Once a Jolly Swagman: The Ballad of Waltzing Matilda

Matthew Richardson

Once a Jolly Swagman: The Ballad of  Waltzing Matilda
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Once a Jolly Swagman: The Ballad of  Waltzing Matilda

Matthew Richardson

How, in this age of economic rationalism and a globalised world, does a voice from the billabong saying, ‘You’ll come a waltzing matilda with me’ still matter? Waltzing Matilda is the one song that belongs to all Australians. It has been bringing people together spontaneously since 1895, when Banjo Paterson wrote the words to it, and Christina Macpherson first played it in outback Queensland. Once a Jolly Swagman takes readers off the score sheet into the story of the song, and tells the story and evolution of Australia’s favourite song up until the twenty-first century. It tries to answer the riddles within the song, and unpick its inherent contradictions. Where’s the heroism in a suicidal thief? What was jolly about the jumbuck? Is Waltzing Matilda the key to Australian values? What does it mean that a beloved song about Australiua’s pioneering past is written by a city lawyer? Generations of experts have argued about the original story that Paterson immortalised, about the origins of the tune, and what Paterson meant by his almost parodic over-use of Australian colloquialisms. Here is a book that asks what Waltzing Matilda means to the nation that welcomed it, and what it tells us about ourselves.

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