Roger Clarke’s Waltzing Matilda Home-Page
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Australia's national song gets a lot of attention, and this is the best place on the Web to look for information about it. The hit-rate on this site is running at about 200,000 p.a., and the song's frequent use at sporting events (tennis, the Olympics, the Rugby Union World Cup, etc.) keeps driving more people here.
We all owe a great debt of gratitude to Richard Magoffin (1937-2006), who was the source of a great deal of the valuable cultural history wapped up in the song. He passed away on 4 May 2006. His son Bill informs me that his research material and many items from his display are now in the National Library in Canberra.
This page contains a lot of information and a lot of links to more pages on this site, and to pages provided by many other people and organisations. Acknowledgements and administrative notes are at the end of the document. The things that most visitors seem to be looking for are:
This was the first source of information about the song made to be made available on the Web, in February 1995. Others have been created since, but I'm sticking with my claim that it's 'the original and the best'. The Australian National Library launched an excellent, if somewhat official-looking site in 2003.
This site has the following departments:
The song as it's sung today is not the same as it is was originally written. The story is complicated, and has been difficult to sort out. If there's anything in here you can improve on, please tell me about it.
The words were written by Banjo Paterson, and the score by Christina Macpherson, at Dagworth Station near Winton, in January 1895. It is thought to have been first performed publicly at the North Gregory Hotel in Winton, on 6 April 1895, apparently at a banquet for the Premier of Queensland.
I have yet to discover when this version was first published. Richard Magoffin was reported by ABC News on 22 August 2003 as saying that "It was first published on leaflets, just the words only, in 1902 in The Hughenden Advertiser. But it was first published as a song in Sydney by James Inglis and Company of Billy Tea - they published it to advertise their tea". (The words in The Hughenden Advertiser in 1902 would have been Banjo's originals. But the song published by James Inglis & Co. in 1903 was set to a different tune, with adapted words, and with a significantly changed chorus. That's the 'Marie Cowan' version, as explained below).
Here's (a reproduction of) the original score; and here's (a reproduction of) the original manuscript. And here's a transcription, and a couple of comments about the text.
Christina is said to have believed she was playing a tune she'd heard a few months earlier. A letter she wrote in 1931 provides some information about the event. She couldn't remember the name of the tune, but played it from memory. Paterson liked its 'whimsicality and dreaminess', and decided to write some words for it. (So a plausible interpretation is that Banjo was being polite to his girlfriend's mate, and passed the time by running off a bit of doggerel to fit the metre of the tune).
The tune that Christina is supposed to have been remembering was a march arrangement of a Scottish ballad 'Thou Bonnie Wood o' Criagielea' of about 1818. It had been played at the Warrnambool Annual Steeplechase Meeting in April 1894, which Christina had attended. (Warrnambool is in western Victoria, about 1,700 km to the south!).
On the one hand, Christina has been suggested to have had a good ear, and to have been able to play a rendition of 'Craigielea' from memory. On the other hand, I'm assured by multiple people who've studied 'Craigielea' that it takes a skilled musician to find much relationship at all between the tunes of Christina's 'Waltzing Matilda' and Robert Barr's 'Craigielea', and that it would be far easier to say that Christina composed an original tune. (So perhaps Christina was being self-effacing, knew it was a new tune, but felt it appropriate to hide her original talents in deference to the people around her. Remember that this was on a country property, where quite a few women evidence the same behaviour patterns today .... Sorry Germaine, but it's true).
For the record, I haven't yet discovered the years of Christina Macpherson's birth (c. 1870?) or death (c. 1950?), but I understand that she never married, and is buried in Melbourne (in a grave that was for many years unmarked). But several descendants of her family have been in communication with me, so it's very likely that those dates are known.
According to J.J. Fuld ('Book of World Famous Music: Classical, Popular and Folk', various editions, up to 4th, 1995, Dover, New York), Oscar Mendelsohn (in 'A Waltz with Matilda' Melbourne, 1966) contended that the tune was composed by Harry Nathan (1866-1906), an organist at Townsville Cathedral (on the Queensland coast). This theory appears to be based on Nathan's name appearing on a manuscript published some time after 1895. The theory isn't very convincing (and the music may have been a different version anyway).
