrey Parker used for his arrangement of "Thou Bonnie Woods of Craigielea" that converted it to a march; Richardson, pp. 119-120). The difference is that I don't trust memories as much as Richardson does.
This does not affect Paterson's authorship of the lyrics of "Waltzing Matilda" in any way, of course, merely the source of the tune that was used. But I think dependence a practical certainty.
It strikes me as curious that Paterson wrote this piece for music, but his other poetry is just that: Poetry, and rarely in a style suitable for folk song (although he did create the text of a play, "Club Life," that had music added by Ernest E. P. Truman; Lindner, p. 200). Indeed, O'Keeffe, p. 242, says he was tone deaf! (O'Keeffe argues that this means that Christina MacPherson must have had more to do with writing the song than is usually admitted, but this is true only if words and music were created at the same time -- and that is only possible with a singable tune, which the tune as transcribed by MacPherson is not.) In 1956, Russell Ward pointed out that the song is unlike anything else Paterson wrote (Richardson, p. 150), and although Richardson, p. 182, suggests that this is merely Paterson being whimsical and preserving local words, he does mention some words Paterson does not use elsewhere (including "jumbuck" and, indeed, "waltzing Matilda"). Some have taken it as evidence that Paterson did not write the poem; I would instead consider it support for the hypothesis that Paterson was influenced by something older.
John Meredith met informants who claimed *their* sources (fathers) knew the song before Paterson's composition. None of these claims can be verified, and all are secondhand -- but of course written records of Australian folk songs before 1895 are quite rare. We might also mention that May, pp. 38-40, has a whole list of variants on the received story that were told by his witnesses, although I think May is correct to dismiss all of them; they generally don't make chronological sense.
There are scholars, such as John Greenway, who clearly did not believe in Paterson's authorship (although, ironically, when Greenway recorded the song, he used words that in some ways were closer to Paterson's than is the received text). Learmonth, p. 408, says that Paterson's alleged authorship of Waltzing Matilda is uncertain, and p. 569 quotes Oscar Mendelsohn's A Waltz with Matilda as attributing the music to one Harry Nathan and doubting Paterson's authorship of the words. Even John Meredith had his doubts. Most of these stated their opinions before the MacPherson manuscript was discovered. But the manuscript, while it strengthened the arguments on the pro-Paterson side, did not weaken those on the anti- side. (Lindner, p. 7, observes that the MacPherson manuscript is undated. While there isn't really any doubt that MacPherson and Paterson started the chain of transmission, there is real doubt as to when they did so.)
Thus, despite Keith McKenry's well-researched statements above, I still consider the matter slightly open -- especially with regard to the tune; my feeling is that MacPherson's tune is not a modified form of "Craigilie" but rather "The Bold Fusilier."
Another possibility, which I have not seen mentioned, is that Paterson included some fragments of an existing song into a largely new composition based on a local event. This frankly feels right to me -- it would explain the informants who thought they knew the song before 1895 -- but again there is no evidence whatsoever for it.
There is also the interesting fact that there are variations in the tune and chorus form. Manifold, p. 122, recalls learning the piece: "Not very long before Mr. May's book came out, John O'Neil of Buderim gave me a totally different version. His version was nothing like 'Craigielie', but his words were Paterson's own, as published in Saltbush Bill J.P. in 1917. Yet he had good reason to remember learning both tune and words from his father in 1915, before Saltbush Bill J.P. came out.
MacDougall, p. 300, declares that "The tune of the 'Queensland' version has a bouncier melody than the slow one sung in the south." Magoffin, p. 81, explains the "Queensland" tune, as having arisen from the piano playing of one Josephine Pene, which, like everything else in this story, is possible -- but requires a lot of people to remember a minor performer's piano playing! If Pene did learn the tune, it was from someone close to the source: she had an illegitimate son by Bob MacPherson, Christina MacPherson's older brother, who managed the Dagworth station until it failed in 1906 (Richardson, p. 82).
For more on Christina MacPherson -- specifically her infancy -- see the notes to "The Death of Morgan."
