Waltzing Matilda was written by a Famous Australian Poet named Banjo Patterson, who lived from 1864 to 1941.

Definitions of Australian terms:
(But see some alternate definitions below)

Swagman - A Tramp
Matilda - The Swagman's bedding or sleeping roll, but it can also mean "swag".
Billabong - A drinking hole
Coolibah tree - An Australian native tree
Billy - Like a pot to boil water in over a fire
Jumbuck - A sheep
Tucker Bag - A bag for carrying food
Squatter - A Farmer/Rancher
Trooper - A Policeman

Waltzing Matilda - Australian Children's Songs - Australia - Mama Lisa's World: Children's Songs and Rhymes from Around the World  - Comment After Song Image


Jacques Guy wrote, "'Waltzing Matilda' is the song that unites all Australians, believe me. It would take very little for it to became our national anthem, instead of 'Advance Australia Fair'."

Leanne wrote me, "I thought you might like to add a definition to this song albeit not a very nice story. The "swagman" was on the run from the law. Compounding the crime by poaching the sheep on the property.

The term 'Waltzing Matilda' actually refers to the concept of being hung (as in capital punishment). As in dancing on the end of the rope.

Not nice, but we were taught this in Australian schools. I suppose it's just as sad as the 'Ring-a-ring a Rosie' rhyme for example."

Amy Carpenter wrote the following to me, "A 'Matilda' is another name for a 'swag', or a collection of possessions carried by a 'swagman' (bushman, traveler & worker in the Australian bush, or wilderness), usually carried rolled in a blanket and across his shoulders. 'Waltzing Matilda' means journeying with one of these swags."

Ken Pidd wrote the following, "With regard to the definitions of Australian terms used in the song 'Waltzing Matilda' on your web site, I would like to add the following. A swagman is not someone who lives by the bush. The term was used to describe someone who had no fixed place of abode, but traveled the country (usually walking and carrying their limited possessions) while looking for work. Most common during the depression of the 1890's and 1930's. A matilda was the term used for the swagman's swag (bedroll/blankets) he carried on his back along with his tucker (food) bag. The term 'waltzing matilda' was the expression used to describe this activity. A swagman on the road looking for work was 'Waltzing Matilda'."

Matthew Bond wrote me in July 2004 to say, "I was just looking at your website and noticed the term squatter had a strange definition of a 'farmer'! A squatter is someone who lives on a property owned by someone else and they don't pay them any rent. In the old days all the land was 'owned' by the Queen and squatters invariably became land owners by default for living there for such lengthy amounts of time."

Here's what wikipedia says about it, "The title is Australian slang for travelling by foot with one's goods in a "Matilda" (bag) slung over one's back. The song narrates the story of an itinerant worker, or swagman, making a drink of tea at a bush camp and capturing a sheep to eat. When the sheep's owner arrives with three police officers to arrest the worker for the theft, the worker commits suicide by drowning himself in the nearby watering hole, and then goes on to haunt the site."

Many thanks to everyone who helped with this song!

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Thanks and Acknowledgements

The photo is from wikipedia and it was taken in 1901 of a Swagman.

Many thanks to Daniel, owner of Music Grape Vine, for contributing this song.

Thanks also to Megan for helping with the definitions and for giving me information on the poet.

I'd also like to thank Dave Healey, Bob Howell and Jacques Guy for additional help with the definitions.

Thanks so much!