JANUARY 26 = “Australia Day” and “Waltzing Matilda”

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“Australia Day is a day where we celebrate our country and appreciate how lucky we are to live in such a great place, that’s why we all get a day off work and have parties haha.”

– My friend Sara Cuthbertson

Australia Day (previously known as Anniversary Day, Foundation Day, and ANA Day) is the official national day of Australia. Celebrated annually on 26 January, the date commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove in 1788 and the proclamation at that time of British sovereignty over the eastern seaboard of New Holland. Although it was not known as Australia Day until over a century later, records of celebrations on 26 January date back to 1808, with the first official celebration of the formation of New South Wales held in 1818. It is presently an official public holiday in every state and territory of Australia and is marked by the presentation of the Australian of the Year Awards on Australia Day Eve, announcement of the Honours List for the Order of Australia and addresses from the Governor-General and Prime Minister. With community festivals, concerts and citizenship ceremonies the day is celebrated in large and small communities and cities around the nation. Australia Day has become the biggest annual civic event in Australia.”

– the online encyclopedia, “Wikipedia”

“Waltzing Matilda”  

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong /Under the shade of a coolibah tree, /And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled

“You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me.”

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
“You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me”
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled,
“You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me.”

So go the lyrics to a song which stands as the unofficial National Anthem of Australia, a fine and beautiful country which celebrates her national day today. And  it is a day of relaxation and celebration for the good people of that country, as my friend, Mrs. Cuthbertson makes clear enough above. I say that Australia is a beautiful country, but the fact is I have never been there myself. But I have known several fine ladies from that place in the course of working at the University of Texas at Austin. Lisa Maynard Tittle, Jacinta van Lindt, and Sophia Osterloh (of Tasmania) all came from that wondrous land. And of course so did my friend Sara Cuthbertson, whom I’ve known only through e-mail. They have all been fine and engaging people to know, and the way in which they have enriched my life, as well as the lives of those of us lucky enough to know them, has always spoken very well of the people of Australia, as well as of the beauty of the continent itself.

But that song…. “Waltzing Matilda” has always exercised a hold on me. Ever since I first learned it as a grade schooler at Westwood Elementary School here in Cincinnati as a part of “Social Studies” and learning about Australia and the other countries of the world. It has always struck me as being a very sweet, and touching tune, and I’ve always thought that the people of Australia had a remarkable gem of a national anthem, even if it is “unofficial”. If you click on the words “Waltzing Matilda” where they are highlighted (in bold) above, you will get a “YouTube” video of the song being played at “Australia Day” celebrations in 2009. Another very sweet and moving version of the tune is woven throughout film composer Ernest Golds score to the 1959 Stanley Kramer film “On the Beach” which deals with the effect an onrushing nuclear cloud has on the lives of some of the people who go to Australia as the last place where the doomsday shroud will arrive. If you click on the highlighted words “On the Beach” above, you will go to a “YouTube” video which features that score.

 A Bit of the Song’s History….

 

The title is a kind of old Australian slang for traveling around by foot with all of your belongings in a “Matilda” (bag) slung over your back (just as an old American slang refers to carrying your stuff around in a “poke”). The song tells the story of a migrant worker, or “swagman” (above, circa 1901), making a drink of tea (“waiting till his billy boiled”) at a bush camp and catching a “jumbuck” (sheep) to have for lunch. When the sheep’s owner arrives with three “troopers” (police officers) to arrest the worker for the theft, the worker commits suicide by drowning himself in the nearby “billabong” (watering hole) and then goes on to haunt the site. The original lyrics were written in 1895 by poet and nationalist Banjo Paterson. It was first published as sheet music in 1903. All manner of folklore surrounds the song and the way in which it was written. In fact, the song has its own museum, “the Waltzing Matilda Centre” in Winton, Queensland.

 

The words to the song were written in 1895 by Banjo Paterson, a famous Australian poet. The music was written by Christina Macpherson. Paterson wrote the piece while staying at the Dagworth Homestead, a bush station in Queensland. While he was there his hosts played him a traditional Celtic folk tune called “The Craigeelee” and Paterson thought that it was a good piece to set lyrics to, so he wrote the song while he stayed at Dagworth. It is widely believed that the story is based on an incident that took place during the Great Shearers’ Strike in 1894, wherein a man named Samuel Hoffmeister was killed by authorities. There has been some recent scholarship that casts doubt on this long-held belief in the song as a kind of socialist anthem. Nevertheless, the story of the swagman and his sheep lives on….

The Rest of the Tale: 

Down came a jumbuck to drink at that billabong,
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee,
And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag,
“You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me”.

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
“You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me”
And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag,
“You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me”.

Up rode the squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred,
Down came the troopers, one, two, three,
“Where’s that jolly jumbuck you’ve got in your tucker bag?”
“You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me”.

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
“You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me”
“Where’s that jolly jumbuck you’ve got in your tucker bag?”,
“You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me”.

Up jumped the swagman and sprang into the billabong,
“You’ll never take me alive”, said he,
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong,
“You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me”.

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
“You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me”
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong,
“You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me.”

 

READERS!! If you would like to comment on this, or any “Today in History” posting, I would love to hear from you!!  You can either sign up to be a member of this blog and post a comment in the space provided below, or you can simply e-mail me directly at:  krustybassist@gmail.com  I seem to be getting hits on this site all over the world, so please do write and let me know how you like what I’m writing (or not!)!!

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waltzing_matilda

http://www.youtube.com/

+ 78.

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