Christina MacPherson had more to do with the song than just supplying the tune -- she was the link that brought Banjo Paterson to Dagworth, where many claim wrote his text (although MacPherson later recalled teaching Paterson the tune at Winton, not Dagworth; Lindner, pp. 233-234). Christina was a friend of Sarah Riley, who was engaged to Paterson (Richardson, p. 26, says they had been engaged for eight years, which tells us either how little money Paterson had at the time or how unwilling he was to commit; Lindner, p. 34, based on what is known of their respective schedules, thinks he rarely actually saw Riley!); Paterson, who had just had his first book published (Manifold, p. 118), went to the MacPherson home at Dagworth when Riley paid a holiday visit to her friend (Magoffin, p. 40; Richardson, p. 42, suggests that some of Paterson's memories of this trip influenced his novel An Outback Marriage).
Most students of the song have dated the meeting of Paterson and MacPherson to January 1895. However, Lindner, pp. 158-159, says that Christina, her sister Jean, and her widowed father Ewen did not set out for Dagworth until June 1, 1895, and probably arrived around June 20 -- in other words, in Australian winter, not Australian summer -- and Paterson wasn't there yet. (Lindner, p. 227, adds that neither Paterson nor MacPherson ever said the song was written at Dagworth; that claim is from secondary sources. However, it must have been written at about the time they visited Dagworth, because that was the only time they were together.)
May, p. 16, makes an observation that is relevant to Lindner's point, although he does not draw the conclusion: In January the ranch workers tended to work early and late to avoid the extreme summer heat. There was little time or energy for the evening conversation which allegedly inspired Paterson. In June, when temperatures were cooler, it would have been much easier to tell stories such as those which supposedly underlie the song.
Despite being engaged, O'Keeffe, p. 13, suggests that Paterson had a "love affair" with Christina MacPherson. Lindner, p. 40, reprints a newspaper article headed "How Banjo won Christina's heart." There seems to have been a tradition in the MacPherson family that she at least was interested in him, and this tradition has some support from the Riley family (Lindner, pp. 40-41). The one thing that is certain is that he never married Riley, who moved to England after they split (Richardson, p. 83; O'Keeffe, p. 243); when he finally wed, it was to Alice Walker, eight years after his visit to Dagworth (O'Keeffe, p. 14. It probably won't surprise readers that Paterson the skirt-chaser was 39 when he married, his bride just 26; Lindner, p. 207).
No one seems to have offered any direct evidence that Paterson was interested in MacPherson. And I'm not convinced that the fact that MacPherson never married is evidence; by 1895, she was 31 and already arguably a spinster, and by all accounts quite introverted; with that history; there is no need to postulate a broken romance with Paterson to explain why she remained single. (Interestingly, three of her brothers never married either; May, p. 26. That's out of nine MacPherson children.) Her letters show that she didn't even know how to spell Paterson's name (she spelled it "Patterson"; see Lindner, p. 233.) And Lindner, p. 171, believes that Paterson may only have been at Dagworth for a week, and certainly no more than six; that would have to be one fast fling! On this basis, Lindner, p. 172, conjectures that the song was written some time between August 11 and August 31, 1895.
What's more, MacPherson and Riley were still engaged in friendly correspondence more than twenty years later (Lindner, p. 190). What are the odds of that if MacPherson had broken up Riley's engagement?
O'Keeffe's suggestion of an affair with MacPherson may derive from Paterson's second book An Outback Marriage (published in 1900; Lindner, p. 204) which tells of a love triangle (Richardson, p. 83). If Paterson truly was describing his own life (and Lindner, p. 206, admits "remarkable" parallels), then yes, it would seem he had an affair with MacPherson. But even if An Outback Marriage is purely autobiographical, would he really have told his own story exactly as it happened?
O'Keeffe, pp. 236-238, also cites testimony from Dianna Baillieu, who knew her grand-aunt Christina Macpherson well when Baillieu was very young but only recounted the tale something like three-quarters of a century later -- and claimed that Paterson was ordered to get away from Dagworth. Baillieu was definitely close to Christina; the MacPherson manuscript was in her possession (Lindner, pp. 53-54; p. 261 says that Christina left her papers to her sister Margaret, who left them to her daughter Mim, who left them to Baillieu). Even so, this strikes me as weak evidence, although better than the argument from Paterson's book.