Here are some sources of the words, score or browser-playable performances:
The first publication of 'Waltzing Matilda' in the form of sheet-music did not use Christina Macpherson's tune, but a different one attributed to Marie Cowan; and this is the version that is most commonly played.
According to J.J. Fuld ('Book of World Famous Music: Classical, Popular and Folk', various editions, up to 4th, 1995, Dover, New York), it was published in 1903 by Inglis and Co., of 60 & 62 York Street, Sydney. (The company seems to no longer exist. I have a vague memory of hearing the name in the 1970s in the context of the beef cattle industry).
The music was stated on that first edition to have been "arranged" by Marie Cowan, but in later editions she is accredited as the composer. Fuld attributes this information to Sidney May, 'The Story of 'Waltzing Matilda'" (Brisbane, 1955), and states that the authorship of Paterson and Cowan has been established in an Australian court, 'Sydney Daily Telegraph', March 14, 1959, p. 3. I have not seen either of those sources. (Nor have I seen Fuld. I've relied on the efforts of yet another correspondent for everything in this and the preceding paragraph!).
A Sydney Morning Herald article on 20 December 2002 suggested that "Cowan was commissioned to "rejig" 'Waltzing Matilda' to refer to Billy Tea and, in possibly the first product placement ever, the "Billy" boiled scene was crammed into the chorus to remind the listener of those finely brewed tea leaves from Billy Tea. The 1903 sheet music clearly shows 'Billy', not only with a capital B but in inverted commas to signify its product status". If that's correct, then the popular version was a result of blatant commercialism, way back in 1903!
There seems to have been a lull for 35 years. Then the song exploded in popularity with the great bass-baritone Peter Dawson's recording in 1938. It went to war with everyone else, and it too came back a hero.
The real origins of the tune are very murky. A song called 'The Gay Fusilier' also uses the same tune. There have been claims that 'The Gay Fusilier' dates from a century or two earlier, but the earliest evidence for its existence is during the Boer War in South Africa (c. 1898-1902). That might seem a long way from Winton. But Banjo Paterson was in South Africa during the Boer War in 1901-1902, as a war correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The [Melbourne] Argus.
Did Banjo take the tune to South Africa?? Or did he hear the tune there, recognise a fairly good fit to his words, bring back a copy or a memory of it, which Mrs Marie Cowan then arranged, put on paper and later had attributed to her as a composition?? For Richard Magoffin's view on that, see the section below on Parodies of 'Waltzing Matilda'.
Here are some sources of the words, score or browser-playable performances:
Richard Magoffin writes that this was created in Cloncurry in 1907 by Bob Macpherson, and his girlfriend, Josephine Pene, a music teacher. It also used the original Paterson text. I've never heard this, but have the impression that it's a variation on the Christina Macpherson tune. I'm unaware of any transcription or recording of it.
A correspondent by the name of Dennis O'Keefe (presumably the same DO'K as the singer whose recording is mentioned under performances, and who runs another Waltzing Matilda site) advises me that it is also called the 'Buderim' version. Cloncurry is in north-western Queensland, and Buderim in south-eastern Queensland, whereas Winton is in central-west Queensland, hundreds of kilometres from both of them.
Here are some related facts that may (or may not) appeal to you:
An American called Tom Waits has a song that appropriates some of the words and some of the (popular 'Marie Cowan' version of the) tune. I do hope that he understands American copyright law (:-)} In the words of Macquarie University's David Christian (who gave me the lead on this one), it's a "Vietnam vet alcoholic down and out stream of consciousness" song.
Web-sites on Tom Waits are highly unreliable, so if you're trying to find this, then you're best-advised to use a search-engine with the string <Waits "Tom Traubert">. The song is on his 'Small Change' album of 1976, and also on a collection of 1985 called 'Asylum Years'. I gather that Rod Stewart recorded a variant on his 'Unplugged' album.
Many derivative works use the basic tune of 'Waltzing Matilda', particularly the more commonly played Marie Cowan version.
A very interesting case is 'The Bold Fusilier', aka 'The Rochester Recruiting Sergeant', which uses the Marie Cowan version of the tune. In 1998, the 'Waltzing Matilda' authority Richard Magoffin was quoted in a Mudcat thread to the following effect:
"There is an English song which pretends to come from the time of the Duke of Marlborough, 'The Bold (or Gay) Fusilier', but it is really a parody of 'Waltzing Matilda' from the Boer war, which was attended by the fusiliers, by Banjo Paterson, and many other Australians who sang our song.
