In 1895, the writer Banjo Paterson was visiting Western Queensland. He and his fiancé, Sarah Riley went to visit Bob and Christina Macpherson at Dagworth Station. While there Paterson wrote words to a tune that Christina had played to him on an autoharp. The tune was adapted from the band march ‘Bonnie Wood of Craigielea’ which Christina had heard played at the Warrnambool Races.
Embedded in the verses of the song were new slang words and phrases Patterson had picked up in the area – to ‘waltz matilda’ and pieces of tales he had heard of a wool sourer who had drowned in a waterhole; of striking union shearers, and of the mystery surrounding the death of a shearer.
Waltzing Matilda was first performed publicly at the North Gregory Hotel in Winton in 1895. It was an instant success that soon swept across Australia, becoming the favourite song of Australian troops fighting in the 1915 Gallipoli Campaign. ‘Waltzing Matilda’ has been the national’s unofficial anthem ever since.
The origins of the song and the meaning of the lyrics have been argued over by many researchers and performers since it was written over 100 years ago. Some feel that Waltzing Matilda was an early political protest song – a song of freedom, that the Great Shearers Strike of 1894 influenced Banjo Paterson to write, others disagree.
There are 4 main versions of Waltzing Matilda. The original by Banjo Paterson was written in late 1984. In 1903 Mary Cowan altered the lyrics to help sell Billy Tea. Harry Nathan claimed that he wrote the music and edited lyrics in 1900 but he didn’t apply for copyright until 1903. And finally there is an international version by Thomas Wood which is the most well known outside of Australia.
You can learn the truth and the myth behind the writing of the song when you visit the Waltzing Matilda Centre in Winton. The only centre in the world dedicated to a song.