Richardson, p. 84, reminds us that "There is nothing else to affirm the implication that any feeling between Banjo and Chris busted his ties with Sarah," although he adds that Paterson was "a heartless flirt. One letter writer says he 'jilted' Sarah; another, cryptically, suggests she had to drop him because of the attentions he paid to the sewing mistress at Dagworth."(Note that, if Paterson was indeed chased from Dagworth, those attentions, rather than an affair with Christina, might be the explanation. Lindner, p. 252, softens this somewhat: "Banjo was never expelled ('kicked off') Dagworth Station for his conduct there, but the Macpherson brothers resolved not to invite him back, it seems." Manifold's great-aunt told him, "Paterson was highly attractive to women, and seldom out of girl-trouble until he married Aice Walker of Tenterfield in 1903 (Manifold, p. 120).
What is certain is that Paterson and RIley split up soon after; by October 1895, Paterson was described as engaged to one Alice Cape; Lindner, p. 187 -- though he was still dating other women at the time (Lindner, p. 198). Which to me argues that Paterson must already have been close to Cape by the time he went to Dagworth, and certainly that his eye was wandering; by the sound of things, if Paterson had an affair, it was with Cape, not MacPherson!)
The story of a water-hole haunted by a man drowned there certainly predates this song. Hole, p. 10, refers to an English spot called "Hoggett's Hole. There Thomas Hoggett, a highwayman, was drowned in the eighteenth century while escaping from the watch. His ghost haunted the pool and has since drowned many...."
Although the story in the song is similar to the Hoggett tale, it is widely believed that Paterson took the story from a local event. May p. 2, declares unequivocally that "the drowning of the swagman at Combo Waterhole provided the story." There had been a drowning near Dagworth in 1891, which sounds like this -- but it didn't wasn't reported as a suicide, or a confrontation with patrollers, and no one saw it happen (Lindner, pp. 109-110); no one seems to think it provided any inspiration. Lindner, pp. 273-275, reprints the record of the inquest; it is extremely sketchy, but simply labels the death a drowning and lists no suspects or true witnesses.
Magoffin, pp. 55-57, gives a slightly different story, concerning the death by gunshot (formally listed as a suicide) of Samuel "Frenchy" Hoffmeister, who reportedly had been engaged in a raid on Dagworth during the 1894 shearer's strike. (The strike was very bitter, and had resulted in shearers burning a number of sheds; that at Dagworth was the eighth and last to be burned; O'Keeffe, p. 200. Hoffmeister himself is so ill-documented that his country of origin is not certain and there is more than a ten year discrepancy in listed birth dates; Lindner, pp. 105-107. Lindner, p. 271, gives a transcript of Hoffmeister's death certificate; apparently Queensland does not make copies of the originals. It lists him as 43 years old and born in "Batavia," which is not a nation but which also appears on Hoffman's naturalization certificate, an actual copy of which appear on p. 272.)
The parallel with the song is poor -- Hoffmeister died of a gunshot, not by drowning. And Magoffin's evidence for this presents itself as a verbatim transcript of the conversation of those who had raided Dagworth. What, someone made a tape recording decades before tape recorders were invented? (It's those sorts of claims that make me so hyper-skeptical. Lindner, pp. 74-78, demonstrates that there is strong reason to distrust the results of the inquest -- there was the possibility of collusion of the witnesses, and even so, there were inconsistencies in the testimony.)
Nonetheless O'Keeffe, p. 112, states the connection between song and the death of Hoffmeister as fact, and it is likely enough that Paterson, who eventually worked as a journalist, was interested in the story of the raid on Dagworth when he visited there with Sarah Riley (Magoffin, p. 60; this raid was the last significant act of the shearers' strike of 1894).
Richardson, p. 61, reports that station owner MacPherson and three constables went to investigate the Hoffmeister suicide, hinting that the squatter and three troopers of the song are an allusion to this party. Note, however, that in history, these three showed up after Hoffmeister died; they did not induce his death. And the means of suicide was different anyway. If it was suicide; O'Keeffe, pp. 214-219, is sure there was some sort of a cover-up, and seems to think Hoffmeister was murdered to break the shearers' strike. (As with much in O'Keeffe, I think he turns a possibility into a certainty. Yes, the inquest into Hoffmeister's death was hurried, but this was the Queensland frontiers; what did he expect -- C.S.I. Australia?) In Lindner's reconstruction, Paterson was nowhere near the site when all this happened, although later letters show that he did know of some of the events near Dagworth (Lindner, p. 216).
