Once a jolly swagperson – Australia’s national songs and political correctness

IMG_1163On reading a post about political correctness this morning, I felt compelled to share a fabulous PC version of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ – Australia’s national song – performed by Shortis & Simpson.

For a more traditional version, I recommend true blue Aussie Slim Dusty’s version performed at the 1984 ‘Aussie Rules’ football grand final in Melbourne.*

(See here for definitions of unfamiliar terms).

For anyone unfamiliar with ‘Waltzing Matilda’, the original lyrics were written by the poet ‘Banjo’ Paterson in 1895.

I always thought it told the story of an itinerant worker who stole a sheep, tried to avoid arrest by jumping into a waterhole, and promptly drowned. However, other interpretations include reference to shearers’ strikes and protests against people in authority.**

In 1977, Australians of voting age were asked to decide which of four songs should be sung on ‘occasions of national significance’ (e.g. before major sporting events and when our elite sportspeople win gold medals at the Olympics).

The winner, ‘Advance Australia Fair’, would later become our official national anthem (except when members of the Royal family are in attendance) and ‘Waltzing Matilda’ was downgraded to a national song (coming second with just over 28% of the votes).

School children stopped singing ‘God save the Queen’ [or King] (now the Royal Anthem) and had to learn the words to a new song.

If you look carefully at the photo, you will see a copy of the words that we were given at my school in the late 1970s and may notice that it begins with ‘Australia’s sons…’ This is hardly surprising, given that ‘Advance Australia Fair’ had been first performed in 1878. [The words have since been changed to ‘Australians all…’ to be more inclusive.]

I also found the sheet music for the ‘Victorian’ version of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ (dated 1941) that my mother played on the piano when she was young. [The arranger showed incredible foresight in recommending the tempo ‘With an easy swing, gaily’ instead of ‘With an easy gay swing’.]

And the ‘Queensland’ version of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ in an ABC ‘Let’s sing!’ song book from 1978. You can see in the photo that the suggested tempo is ‘Quite slow’. [I would love to make a comment about Queenslanders having a reputation for speaking slowly but of course that would not be PC.]

Even as I was writing this post, a TV ad for today’s episode of Fishing Australia opened with ‘Once a jolly fisherman…’ [But perhaps that should have been ‘fisherperson’?]


* Back then it was the ‘Victorian Football League’ (VFL) but it’s now the ‘Australian Football League’ (AFL). Note that ‘Waltzing Matilda’ was sung even though ‘Advance Australia Fair’ had been adopted as the Australian national anthem a few months earlier (on 19 April 1984).

** Visit this site for more information than you could ever possibly want about ‘Waltzing Matilda’. It includes an alternative anthem, ‘God Bless Australia‘, from the early 1900s (with its not-so-politically-correct words set to the tune of Waltzing Matilda) and a fun critique of the lyrics as the possible basis of a romantic novel, with comments such as:

  • ‘…having the hero boiling the billy may be fine for a mainstream novel, but it is our experience that new-age heroes who do their own cooking do not go down well with the romance readership’
  • ‘please bear in mind that you are writing for an international readership and terms such as ‘jumbuck’ and ‘tuckerbag’ should be redefined so they are easily understood’.

Other sources: Australian Government It’s an Honour website ‘Australian National Anthem‘ (Accessed 2 November 2013) 

Photo credit: Pip Marks

Categories: Australiana

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

4 replies

  1. Funny video. It’s made me want to perambulate around the dancefloor


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