I think there are a lot of people who don’t really listen to song lyrics. This occurred to me the other day as I was listening to the song “Waltzing Matilda”–the unofficial Australian national anthem, by Banjo Paterson. It’s a catchy tune, but it makes no sense. And no, I don’t mean because of the Australian lingo. Here are the lyrics, via Wikipedia:
Once a jolly swagman [vagrant] camped by a billabong [a pool of water]
Under the shade of a coolibah tree,
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy [tea] boiled:
“Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me?” [“Waltzing Matilda” means wandering carrying your belongings in a bag.]
Down came a jumbuck [sheep] to drink at that billabong.
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee.
And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag:
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”
Ok, so what kind of sheep is this that you can fit inside a bag? Or did he slaughter the sheep before he did that?
Up rode the squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred.
Down came the troopers, one, two, and three.
“Whose is that jumbuck you’ve got in your tucker bag?
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”
This is a remarkably efficient police force–homicide investigations are not treated with the same rigor as this sheep theft. Also, why do the policemen use the same expression? Are they planning to carry the guy off in a bag?
Up jumped the swagman and sprang into the billabong.
“You’ll never take me alive!” said he
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong:
“Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me?”
So… this guy committed suicide rather than give back the sheep he had stolen? Was the punishment for sheep theft worse than death?
Now there are indications that the song is based on a true story, and is in fact related to an incident in the 1891 Shearers’ Strike. That means it has some political subtext. If that’s the case, it might have been better to mention it was a striking worker, as opposed to a passing tramp.
Anyway, that’s my opinion. Don’t let it stop you from enjoying the song; it’s a nice little tune. Maybe some other time I’ll post about why the confusing syntax in the official United States National Anthem is so annoying, and why we should replace the “Star-Spangled Banner” with the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”