The billabong involved in the story is said to be an actual billabong by Dagworth, an artificially improved place called the "Combo" (Magoffin, p. 66, although Richardson, p. 73, points out that some texts have the swagman camp "in the billabongs" rather than "by a billabong." A billabong, according to Morris, p. 29, is "an effluent from a river, returnign to it, or often ending in sand, in some cases running only in flood time"; his earliest citation of the word is from 1860). Supposedly it was there that Paterson was told the story that he converted into this text, but Magoffin, p. 68, admits that no one died there by suicide or drowning, and that the Combo is hardly large enough to allow death by drowning.
Much has been made of this reconstruction originally offered by Magoffin, but it's important to keep in mind that it is entirely reconstruction. Lindner, p. 46,says, "Sydney May, the first historian to research the song, made no reference to the strike at all. Presumably neither did any of his informants in the early 1940s" -- the only witnesses testimony we have, even if it is very late and from peripheral sources. We might also mention that May, pp. 38-40, has a whole list of variants on the story told by his witnesses, although I think May is correct to dismiss all of them; they generally don't make chronological sense.
Magoffin, pp. 69-70, claims that Paterson was at a meal at Dagworth when a worker there came in and reported that little had happened that day; "only a bagman waltzing Matilda down along the river." Not knowing the terminology, Paterson asked for an explanation and was told that the term "waltzing Matilda" was the local terminology for what elsewhere was known as "humping bluey." (It is interesting that Jack Carter, the man who told him this, was a jackaroo, according to Manifold, p. 119 -- meaning that he didn't have much experience outside the city. So his vocabulary may have been atypical of the time and place.) This inspired the text, with MacPherson's melody giving him the tune. However, Lindner, p. 230, says this report is second-hand hearsay (that is, the report of someone who heard it from someone who heard it from yet a third source).
Richardson, p. 109, claims Bob MacPherson, brother of Christina MacPherson, "must have" been the inspiration for the "squatter mounted on his thoroughbred," presumably since Bob MacPherson was a landowner who liked horses; this strikes me as conceivable but very far from certain, although at least one of his obituaries included the claim, and stated it as fact (Lindner, p. 97).
To account for the variations in the text, Magoffin claims that one Herbert Ramsey learned the song from Paterson and Co. and spread it in the area of Winton (Magoffin, p. 76). Thus it supposedly went into oral tradition even before it was published. He suggests that defiant shearers, defeated in the union struggles of 1894, supplied the well-known line "You'll never take me alive, said he," instead of Paterson's "Drowning himself by the coolibah tree." Certainly the traditional line is better than Paterson's; I'm not sure that that is proof that Paterson's line is older.
MacDougall hints that says that one Marie Cameron of the firm Inglis and Co. (makers of Billy Tea) fiddled with the words and tune to make it fit their products; this might explain the variation. The name "Cameron" is, however, an error; Davey/Seal, pp. 264-265, also tell this story, but call the woman "Marie Cowan," as in McKenry's account above. Magoffin, p. 84-85, claims, on the basis of two witnesses rather than an extant copy, that the song was first printed in 1902 in Hughenden. But the first seemingly-official copy, with a piano arrangement by Marie Cowan, came out in 1903. Curiously, although this was the first widely-available edition, it differs in several particulars from the standard version. (As well as being pitched in the well-nigh unsingable key of F. Magoffin does not say so, but there were significant differences in this version from MacPherson's transcription in the equally unlikely key of E♭; the fact that MacPherson's transcription requires the singer to repeatedly hit the A two octaves above Middle C really makes me wonder about why she transcribed it so. Magoffin, pp. 111-112, says that some have called MacPherson's transcription un-performable; I am inclined to agree. Someone really should do some sleuthing about the music of the two versions. It is curious to note that one of the two "MacPherson Manuscripts" comes not from the MacPherson or Paterson families but from the family of W B Bartlam, who lived in the area of Dagworth but was not part of the MacPherson family; Lindner, p. 185).
