'Waltzing Matilda' by Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson

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Oh! there once was a swagman camped in the Billabong,Under the shade of a Coolabah tree;
And he sang as he looked at his 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 water-hole,Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him in glee;
And he sang as he put him away in his tucker-bag,"You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me!"Down came the Squatter a-riding his thorough-bred;Down came Policemen-one, two, and three.
"Whose is the jumbuck you've got in the tucker-bag?You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me."But the swagman, he up and he jumped in the water-hole,Drowning himself by the Coolabah tree;
And his ghost may be heard as it sings in the Billabong,"Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?"

Editor 1 Interpretation

Waltzing Matilda: A Literary Masterpiece


Waltzing Matilda is a quintessential piece of Australian poetry written by one of Australia's most famous poets, Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson. It is often referred to as Australia's unofficial national anthem and has been cherished by generations of Australians since its publication in 1895. The significance of this poem lies in its ability to capture the Australian spirit, the romance of the outback, and the historical struggles of the Australian working class.

Historical Context

Before analyzing the poem, it is important to understand the historical context in which it was written. In the late 1800s, Australia was a young nation still trying to establish its identity. The country was still heavily influenced by British culture, but there was a growing sense of nationalism and pride among Australians. The poem was written during a time of economic depression and political turmoil, and many Australians were struggling to make ends meet. The poem's themes of hardship, resilience, and rebellion would have resonated with the working-class Australians of the time.


Waltzing Matilda tells the story of a swagman (a traveling laborer) who steals a sheep and is pursued by the police. Rather than surrendering, the swagman chooses to take his own life by jumping into a billabong (a small body of water). The poem is written in a colloquial style, using Australian slang and vivid descriptions to bring the story to life.

The poem begins with the memorable phrase, "Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong". This opening line immediately sets the scene and establishes the tone of the poem. The word "jolly" suggests a carefree spirit, but the fact that the swagman is camping alone implies that he is a loner, perhaps even an outcast from society. The use of the word "billabong" is significant, as it is a distinctly Australian term that evokes images of the vast, untamed landscape.

As the poem continues, we learn that the swagman is cooking a meal when he sees a sheep grazing nearby. He decides to steal the sheep, an act that would have been illegal and would have carried severe consequences at the time. The fact that the swagman is willing to take such a risk suggests that he is desperate and has little regard for the law.

The next stanza introduces the troopers (police) who are chasing the swagman. The troopers are depicted as cold and heartless, with "their rifles on their shoulders" and "their orders to make him [the swagman] prisoner". The contrast between the swagman and the troopers is striking; the swagman is a simple, impoverished laborer, while the troopers represent the oppressive forces of the law.

The tension between the swagman and the troopers comes to a head in the final stanza when the swagman jumps into the billabong and drowns himself. The image of the swagman's body being carried away by the water is both poignant and tragic. The swagman's decision to take his own life rather than surrender to the troopers is a powerful statement about the human spirit and the struggle for freedom.


The themes of Waltzing Matilda are many and varied. One of the most prominent themes is the struggle for freedom. The swagman represents the working-class Australians who were struggling to survive during a time of economic hardship. His decision to steal the sheep and then take his own life rather than surrender to the troopers shows the lengths to which people will go to protect their freedom and dignity.

Another theme is the romance of the outback. The poem is filled with vivid descriptions of the Australian landscape, from the billabongs to the gum trees. The swagman is depicted as a rugged, independent figure who is at home in the wilderness. This portrayal of the outback as a place of adventure and beauty has become a central part of the Australian national identity.

Finally, the poem explores the idea of rebellion against authority. The swagman's decision to steal the sheep and then take his own life is an act of rebellion against the troopers and the law. This theme of rebellion is particularly relevant given the historical context in which the poem was written. Australia was still a colony of Great Britain at the time, and many Australians were beginning to question the authority of the British Empire.


Waltzing Matilda is a masterpiece of Australian poetry that has stood the test of time. Its themes of freedom, the outback, and rebellion continue to resonate with Australians today. The poem's enduring popularity is a testament to its power to capture the Australian spirit and to inspire a sense of national pride. As Banjo Paterson himself once said, "I had no idea when I wrote Waltzing Matilda that it would become the song of a nation."

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Waltzing Matilda: A Classic Poem by Banjo Paterson

If you are an Australian, you must have heard of the classic poem, Waltzing Matilda. Written by Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson, this poem has become an iconic representation of Australian culture and identity. It is a poem that has been passed down from generation to generation, and its popularity has only grown with time. In this article, we will take a closer look at this classic poem and explore its meaning and significance.

The Story Behind the Poem

Waltzing Matilda was first published in 1903, but its origins date back to the 1890s. Banjo Paterson was a journalist and poet who was traveling through the Queensland outback when he heard the story that inspired the poem. The story goes that a swagman (a traveling laborer) was camped by a billabong (a small body of water) when he was confronted by a group of police officers who were trying to arrest him for stealing a sheep. Rather than be captured, the swagman jumped into the billabong and drowned himself. The story of the swagman's defiance and tragic end struck a chord with Paterson, and he turned it into a poem.

The Meaning of the Poem

Waltzing Matilda is a poem that is rich in symbolism and meaning. On the surface, it tells the story of a swagman who is traveling through the bush with his swag (a bundle of belongings) and his dog. He comes across a billabong and decides to camp there for the night. While he is cooking his dinner, he sees a jumbuck (a sheep) and decides to catch it and cook it for his dinner. However, the owner of the sheep, a squatter (a wealthy landowner), comes along with three mounted policemen and demands that the swagman hand over the sheep. The swagman refuses and, rather than be captured, jumps into the billabong and drowns himself.

On a deeper level, the poem is a commentary on the struggle between the working-class swagman and the wealthy squatter. The swagman represents the ordinary Australian who is struggling to make a living in a harsh and unforgiving environment. The squatter represents the wealthy landowners who control the land and the resources. The three mounted policemen represent the power of the state, which is used to protect the interests of the wealthy.

The swagman's decision to jump into the billabong and drown himself can be seen as an act of defiance against the power of the state and the wealthy. It is a tragic end, but it is also a heroic one. The swagman would rather die than be captured and forced to live a life of servitude.

The Significance of the Poem

Waltzing Matilda has become an iconic representation of Australian culture and identity. It is a poem that celebrates the spirit of the Australian people, their love of the land, and their willingness to stand up for what they believe in. The poem has been embraced by Australians of all backgrounds and has become a symbol of national pride.

The poem has also been used as a political tool. In the early 20th century, it was used by the Australian Labor Party as a rallying cry for workers' rights. In the 1970s, it was adopted by the Australian Nationalist Movement as a symbol of Australian independence and sovereignty.

Waltzing Matilda has also had a significant impact on Australian popular culture. It has been adapted into songs, films, and books, and has been performed by countless musicians and singers. It has become a part of the Australian psyche, and its popularity shows no signs of waning.


Waltzing Matilda is a classic poem that has become an iconic representation of Australian culture and identity. It tells the story of a swagman who is traveling through the bush and his tragic end at the hands of the state and the wealthy. The poem is rich in symbolism and meaning and has been embraced by Australians of all backgrounds. It has become a symbol of national pride and has had a significant impact on Australian popular culture. Waltzing Matilda is a poem that will continue to be celebrated and cherished for generations to come.

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