What is 'Matilda' in the Australian song, 'Waltzing Matilda'?
'Waltzing Matilda' is Australia's best-known bush ballad, and has been described as the country's unofficial national anthem. The title was Australian slang for travelling on foot (waltzing) with one's belongings in a 'matilda' ('swag'-sleeping bag) slung over one's back.
The Australian poet Banjo Paterson wrote the words to 'Waltzing Matilda' in August 1895 while staying at a sheep and cattle station in Central West Queensland
The song narrates the story of an itinerant worker, or 'swagman', making a drink of 'billy' tea at a bush camp and capturing a 'jumbuck' (sheep) to eat.
When the 'jumbuck's' owner, a 'squatter' (landowner), and three troopers (mounted police) pursue the 'swagman', he declares "You'll never catch me alive!" and commits suicide by drowning himself in a nearby 'billabong' (watering hole), after which his ghost haunts the site.
Extensive folklore surrounds the song and the process of its creation, to the extent that it has its own museum, the 'Waltzing Matilda Centre' in the Queensland outback, where Paterson wrote the lyrics.
The original lyrics were first published as sheet music in 1903. The song was first recorded in 1926 as performed by John Collinson and Russell Callow.
In 2008, this recording of 'Waltzing Matilda' was added to the 'Sounds of Australia' registry in the 'National Film and Sound Archive', which says that there are more recordings of 'Waltzing Matilda' than any other Australian song.