The Cowan edition, with its slightly modified tune and altered words (which were approved by Paterson; Richardson, p. 114) was supported by James Inglis of the Billy Tea company, who included it in tea packages (apparently because it refers to the swagman waiting for his billy to boil), though he had a disagreement with Cowan over using the song for advertising purposes (Magoffin, pp. 85-87). Richardson, p. 115, suggests that Paterson himself supplied the song, and a manuscript of MacPherson's transcription -- and offers the possibility that Cowan saw elements of "The Bold Fusilier" in the tune, and moved it closer to that song. One of the biggest changes in the song was making the swagman "jolly"; this was intended to help tea sales. Cowan also removed the mention of the Matilda "leading the waterbag" (Richardson, p. 134) which is still found in some traditional texts.
Manifold, p. 124, says "My father learnt 'Waltzing Matilda' by ear on Sesbania Station, adjoining Oondooroo as it was, shortly before the printed version began to achieve popularity. He used a tune that different from the printed (Cowan) tune only to the extent of a bar or two; but it did differ; and that is how I have inherited a slight feeling of distrust and possibility to the Cowan version." But Cowan's tune really has only a bar or two of difference from MacPherson's, with the difference being in the first line where it is most noticeable; did Manifold's father learn the original tune? We can't tell now.
Richardson's conclusion, on p. 128, is that "The hybrid tune [Cowan] finished with scans with the lyrics, and sounds like the song as we know it today. Its grandmother is 'Craigielee', its mother is Chris Macpherson's melody. As for the father's identity, we admit it's not so easy to be sure, but readily suspect 'The Bold Fusilier.'" The difficulty with this, obviously, is that it means that Paterson and "The Bold Fusilier" had to come up with their unusual stanza pattern independently.
Eventually there was a dispute between the Cowan estate and one Thomas Wood, who had printed and helped popularize the song. Both eventually received part of the credit. As for Christina MacPherson, or (horrors!) oral tradition... there was neither credit nor royalties (Magofffin, p. 88). Much later, there was a copyright controversy over who owned the rights to the song (described on pp. 102-112 of Magoffin), but that was really over the rights, not the authorship; it doesn't have much importance for the history of the song. Fights over the copyright also included a 1941 attack on Paterson's authorship (a fight which took place soon after Paterson's death) to eliminate his copyright claim (Magoffin, p. 109). This is presumably the 1941 claim referred to by McKenry above. I'll admit that, if anything, the fact that it was lawyers rather than folklorists who were involved in the fight strengthens rather than weakens Paterson's case. On the other hand, the way Magoffin treats "The Bold Fusilier" rather balances that off. He ignores the piece until p. 117, when he declares that "no manuscript or sheet music has ever been found," which he implies makes it a fake. But, of course, what it really implies is folk origin, which is exactly the argument that it is the source for "Waltzing Matilda." Elsewhere, he implied that English troops in the Boer War took over "Waltzing Matilda" and set their own lyrics (Richardson, p. 212), which makes very little sense; it assumes, first, that the English troops remember "The Bold Fusilier" despite not having a tune (which is hard to believe); second, that "The Bold Fusilier" came by this stanza pattern independently; and third, apparently, that the troops in the Boer War anticipated Marie Cowan's tune. To me, this beggars belief.
Also, the 1903 sheet music already calls the song "Popular." How exactly could it be popular if it had never been published and was recently composed?
Australians reported taking the song abroad as early as the Boer War (Magoffin, p. 80), which is an extremely rapid spread. These same travelers reportedly carried the song to Sydney. As Keith McKenry say, Paterson's version was published n 1917 in Saltbush Bill and Other Verses, then again in a 1918 book intended for the troops in World War I (Richardson, p. 138) -- but it seems to have been known by the soldiers by then.
Regarding the tune, it is noteworthy that Paterson reported that Christina MacPherson played her tune on the autoharp (Magoffin, p. 65; Lindner, p. 242). Autoharps of course existed in 1895 (the instrument was patented in 1882), but the instrument was still in its infancy, with fewer chord bars, and it was still generally played on the lap. I strongly doubt MacPherson could actually render a tune on the thing. (In this regard, Lindner's alternate chronology would make a lot more sense, since MacPherson might have taught the tune to Paterson *somewhere else*, but on the piano, where she could genuinely render the tune.)