"There is no record anywhere of the existence of this song prior to 1900 by way of any manuscript. The British Museum wrote in 1968 that they had never found any trace of the song. The British Folk Song and Dance Society had received many requests but, likewise, found no record.
"The Mayor of Rochester and the editor of the Fusilier's magazine were challenged some years ago to present pre-Matilda evidence for their song. They were not able to do so, while insisting that hearsay evidence in England was sufficient. English folklore authority, Vaughan Williams, considered that the earlier existence of the song was very doubtful because its language was not appropriate to the early eighteenth century period it pretended to represent".
I have two doubts about Richard's analysis. One is that Vaughan Williams' doubts are about the words, not the tune. The other is that the song that went to South Africa, presumably with Banjo, would have had to have been Banjo's original words, with the 'Christina Macpherson' tune. So what came back could have been much the same words, but to the tune of 'The Gay Fusilier'. (But that then raises the question as to who invented 'The Gay Fusilier'/'Marie Cowan' tune during the Boer War! Maybe it was some soldier's corruption of a South African folk-song??).
Whether 'The Bold Fusilier' is a 'steal' from 'Waltzing Matilda' or not, there have been a few outright parodies of the song, demonstrating various levels of humour and bad taste. They include:
This was the very first place on the entire World-Wide Web that you could find information about Waltzing Matilda, and I believe it to be the most authoritative. However, you may like to follow up a few other sites that have appeared subsequently:
A riddle that circulates from time to time is 'What was the name of the swagman?'.
The answer is usually Andy. Why? Because of the line repeated in the chorus, e.g.: 'Andy sang as he tucked that jumbuck in his tuckerbag'.
The Sydney Morning Herald of 22 November 1999 offered an answer I'd never heard before, from Tony Winton of Mosman, who claimed that the Swagman's name was Juan. That's because of the line 'Juan's a jolly swagman'. The following day, the paper quoted Brian Millett of Yass as saying that this Juan bloke may have been a cousin of the famous Mexican alluded to in the U.S. National Anthem - José Canyusee.
Also on 23 November 1999, the Herald quoted Alexander Tolnay of Berlin, who said that, reflecting the origins of the poem, the Swagman really must have been a German rather than someone of Spanish extraction. So his name would have been Hans ('Hans a jolly swagman ...').
If you're not Australian, and you've read all the way down to here, then you've presumably worked out that a lot of Australians don't think life should be taken too seriously ...
A great deal of the current knowledge about this topic is derived from the work of Richard (Dick) Magoffin, PO Box 123, Kynuna, QLD, 4823. Kynuna is near Winton, in central-west Queensland. Magoffin established the Matilda Expo and Heritage Theatre at Kynuna in 1994.
Magoffin's work has been used in multiple TV documentaries. His own published works on the topic include:
In June 2000, Magoffin 'got a gong', specifically a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for "For service to Australian folklore as an author of bush ballards and songs, and to the promotion and preservation of Australia's cultural heritage".
Dick passed away on 4 May 2006.
Another source of information is the research of Harry Hastings Pearce (1897-1984), documented in 'On the origins of Waltzing Matilda' (Hawthorn Press, 1971) and 'The Waltzing Matilda debate: replies to criticism, new verification on the Bold Fusilier, Josephine Pene, etc.' (1974).
Paterson had kept quiet about the origins of the song throughout his life, but Magoffin draws attention to Paterson's own succinct account of the song's genesis in his 'Complete Works', published by Allen & Unwin. 2nd volume, page 500.
Winton, the 900-person town nearest to the station (if you're American, that's what you'd call a 'ranch') where the song was written, has used it as the focal point of its tourism services, the Waltzing Matilda Centre.
Over the years, many, many people have contributed many, many snippets of information that have improved this site. If you find anything on the site that's wrong or misleading, or if you know something else that I should be telling people about, or some other sites that I should be pointing to, please let me know!
This document is at http://www.anu.edu.au/people/Roger.Clarke/WM/index.html
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Created: 15 February 1995 - Last Amended: 17 January 2005 by Roger Clarke - Site Last Verified: 15 February 2005
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