"Waltzing Matilda the musical" is a large-scale musical about the writing of the song, Waltzing Matilda. On this website, we provide information about the true story behind Waltzing Matilda the musical.

Waltzing Matilda, Australia’s most famous song, is known all around the world. It has often been put forward as a possible national anthem.

The words to Waltzing Matilda were written by Andrew Barton (“the Banjo”) Paterson, early in 1895 at Dagworth Station in Queensland, and the music was composed by Christina MacPherson, the sister of Robert MacPherson, the station owner.

Waltzing Matilda is literally about a swagman who is discovered by some troopers with a stolen jumbuck (sheep), and who commits suicide by jumping into a billabong (waterhole) to evade capture. However, according to most historians of the song, the words of Waltzing Matilda are actually an oblique reference to, or inspired by, the suicide of a Unionist named Samuel Hoffmeister. This seems to be supported by Banjo Paterson’s account of the writing of the song.

Samuel Hoffmeister is believed to have participated in a Union raid on Dagworth Station on the night of the 2nd September 1894 in which the shearing shed was burnt down (a common enough incident during the Shearing Strikes of the 1890’s). Later the following day, Hoffmeister shot himself. The subsequent inquest found that Hoffmeister committed suicide, however the testimony of the witnesses was contradictory, so the full events of the evening and subsequent day are still unknown.

Several versions of the song have been written. The first version was to the tune by  Christina MacPherson, which was based on a Scottish folk tune called Thou Bonnie Wood Of Craigielea, a setting of a poem by the Scottish poet Robert Tannahill; who, coincidentally, drowned himself in a canal in his home town of Paisley, near Glasgow, at the age of 36.

The more well-known version of the melody was an arrangement of Christina MacPherson’s melody by Marie Cowan, commissioned by tea merchant James Inglis for an advertisement for his product “Billy Tea.” James Inglis was a friend of Marie Cowan’s. Some confusion about the authorship of the music may have come from the fact that Christina MacPherson’s married name was McCowan.

These are the original words to the Christina MacPherson melody that Banjo Paterson wrote in 1895:

WALTZING MATILDA

Oh there once was a swag man camped in the billabong,

Under the shade of a coolibah tree;

And he sang as he looked at the old billy boiling

“Who'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me?”

 

Who'll come a Waltzing Matilda my darling,

Who'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me?

Waltzing Matilda, and leading a water bag;

Who'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me?

 

Down came a jumbuck to drink at the billabong,

Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee;

And he said as he put him away in the tucker bag

“You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me!”

 

Who'll come a Waltzing Matilda my darling,

Who'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me?

Waltzing Matilda, and leading a water bag;

Who'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me?

 

Down came a squatter, a-riding his thoroughbred,

Down came policemen, one, two, three;

“Whose is that jumbuck you've got in your tucker bag?

You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me!”

 

Who'll come a Waltzing Matilda my darling,

Who'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me?

Waltzing Matilda, and leading a water bag;

Who'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me?

 

But the swagman he up and he jumped in the waterhole,

Drowning himself by the coolibah tree;

And his ghost may be heard as it sings by the billabong

“Who'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me?”

 

Who'll come a Waltzing Matilda my darling,

Who'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me?

Waltzing Matilda, and leading a water bag;

Who'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me?

 

 

A sign in the middle of nowhere, pointing to Dagworth Station, 28 kilometres away.

Image Copyright©1996 A. Partington All Rights Reserved Used by permission.

Dagworth Station is very dry and barren. This is one of the sheep paddocks.

Image Copyright©1996 A. Partington All Rights Reserved Used by permission

Could this be the original billabong that Banjo Paterson based the lyrics on? Photo taken at the Combo waterhole, Outback Queensland, not far from Dagworth Station.

Image Copyright©1996 A. Partington All Rights Reserved Used by permission

Bob MacPherson; the manager of Dagworth Station, and perhaps the model for the squatter (farmer/station owner) in Waltzing Matilda.

Image Copyright©1996 A. Partington All Rights Reserved Used by permission

All that's left of Dagworth Homestead today, according to local legend. Could this be all that's left of the house where Banjo Paterson wrote Waltzing Matilda? Another homestead has since been built on another site.

Image Copyright©1996 A. Partington All Rights Reserved Used by permission

The third version of Waltzing Matilda, known in folk music circles as the “Queensland” or “Buderine” version, uses the same words as the original and was written by Josephine Penn, a girlfriend of Christina MacPherson’s brother Robert, according to Robert Magoffin (1937-2006), the historian who discovered much of the background about Waltzing Matilda.

All content on this website Copyright © 1993,1996,2006,2007 Submarine Media Pty Ltd, Waltzing Matilda the musical Pty Ltd, Edward Holding & Andrew Partington with the exception of quotations, which are public domain.

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

Glossary

Billabong: Waterhole.

Coolibah Tree: sometimes spelled Coolabah; a type of tree that is often found at waterholes.

Jumbuck: Sheep.

Station: a large freehold property, dedicated to raising either sheep or cattle.

Swagman: an itinerant worker, a homeless wanderer, seeking work on farms and outback stations.

Swag: the bundle of belongings that a traveller carries.

Trooper one, two, three: the law was enforced by the army in outback areas of colonial Australia. During the shearing troubles, the minimum number of troopers on a patrol was probably three.

Tucker bag: Where the swagman keeps his tucker (food).