The claim that the tune is "The Bonnie Wood of Craigielea" is extraordinarily complicated. As Richardson points out on p. 108, the tune of "Craigielea" (original words by Robert Tannahill, with music by James Barr) cannot be made to fit "Waltzing Matilda," nor vice versa. However, the tune of "Craigielea" was arranged as a march by Thomas Bulch, who signed his arrangement as by Godfrey Parker and called it "The Craigielee March"; it was this that Christina MacPherson heard (O'Keeffe, pp. 226-227).
However, according to Paterson, Christina Macpherson did not know where she learned it, and told him "It hasn't got any words that I know of, but it must have had at some time. I believe it was an old Scottish hymn" (Richardson, p. 71) or "It hasn't any words that I now of, but it must have had at one time. I believe it is an old Scottish tune" (Manifold, p. 119). MacPherson herself recorded that "I could not tell him" what the song was (O'Keeffe, pp. 257-258, full text in Lindner, p. 233), reporting a letter which was never sent -- which hints to me that perhaps she doubted what she wrote. She certainly never reported what the tune actually was. In other words, she did *not* tell anyone that it was "Craigielea," although she did claim to have heard it at the Warrnambool races. Based on this, various people sleuthed out that she likely heard Craigielea played as a march in 1894 -- but that's not proof that she gave that melody to Paterson, even in modified form; it's not often that one learns a tune, even imperfectly, on one hearing when one has not even played it! The whole hypothesis is based on a minor implausibility: That MacPherson's memory was so good that she could recall a melody based on one hearing, but was so bad that she couldn't recall anything else about this melody that so took her fancy that she memorized it! This even though she could have had a printed program with the title on it, but could not have had the sheet music.
(W. Benjamin Lindner points out to me that the above statement rests on a non-provable assumption: That Macpherson heard the tune only once and remembered it. There is no proof that she heard it only at Warrnambool. There is no proof that she ever heard it again, though. An interesting question is whether there were other arrangements of the melody that could be performed by something less than a full band -- on the piano, e.g.)
Richardson, p. 122, also notes that Paterson was Australia's first collector of bush songs -- in other words, if anyone at Dagworth had known "The Bold Fusilier," it would be him. Is it possibly that he knew the song and his version influenced MacPherson's memory? For this we have no evidence. (Indeed, we know she had to reconstruct the music, because one of the MacPherson manuscripts -- reprinted on p. 54 of Lindner -- shows only the pitches of the notes, not the timings.)
To be sure, Paterson's accounts are inconsistent; late in life he said he got the tune from Jean MacPherson McCowan, the sister of Christine MacPherson (Magoffin, p. 72; Lindner, p. 242). That's a pretty drastic error, which seems to confuse Christina MacPherson with her sister and with Marie Cowan all at once! (Magoffin, p. 106. To be fair, Jean had gone to Dagworth along with Christina and Ewen MacPherson , only to fall in love with and marry a local; Lindner, p. 159). Nonetheless there seems little doubt that Christina MacPherson's manuscript is the oldest transcription of the song; Magoffin, p. 78, records the tests to which the copy was put, which include both subjective (handwriting comparison) and absolutely objective (examination of the paper, pen, and ink).
According to Richardson, p. viii, "Chris" MacPherson, whose tune probably had more to do with making "Waltzng Matilda" popular than did even Paterson himself, soon after returned to Melbourne (although Lindner, p. 186, says that it wasn't until May 28. 1896 that she returned there), where she lived the rest of her life. She never married, and never got much recognition for her role. Indeed, the MacPhersons, who had hosted Paterson at Dagworth, had devoted too much of their money into buying the place, and when they failed to get the income from shearing that they expected, they went bankrupt and lost the property (Richardson, p. 13).
