A-Waltzing Matilda: A Saving Analogy

waltzing matilda

  • swagman = hobo walking the Australian outback, the bush, with his “swag”
  • swag = blanket containing one’s belongings carried over a shoulder with a piece of twine
  • Matilda = nickname for the swag (Aussies have feminine names for everything)
  • going a-waltzing Matilda = doing the hobo, gyrovague, thing
  • billabong = deep pool of water
  • billy = bucket for boiling tea
  • jumbuck  = sheep
  • tucker = food
  • squatter = land “owner”

Here’s the absolute best version ever, ever, ever produced. Worth the listen…

These are the lyrics written in 1903 by Marie Cowan to advertise Billy Tea:

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong
Under the shade of a coolibah tree,
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled:
“Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me?”

  • Chorus: Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
    You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me
    And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled:
    “You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

Down came a jumbuck to drink at that billabong.
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee.
And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag:
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.” (Chorus)

Up rode the squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred.
Down came the troopers, one, two, and three.
“Whose is that jumbuck you’ve got in your tucker bag?
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.” (Chorus)

Up jumped the swagman and sprang into the billabong.
“You’ll never take me alive!” said he
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong:
“Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me?” (Chorus)

BACKGROUND: There was a union uprising leading to violence involving sheep and the death of one of the ring leaders, who, though he escaped, was about to be apprehended when instead he committed suicide rather than be taken alive. This is all terribly sad. And yet this is almost a kind of national anthem of Australia, I think because of the progression of the meaning of being taken up into the Matilda, the swag. So:

  • The swagman takes the sheep to go a-waltzing Matilda
  • The police are about to take the swagman a-waltzing Matilda with them
  • The swagman instead goes to his death, saying that inevitably the police are going to follow, so that he, the swagman, is taking them a-waltzing Matilda sooner or later with himself, right into death

The theme gains epic proportions very quickly, leaving one before the great questions of life and death and who’s really who before these great realities. The ferocity of an independent spirit – even unto death – betrays the horrific brutality of life in a penal colony only one generation distant from the closure of the last encampment when the lyrics were written at the end of the nineteenth century. Life as a sheep worker was hardly better than the labor camps. Lots of cynicism. Lots of bitterness. So, this is a statement that there must be something better to human life on earth, a freedom that no one can take away. Too sad that this glorifies the cheap way out. I suppose I might get beat up for that by my Australian friends, but I remind them that I was a pastor for years in the heart of NSW sheep country…

byers dance paul vi audience hallA SAVING ANALOGY: Let’s say that the swagman is us, the tree is the cross, the billy is the cup we are to drink, the sheep is Jesus, the squatter is Satan, the police are men who follow Satan. So, we wander about in this exile away from heaven and encounter Jesus who is about to taste death. We take Him up in the Blessed Sacrament, but we are pursued by Satan and his minions. Instead of caving into the world and denying Jesus, we follow Him who was about to taste death, and now die with Him. Death before sin! We die to ourselves to live for Jesus, who, rising from the dead, will come to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire, not as any ghost, but as Geist, the Most Holy Spirit.

“This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement” (1 John 5:6-8).

Amen. So: Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda…
Please, come 
a-waltzing Matilda with me!

Yes! Please, do! Dying to ourselves so as to live for Jesus! This is the ultimate freedom: friendship with Jesus.


Filed under Jesus

16 responses to “A-Waltzing Matilda: A Saving Analogy

  1. Mark Smith

    Fr, thank you for this, I’ve learned much about ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and the analogy is great!
    Blaxland NSW

  2. elizdelphi

    extra points for using “gyrovague” in a sentence. I would have to read it again later to fully grasp about Waltzing Matilda and Jesus and us!

  3. sanfelipe007

    That was wonderful, father. I just bought a 12 bass-button accordion from a friend, which had belonged to his mother. I think the first tune I will learn to play on it will be “Waltzing Matilda.”

