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

‘Banjo’ Paterson’s ‘Waltzing Matilda’ is the one song that has been bringing people together spontaneously since 1895, and the one song that belongs to all Australians. Generations of experts have argued about the original story that Paterson immortalised, about the origins of the tune, and about what Paterson meant by his almost parodic over-use of Australian colloquialisms. Once a Jolly Swagman takes readers off the score sheet into the story of the song, and tells of its evolution 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 Australia’s pioneering past is written by a city lawyer? In this age of economic rationalism and a globalised world, how does a voice from the billabong saying, ‘You’ll come a waltzing matilda with me’ still matter, and what does it tell us about ourselves?

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