To sum up both the evidence and my own conclusions, my personal hypothesis differs both from the standard story and the revisionists. Christina MacPherson supplied the tune, but I don't think it was a botched-up version of "Craigielea"; I think it was a botched-up "Bold Fusilier"; she simply didn't remember the source of what she had heard. The text is mostly Paterson's, but he borrowed some words and ideas, and oral tradition perhaps transferred in a few other words, which would explain why people thought they had heard the song before he wrote it: They had heard *parts* of it. Thus the standard story is mostly correct -- Paterson created the first complete text, and MacPherson supplied the tune. But the text has older elements -- and the tune probably was somewhat modified by MacPherson, meaning that she arguably deserves some credit as composer, not just supplier of the tune, although not full composition credit.
Of course, others will continue to disagree.Lindner, p. 255, concludes his main narrative, "The history of the origins of Waltzing Matilda remains incomplete. There may be more to the story, but that depends on the disclosure of family secrets by descendants of those whose lives touched the narrative over 120 years ago."
A few other points about the song. All commentators agree that the swagman in the song did not grab a jumbuck (sheep) and stuff it, whole and presumably alive, into his tucker-bag. Rather, he took it, killed it, butchered it, possibly cooked it, and put some of the meat in his bag (so, e.g. Richardson, pp. 78-79). This was a major complaint of the station-owners: not only did rovers steal the sheep, they weren't even efficient about it, taking only some of the meat and leaving the rest to rot, and spoiling the fleece and the hide while they were at it. This widespread practice didn't really cost the owners much more than if the swagman had eaten the whole sheep, but it added insult to injury.
Beatty, pp. 11-12, discusses the origin of the term "Waltzing Matilda" itself. Although mentioning many tales about how the term came to be, the one he likes claims that Matilda was 'the first woman swaggie to be seen in Australia. She and her husband, Joe, were very well known and respected throughout East Gippsland; their surname was unknown...." Joe and Matilda each carried blueys, his larger than hers. Supposedly, when Matilda wanted to leave home to go with Joe, her father exploded, "Do you think I'd let you go a-waltzing Matilda all over the countryside?" When she died and Joe buried her, he declared to his pack, "Oh well, bluey, you'll have to be Matilda to me now, and we'll waltz along together till the end."
I have yet to find an instance of a linguist who believes this.
More believable, but still strongly folkloric, is the explanation in Magoffin, p. 16, and Richardson, pp. 75-77, that "Mathilde" (whence "Matilda") was the name European (especially German) journeyman craftsmen gave to their female companions, and hence to the other thing that accompanied them, their packs. And they referred to their travels as being "auf der walz" or "on the waltz." So the term Matilda, it is claimed, is older than the settlement of Australia, and so is the idea of "waltzing" it; presumably English-speakers picked it up during the War of the League of Augsburg, or the War of the Spanish Succession, or some similar war.
May, p. 9, thinks that the name was just chosen at random; personally, I'd guess he's right.
The term "matilda" and "waltzing matilda" were apparently both originally rare; elsewhere, swagmen carried swags! The term is sufficiently local that the first Australian dictionary, Morris's, does not even mention it (that's in 1898, after Paterson wrote his text!).
May, pp. 10-11, discusses the origin of "Jumbuck," which he thinks has not been definitively traced. His favorite hypothesis is that it is a slurred-down version of "jumping buck," but confesses a lack of evidence. The citations he offers show the word was used in Aboriginal pidgin by 1845, but there is no proof that it comes from an Aboriginal language. It looks as if he lifted his citation from Morris, p. 224,
The coolibah tree is the species Eucalyptus coolibah (May, p. 13). Learmonth, p. 129, "An aboriginal and popular name for a form of box eucalyptus, the Flooded Box, Eucalyptus microtheca. The Coolibah is medium-sized, with pale, narrow leave up to 18 cm. long, growing widely on black soil plains and along watercourses of the interior." There is a photo facing p. 13 of May, and it shows a coolibah by a billabong that casts very little shade. Studying other coolibah photos around the Web, this seems typical; it is not a good shade tree. The fact that Paterson mentions such a tree is perhaps a hint that this song does refer to an actual billabong, although that is not evidence that the stories connecting the song to the death of Hoffmeister are true.
