WALTZING MATILDA – SHOCK HORROR REVELATION!!!!!!!!
Like a thunderbolt out of the blue it struck me: Waltzing Matilda, which is practically Australia’s national anthem, is in duple time. That's right, two beats per bar! All my life, I have unquestioningly believed that it is in triple meter – after all, that's what a waltz is, isn't it? ONE – two – three, ONE – two – three . . . and now I put on my critical listening ears, I find it is actually a march: ONE – two, ONE - two, LEFT- right LEFT - right. What, Waltzing Matilda not a waltz? Next, you’ll be telling me that Brighton rock is not made in Brighton, or that toad-in-the-hole is not now, nor has ever been, an amphibian.
What's up? Have the Australians, with their highly developed sense of irony, been playing an elaborate practical joke on the rest of the world? I found the answer here, in Rolf Harris’s entertaining and highly informative preamble to his inimitable rendition of the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bl-YI44XYjI
Aha! All stands revealed: a “swagman” (wandering hobo) carries his meager belongings, and such tucker (food) as he possesses, in his “swag”, a ragged blanket tied around his shoulders, which he mockingly refers to as his “Matilda”, or life companion. So “waltzing” has nothing to do with dancing, but rather evokes a slow, weary trudge through the Australian bush, whose grimness is briefly relieved every morning by such magical sounds as these:
Alas, we learn that our hero has run afoul of the law – he has stolen a jumbuck! What is a jumbuck, I hear you ask. Hmm, should I tell you, or make you listen to the song? I’ll tell you this much: the penalty for stealing one in 19th century Australia was death . . . and uh-oh, here comes the “squatter”, or landowner, (strange isn’t it, how the meaning of the word has changed?) mounted on his thoroughbred. Choosing a quick death by drowning over a protracted one ending with hanging, our lamentably uncatechised swagman leaps into the billabong, crying, “You’ll never take me alive!”
So there we have it: a rattling good song, a brief foreign language lesson, and an introduction to Australia’s unique wildlife (be sure not to miss the Thorny Devil.) And if you’re still itching for a waltz, try this one: Tchaikovsky - Waltz of the Flowers https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QxHkLdQy5f0.