There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.
“Waltzing Matilda” is Australia’s best-known bush ballad, and has been described as the country’s “unofficial national anthem”.
The title was Australian slang for travelling on foot (waltzing) with one’s belongings in a “matilda” (swag) slung over one’s back. The song narrates the story of an itinerant worker, or “swagman”, making a drink of billy tea at a bush camp and capturing a stray jumbuck (sheep) to eat. When the jumbuck’s owner, a squatter (landowner), and three troopers (mounted policemen) pursue the swagman for theft, he declares “You’ll never catch me alive!” and commits suicide by drowning himself in a nearby billabong (watering hole), after which his ghost haunts the site.
The original lyrics were written in 1895 by Australian poet Banjo Paterson, and were first published as sheet music in 1903
The Australian poet Banjo Paterson wrote the words to “Waltzing Matilda” in August 1895 while staying at Dagworth Station, near Winton owned by the Macpherson family.
It has been widely accepted that “Waltzing Matilda” is probably based on the following story:
In Queensland in 1891 the Great Shearers’ Strike brought the colony close to civil war and was broken only after the military were called in. In September 1894, some shearers at Dagworth Station were again on strike. The situation turned violent with the striking shearers firing their rifles and pistols in the air and setting fire to the woolshed at Dagworth, killing dozens of sheep. The owner of Dagworth Station and three policemen gave chase to a man named Samuel Hoffmeister, an immigrant said to have been born in Batavia also known as “Frenchy” Rather than be captured, Hoffmeister shot and killed himself at the 4 Mile Creek south of Kynuna at 12.30pm on 2 September, 1894.
In February 2010, ABC News reported an investigation by barrister Trevor Monti that the death of Hoffmeister was more akin to a gangland assassination than to suicide. The same report asserts, “Writer Matthew Richardson says the song was most likely written as a carefully worded political allegory to record and comment on the events of the shearers’ strike.” (Thanks to that great resource, Wikipedia for the notes above- donate if you can.)
On arriving in Australia, in 1972, this was one of the first Aussie songs I learned. In the mid-70s I played in a group called Currency and here’s where I learned the alternative music to the well-known lyrics. From lockdown, I present a version that has more than a trace of Country music in its iteration.