There has been much debate about what the song itself really "means." It bears similarities to events at Dagworth, but is assuredly not a retelling. It is, on its face, a strange tale -- what sort of person would drown himself when merely asked about where he got a sheep, without even having been arrested yet? This has led many to see it as some sort of allegory -- e.g. O'Keeffe, pp. 126-127, links the swagman's billy to the lines "She's going to light another fire And boil another billy" from Henry Lawson's revolutionary "Freedom on the Wallaby," written a few years earlier. This would be more convincing if there were clearer evidence....
May, in the photo inset facing p. 21, shows Australian "Waltzing Matilda" tanks in World War II. This is a little too much folklore. I do not doubt that there were Australian tanks in the war that were called "Waltzing Matilda." But the model name of the tank May pictures was not the "Waltzing Matilda" but simply the "Matilda" (properly, the Matilda II; the Matilda I was armed with nothing heavier than a machine gun, so it wasn't really a tank). A picture and description can be found on p. 86 of Dougherty. The Matilda II was under-gunned and extremely slow, but it was well-armored and very hard to kill (especially for the under-armed Japanese tanks the Australians faced in New Guinea), so it was no doubt popular with those who drove it.
Richardson, pp. 142-143, says there have been more than six hundred different recordings of the song since it was first waxed by an unknown singer in 1927.
Lindner, p. 263, says that Paterson never saw how popular his song would become. This is a little exaggerated -- it was certainly well-known in Australia by the time of his death in 1941. Outside Australia, it wasn't as well known. It appears to me, based on the parodies, that it was spread to the wider world by Australian troops fighting in World War II, probably starting in North Africa (where the Australians were an important part of the British force from a very early date; battalions of the 9th Australian Division were at least once "farmed out" to train other troops about North African conditions; Delaforce, p. 37). One must suspect that they were singing it a lot for the song to have been picked up by forces from other British territories.
Although everyone now seems to refer to Paterson as "Banjo," his personal nickname was "Barty." "The Banjo" (with no surname given) was the pseudonym in which he published his first poetry, including his two other most important pieces, "Clancy of the Overflow" and "The Man from Snowy River"; he took the name from a famous horse (O'Keeffe, pp. 104-105). Interestingly, Dagworth Station was also named after a racehorse (May, p. 36); Paterson, the horseracing nut, must have loved it.
Although now treated as Australia's unofficial anthem, Lindner, pp. 263-264, reminds us that it *cannot* have been intended so, since Australia was not federated until 1901; until then, the provinces were separately governed. Of course, the idea of a united Australia was in the air, but Paterson clearly wasn't paying attention to that. - RBW
Last updated in version 6.2
- Davey/Seal: Gwenda Beed Davey and Graham Seal, A Guide to Australian Folklore, Kangaroo Press, 2003
- Delaforce: Patrick Delaforce, Monty's Highlanders: 51st Highland Division in the Second World War, 1997 (I use the 2016 Pen & Sword paperback)
- Dougherty: Martin J. Dougherty, Compared and Contrasted: Tanks from World War I to the Present Day, Amber books, 2010
- Hole: Christina Hole, English Folk Heroes: From King Arthur to Thomas a Becket, 1948? (I use the 1992? Dorset Press reprint)
- Learmonth: Andrew and Nancy Learmonth, Encyclopedia of Australia, 2nd edition, Warne & Co, 1973
- Lindner: W. Benjamin Lindner, Waltzing Matilda: Australia's Accidental Anthem: A Forensic History, Boolarong Press, 2019
- Magoffin: Richard Magoffin, Waltzing Matilda: The Story Behind the Legend, 1983; revised and illustrated edition, ABC Enterprises, 1987
- Manifold: John S. Manifold, Who Wrote the Ballads? Notes on Australian Folksong, Australasian Book Society, 1964
- May: Sydney May, The Story of Waltzing Matilda, W. R. Smith & Paterson Pty. Ltd., 1944
- Morris: Edward E. Morris, A Dictionary of Austral English, 1898 (I use the 1972 Sydney University Press with a new foreword but no new content)
- O'Keeffe: Dennis O'Keeffe, Waltzing Matilda: The Secret History of Australia's Favourite Song, Allen & Unwin, 2012
- Richardson: Matthew Richardson, Once a Jolly Swagman: The Ballad of Waltzing Matilda, Melbourne University Press, 2006
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2021 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.