  4. The things I learn here. I can’t wait to share this with my rosary club. By the way, do you think you could use some rosaries for your parishes? My rosary club, “Stringing Along With Mary Rosary Club” (SAWMRC) makes and donates rosaries to anyone who wants or needs them. In May we will celebrate our Silver (25 year) anniversary.
    What a great – Social Studies/History/Religion/Music lesson!

    • Father George David Byers

      We can always put rosaries in the back of the Church, or give them to the kids receiving the sacraments, or such like! Maybe ten or so, and then we’ll see what happens. Thank you joisygoil. 214 Aquone Road; Andrews, NC 28901

  5. elizdelphi

    Well I’m a sarabaite, and that’s even worse.

    • Father George David Byers

      According to Benedict’s rule, right at the start, the gyrovague are ineffably worse.

  6. elizdelphi

    No, I remember the sarabaites being the worst. Yep, I looked it up and he says they are the worst kind. I was actually very interested at one point in who is a sarabaite, and whether I am one.

    I asked a really liberal Camaldolese that I met how I can tell if I am a sarabaite and he said “are you a religious?” and I said no I am just a privately vowed celibate not claiming to be a “monk” or “nun” or “sister” or in the canonical consecrated state and I seriously doubt that the clear canonical distinctions existed in the mind of Saint Benedict (much less Cassian), but to him that was it, if you are not “a religious” you cannot be any of the kinds of monks. So I guess none of the rule of St Benedict applies to anyone who is not a canonical religious by that standard. By the way later I felt like that Camaldolese, who lived not in the monastery but on his own and traveled around a lot playing a guitar and quoting the Baghvad Gita was seriously the wrong person to ask about this question.

    I found that that part of the Rule of St Benedict borrows from Cassian. So I got the writings of Cassian and he goes on at greater length against the sarabaites. And what he says about them makes it seem like what he is describing is not me exactly, though clearly neither am I the praiseworthy kinds. I don’t see where Cassain talks about gyrovagues, maybe that is particular to Benedict.

    • Father George David Byers

      The third kind of monks, a detestable kind [taeterrimum genus = worst kind], are the Sarabaites. These, not having been tested, as gold in the furnace (Wis. 3:6), by any rule or by the lessons of experience, are as soft as lead. In their works they still keep faith with the world, so that their tonsure marks them as liars before God. They live in twos or threes, or even singly, without a shepherd, in their own sheepfolds and not in the Lord’s. Their law is the desire for self-gratification: whatever enters their mind or appeals to them, that they call holy; what they dislike, they regard as unlawful.

      The fourth kind of monks are those called Gyrovagues. These spend their whole lives tramping from province to province, staying as guests in different monasteries for three or four days at a time. Always on the move, with no stability, they indulge their own wills and succumb to the allurements of gluttony, and are in every way worse than the Sarabaites [et per omnia deteriores sarabaitis // deteriores = worse]. Of the miserable conduct of all such it is better to be silent than to speak.


      Sometimes we aren’t as bad as we thought we were! ;-) I only know this because the fact that I was a gyrovague and was described in the rule of Saint Benedict was a standing joke at the Pontifical Seminary Josephinum, from seminarians to faculty. They were pretty merciless about it. I was even gifted a copy of the rule with this passage highlighted with yellow highlighter. It was not forgotten that Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin was the gyrovague of all gyrovagues. On the other hand, so was Saint Paul!

      gyrovague = swagman = not so bad after all…

  7. elizdelphi

    Oh, well you’re right then, they’re worser than worst. Well this is serious. Or not?

    gyrovague = swagman = you are fun and you are also trouble? :-)

  8. Gotta get the last word. What a cool way to think of Jesus. A troublemaker! Indeed! Yes, I can see He really is – I like that. So cool.

  9. sanfelipe007

    “If your brother, still, will not listen to you, then treat him like a gyrovague.”

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