Waltzing Matilda – quiet coercion

I’ve been fond of the song Waltzing Matilda since forever. Whistling, strange words, catchy-tune, what’s not to like.

There’s a history of the song, of course, which depicts a rather unpleasant story about sheep shearers, a strike and the pursuit and suicide of one of the shearers near a pond.

The phrase, Waltzing Matilda is suppose to mean go on walk-about with your kit (swag, including your tent). But, I think there’s way more to the phrase that what we innocently take on. Reviewing the lyrics: (wikipedia)

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.”

Chorus:
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.”

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.”

(Chorus)

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

(Chorus)

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


You’ll notice that each time the stanza, “You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me”, is spoken, there’s a specific directive implied.

  • I’m gonna drink my tea.
  • I’m gonna take you, sheep, kill you and eat you.
  • You’re commin’ with us, says the troopers to the swagman.
  • You’re all gonna follow me to the grave, says the ghost of the swagman.

That last one is especially poignant:

And his ghost may be heard as YOU pass by that billabong,
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.

Is Waltzing Matilda, ultimately, a euphemism for dying? Not a very happy tune, now is it?


9 thoughts on “Waltzing Matilda – quiet coercion

  1. Kinda literal there on the tail end. Waltzing Matilda is the journey, which ultimately leads to death. But it’s the journey that matters. Because we all know how it’s going to end. A genre song with plenty of company up to moderns like “I Fought the Law” to “Take the Money and Run”. Hell, Bonnie and Clyde. One thing on the waltz of life leads to another to the end game.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. On the Beach, Tom Waits, my father’s funeral, there are other touchstones for me concerning the song. You’re right, it is about death, but a manly death which leaves women out of it. The thing to do is figure out how Matilda got into the mix. Duke

    Liked by 2 people

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