Waltzing Matilda is an old Irish song that’s now hugely popular in Australia. Although Banjo Paterson wrote the song in 1895, it wasn’t published until 1903. By that time, there were slight variations as different singers interpreted it in their own way.
In 1903, the Billy Tea company decided to use the song as part of its advertising.
They didn’t like the explicit reference to the swagman drowning so they modified it so that he simply asserts that he won’t be taken alive. We’re left to assume the rest as we hear that “his ghost can be heard as you pass by that billabong”.
In 1907, Paterson sold the rights to Waltzing Matilda to the publishers Angus and Robertson for five pounds.
That was a considerable sum in those days but insignificant compared to the millions the song went on to earn in the age of recorded music that sprang into life within just a few years.
Later, the earnings were to be boosted even further with the advent of radio and television.
Waltzing Matilda is popular across the world and has been recorded by numerous performers including The Seekers, Rolf Harris, The Irish Rovers, The Swingle Singers, Wilf Carter, Peter Dawson and Tenor Australis.
The songwriter Eric Bogle used Waltzing Matilda as the inspiration for his own classic song, The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, which tells the story of a soldier who is injured while fighting for Australia at Gallipoli in the First World War.
The song tells the soldier’s story from the moment he sets off to battle, through the fighting, getting injured and then returning back to Australia after losing both legs.
Each stage of his story is punctuated by the band playing Waltzing Matilda.
The Band Played Waltzing Matilda is now almost as well known as the original song and has been recorded numerous major artists including Eric Bogle himself, Joan Baez, The Pogues, The Dubliners, Liam Clancy, John Williamson and John McDermott.