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Australia Travel

What does Waltzing Matilda mean?


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December 11, 2009 5:56AM

In Waltzing Matilda, an Australian swagman (homeless drifter who wandered between towns and cattle/sheepstations) stops by a billabong, which is a waterhole cut off from the main river or creek. He waits for water to boil in his billy, presumably to make some tea. While doing so, he notices a jumbuck, or male sheep, come to the water. He springs up, grabs the sheep, and stuffs it into his tucker bag (a bag or box to hold food or other other rations). The troopers (police) come after him, so he jumps into the billabong and drowns, preferring to die than to be carted off to gaol.

The actual words about going "waltzing matilda" mean having the freedom to come and go as one pleases. Swagmen would toss their swag (matilda) onto their back and go wandering, not subject to anyone's authority. This particular swagman was also not going to be subject to anyone's authority. He was free to camp wherever he wanted, free to roam, free to steal a sheep if he wanted, and free to take his own life so the troopers couldn't take away his freedom.