Thursday, 24 April 2008


This is my contribution to ANZAC day on April 25th. An unrelated but never-the-less, true-blue look at ourselves. (See song choices at the bottom of this post.)

As I was driving home from my mother's just now they played a new version of Waltzing Matilda by John Shuman (?), on the radio. It started me thinking about the connections we feel with a group or nationality and a land. That song encapsulates, for me, what it is to be Australian and it must do for nearly all Australians because there wouldn't be an Australian who couldn't sing it, more or less, if push came to shove. And I once sang it when I was 20 - totally out of tune and very badly - to a busload of Japanese, in Japan, who spoke not a word of English! But that's another story. It has never been our national anthem and yet we claim it as our song, with more love and pride than the official anthem and that is what makes Australians, Australian. Generally, we don't give a hoot about what the government or any authority says, we will get up and do things our own way, come hell or high water and do a bloody good job of it as well. Here is the gist of the song, as I see it:

"Once a jolly swagman sat beside the billabong,
Under the shade of a coolibah tree,
And he sang as he sat and waited till his billy boiled:
Who'll come a waltzing matilda with me? "

The first few lines set the scene geographically and historically as well as describing the climate and its effect on activity in the heat of the day. A happy-go-lucky itinerant worker, sitting down under a tree beside a waterway is making a cup of tea on a fire and thinking about things, and singing a tune he remembers from the old country, when he sees a sheep wander down for a drink:

"Down came a jumbuck to drink beside the billabong
Up jumped the swagman and seized him with glee
And he sang as he tucked the jumbuck in his tuckerbag
Who'll come a waltzing matilda with me?"

Along comes the opportunity to bag a farmer's stray sheep for dinner and stuff it his bag. Here we have the love of a bargain and making the most of free stuff - the epitome of being Australian. Today this is illustrated whenever there's a hard-rubbish collection in Adelaide, which is right now where I live. People put their unwanted old furniture, car tyres, computer monitors, garden pots and anything else legal, out on the side of the road. Later in the week contractors collect it and take it to the rubbish dump. But first, people like me drive around and look out for stuff that might be useful - terracotta pots, carpet underlay and glass sheets etc - all useful vegetable gardening supplies - but the law says we are not supposed to pick it up. Who cares? Everybody does. Only obey laws that serve some good purpose, is my motto. That's like the bloke in the song who nabs the sheep - who is going to notice or care? But:

"Down came the stockman, riding on his thoroughbred,
Down came the troopers, one, two, three.
"Where's that jolly jumbuck you've got in your tuckerbag?
You'll come a waltzing matilda with me."

Things aren't looking good when the farmer turns up with the police and they attempt to drag him off to gaol. But, like any good Australian, he has an idea!

"Up jumped the swagman and plunged into the billabong,
"You'll never catch me alive," cried he
And his ghost may be heard as you ride beside the billabong,
Who'll come a waltzing matilda with me?"
Written by "Banjo" Paterson, 1893

He jumps into the river and maybe he couldn't swim or he got caught up in snags under the water because that's the last they see of him. A bit of a bad idea, as it turned out but I think we would all agree it was worth a try and we kind of secretly admire him for sticking it at authority! At least he didn't get caught! And I really think that he used a reed to breathe through until the troops left and then crawled out and went off somewhere to light a fire and cook his meat and his ghost may be heard laughing its head off at a mighty fine prank! I wonder if any other country holds so dear a song about a bit of crooked bloke wandering around the countryside on the look-out for a bargain?? Who else would have had a Prime Minister in the Guiness Book of Records for skulling the most beer, earlier in his life?

It is interesting, I think, that I comment differently on Australian blogs to on others. I assume (sometimes incorrectly I guess) that Australians will generally have a similar sense of irreverence, larrikinism and humour to myself. I know for a fact that Americans think very differently to Australians and they have a completely different sense of humour, which I don't understand at all. English humour is usually that wonderful understated type and this is easy for us to appreciate but life is different in England and there's a lot of history there to be waded through! Any one else would not have a hope in hell of understanding any Australian humour so it is best to stick to straight language if visiting a non-Australian blog, especially one whose writer's first language is not English - and how I admire them for writing a blog not in their first language or sometimes writing it in both. I would love to write some things in Japanese but I don't have the right keyboard....or a character translating programme . It is the same with emails - I am not getting any feedback through eye-contact or body-language and a non-Australian may be misunderstanding me. I do write some pretty challenging things, at times.
When I have been overseas and heard Waltzing Matilda being played somewhere it has a mighty emotional effect, much more so than our silly national anthem. And when I hear it here in Australia I laugh and side with the swaggy every time! It's the larrikin in me - I just can't help it!

There are several other beautiful tear-jerking Australian songs and none more so than the one they used to use for the Qantas ads - "I Still Call Australia Home". But I want to know - "Advance Australia Fair"(the national anthem) or "Waltzing Matilda"(the larrikin's anthem) - which song do you Australian readers feel more attached to?


Greg W said...

Hooray! I applaud your individuality. I have always admired people for not towing-the-line to any one government just because they are expected to.

I always admire the irreverence and self humility that makes a person more human.

Australians have always, it seems to me, to be very in tune with what is really important in life, and that is to just have fun.

You go girl! Challenge is the spice of life.

Kate said...

Thanks Greg. I was such a good little girl, always the class captain always the one the teacher could rely on - I don't know what has happened!

I love your garden blog and will put a link to it.

rhonda jean said...

I like True Blue and Waltzing Matilda. Both great songs to be sung loudly. I hope you had a great Anzac Day.

Anonymous said...

You're dead right about the humour thing - I can completely relate to what you said from my experiences with a US penpal. We look at things very differently, not just in humour, but judgment wise too. As for the song, John Williamson's True Blue, so very sad, but lovely. Keep up the great writing Kate, I really enjoy your blog!