By Rama Gaind
PS News Books
Waltzing Matilda: The Secret History of Australia’s Favourite Song
By Dennis O’Keeffe (Allen & Unwin, $27.99, softcover, 294 pages)
As the subtitle reveals, this is a fascinating read of the origins of what has been widely recognised around the world as the “Australian song”.
Waltzing Matilda holds a unique place in our culture and is regarded as being a ‘part of Australia and part of being Australian’. The song is steeped in history.
From the remote Queensland plains, our famous folk song written by Banjo Paterson, has found its way to every corner of the earth and the swagman—or ‘jolly swagman’—has become a symbol of Australian identity.
Even after 115 years, the people’s song embodies their spirit and continues not only to capture the imagination of Australians, but also people around the world.
Singer/songwriter O’Keeffe gives a decisive account of the events alluded to in the song and when and how it was written.
Against the backdrop of a passionate love affair with a bitter end, this “harmless ditty” also tells the story of a society in chaos, arson and murder and violent conflict.
Australians have marched home from several wars to the beat of Waltzing Matilda, Prime Ministers have walked into office as it has been played, it was performed at the closing ceremony of the 2001 Sydney Olympic Games, the opening ceremony of the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane and is echoed around countless schools.
There are other great Australian songs like I Still Call Australia Home by Peter Allen, ballads penned by John Williamson and some legendary lyrics by Slim Dusty, but debate continues on its preference over the current anthem, Advance Australia Fair.
Opinions might differ on whether it’s as important to Australian culture as events like the Eureka Stockade and the legend of Ned Kelly, but it has weathered the test of time in fine style.
Edition 399, 04 March 2014
To find out more about Rama Gaind click here.