Waltzing Matilda the musical is a ground-breaking new musical written by Edward Holding and Andrew Partington, about the origins of the best-loved Australian song of all time.

Set during the civil unrest that culminated in the defeat of the trade unions in 1894, Waltzing Matilda the musical is the story of Samuel Hoffmeister, a German immigrant and ardent unionist, who was the poet Banjo Paterson’s inspiration for the swagman in “Waltzing Matilda”.

BACKGROUND TO THE MUSICAL

INTRODUCTION

The connection between the creation of the song Waltzing Matilda and events that occurred on Dagworth station during the shearing strike of 1894 is well attested. Andrew Barton Paterson himself, in his 1930’s Radio talk, “Golden Water”, makes that link:

The shearers staged a strike by way of expressing themselves, and MacPherson’s woolshed at Dagworth was burnt down and a man was picked up dead. This engendered no malice and I have seen the MacPhersons handing out champagne through a pub window to these very shearers. And here a personal reminiscence may be worth recording. While resting for lunch, or while changing horses on our four-in-hand journeys, Miss MacPherson, afterwards wife of the financial magnate, J.McCall MacCowan, used to play a little Scottish tune on a zither and I put words to the tune and called it “Waltzing Matilda”. Not a very great literary achievement perhaps, but it has been sung in many parts of the world. (Song of the Pen – A.B.Paterson’s Complete Works 1983, p.500)

The ‘man picked up dead’ was Samuel Hoffmeister, a German immigrant unionist and a shearer. This was one of the newspaper reports following the Dagworth incident:

BRISBANE Tues. A Barcaldine telegram states that shearing work in that district is proceeding satisfactorily. Hoffmeister, the unionist supposed to have been shot in the affray in Dagworth, was well known here… He is about 30 years of age. [He] sheared at Leichhart Downs and other stations. In 1891 Hoffmeister, it is stated, took a very prominent part in fomenting strife and advocating violence, but succeeded in keeping out of the clutches of the law. He invariably carried firearms. (Sydney Morning Herald Sept 5 1894)

The coronial inquest on 27th September 1894 found Hoffmeister’s death to be suicide.

To the authors, the character of Samuel Hoffmeister was immediately intriguing: a German immigrant, the original swagman and a Union agitator. The Shearing Strikes of 1891 and 1894 and their subsequent influence on the political development of our nation was also something that appeared to have dramatic potential, particularly in view of the fact that many Australians know nothing of these important events.

Waltzing Matilda the musical is a story that attempts to explore the human concerns of love and the search for meaning in the context of the journey of Hoffmeister from being a union radical dedicated to peaceful means of protest at the strike on Circular Quay in 1890, to a member of a team of shearers who burn a shearing shed in a violent confrontation on Dagworth station, culminating in the terrible inexplicable fact of Hoffmeister’s suicide. The epilogue dramatizes Emma’s grief, and the writing of the song, Waltzing Matilda.

The struggle between the Pastoralists and the Shearers is the backdrop to the story. The way that Lawson and Paterson exemplified this struggle is a fascinating side-plot. In the musical, Christina Macpherson shows the practical compassion that can span such divisions.

The story of Hoffmeister is constructed in the shadow of two events: the 1890 Maritime strike and the 1894 Shearers’ Strike.

However the climax of the story also revolves around two historical events: the burning of Dagworth Shearing Shed and the writing of Waltzing Matilda the song. The link between these events was a person: Christina MacPherson, the sister of the owner of Dagworth Station, Robert Macpherson. She recollected the writing of the song in an undated letter to Thomas Wood:

[Banjo Paterson] was on a visit to Winton, North Queensland, and I was staying with my brothers about 80 miles from Winton. We went in to Winton for a week or so & one day I played (from ear) a tune which I had heard played by a band at the Races in Warnambool [sic], a country town in the Western District of Victoria. Mr Patterson [sic] asked what it was-I could not tell him, & he then said he thought he could write some lines to it. He then and there wrote the first verse. We tried it and thought it went well, so he then wrote the other verses. I might add that in a short time everyone in the District was singing it...When Mr Patterson returned to Sydney he wrote and asked me to send him the tune. I am no musician but did my best: & later on he told me he had sent it on to a musical friend of his who thought it would make a good bush song. It was included in the Student's Song Book and was frequently sung at the Community Singing... (National Library of Australia. http://www.nla.gov.au/epubs/ waltzingmatilda/1-Orig-Creation.html)

THE STYLE OF THE MUSIC

The musical character of the melody of Waltzing Matilda, in particular its emphasis on the falling third, offers many possibilities for thematic variation. Nearly every melody in Waltzing Matilda the musical contains some thematic reference to, or derivation from, the melody of the song. Nevertheless the style is extremely varied, reflecting something of "Les Miserables" while also containing a definite Australian flavour.

 

POEMS QUOTED IN THE MUSICAL

The following poems and songs are quoted in Waltzing Matilda the musical.

Poems by A.B. “the Banjo” Paterson

Clancy of the Overflow (The Bulletin, 21 December 1889)

He Giveth His Beloved Sleep (Rio Grande, 1902)

Any Other Time (excerpt) (Rio Grande, 1902)

On Kiley’s Run (excerpt) (The Bulletin, 20 December 1889)

The Man from Snowy River (excerpt) (The Bulletin, 26 April 1890)

Waltzing Matilda (Written 1894-5: original music written by Christina Macpherson, passed down in manuscript. Partly based on the Scottish song “Thou Bonny Wood o’ Craigielea,” music by Robert Barr, words by Tannahill, 1818; the well-known version arranged by Marie Cowan from Christina Macpherson’s melody, first published as sheet music James Inglis & Co., 1903)

Poems by Henry Lawson

Faces in the Street (excerpt) (The Bulletin, 28 July 1888)

When Your Pants Begin To Go (excerpt) (The Bulletin,17 Dec 1892)

Freedom on the Wallaby (excerpt) (Brisbane Worker, 16 May 1891) (The melody used for the chorus in Waltzing Matilda the musical is a minor key variant of the traditional melody. For the traditional melody see: The Penguin Australian Songbook, compiled by J.S.Manifold 1964)

The 1892 Verse Debate

Excerpts were adapted from the following poems from the 1892 verse debate between Lawson and Paterson, for the song “Dueling Banjo”:

Borderland, by Henry Lawson (The Bulletin, July 9, 1892)

In Defence of the Bush, by Banjo Paterson (The Bulletin, July 23, 1892)

In Answer to “Banjo,” and otherwise, by Henry Lawson (The Bulletin, Aug 6, 1892)

In Defence of the Bush, in answer to various bards, by Banjo Paterson (The Bulletin, Oct 1, 1892)

All content on this website Copyright © 1993,1996,2006,2007 Submarine Media Pty Ltd, Waltzing Matilda the musical Pty Ltd, Edward Holding & Andrew Partington

Waltzing Matilda the musical Copyright © 1993,1996,2006,2007 Submarine Media Pty Ltd, Waltzing Matilda the musical Pty Ltd, Edward Holding & Andrew Partington