Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Queensland - The Shire of Barcoo, Qantas and Waltzing Matilda

No experience of Queensland would be complete without reference to what is probably Australia's most famous song, Waltzing Matilda.  The words were written by bush poet Banjo Paterson and the song has been, at times, controversial - most people assume that it was a political anthem, a scarcely-disguised retelling of an incident that took place in Queensland during the Shearer's Strike of 1891, others believe that the song has been misappropriated and politicised by the left. 

Whatever the truth may be, the song is a classic.  The tune is believed to be based on a traditional Scottish song called Craigielee, although others believe that the words and the tune more closely resemble a traditional English song known as The Bold Fusilier.  There are many awful versions of both on YouTube, if you want to compare them. 

I remember learning this song in school and it was one of my favourites, being fascinated by exotic words like billabong and jumbuck.  Apart from hats with corks in them, kangaroos and koala bears, Waltzing Matilda was the only 'cultural' knowledge I had of Australia as a child.  Well, until Neighbours came along!  And to think that the song might have languished in the back of beyond in Queensland, were it not for a popular radio jingle for a tea company, which made the song popular all over Australia.  Apparantly, they had to change the words somewhat, as the tea company didn't think references to drowning conjured up an appropriate image of their product!

Banjo wrote the song during a stay in Winton, Queensland.  Ever since I blogged about Mongolia, I've been determined to find a Bayan-Olgii for each state I've blogged about since - Bayan-Olgii meaning that part of the state/country which is physically and/or culturally removed from the rest.  I've decided that the Shire of Barcoo, where Winton is located, should be Queensland's Bayan-Olgii (I also like the Tolkienesque quality of the name:).  Not only did Winton give us Waltzing Mathilda, but it was also the place where the Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Service Ltd., aka Qantas, was founded.  I guess the motivation to fly was high in Winton, a remote outback town, with massive distances to cover if you wanted to get to the big smoke. 

Modern-day Winton proudly hosts the Waltzing Matilda museum, probably one of the few museums in the world dedicated to a single song!  As well as Waltzing Matilda, in my adult years I came to love another song, often played by folk bands in Ireland, called And the band played Waltzing Matilda.  It's very poignant and, if you haven't heard it before, give it a listen (link to YouTube video below). 

The song was written by Scottish-born Eric Bogle and deals with the young Australian soldiers who were killed and injured in Gallipoli during the Great War.  He plays around with the tune of the original song and tells the story of a young man, disabled by a Turkish attack, then sent home to Australia, where he will never be able to waltz again.  It's also a very political song, being written around the time of the Vietnam war. 

Image credits:

The image of the swagman has been provided by the State Records of New South Wales - they have published a whole lot of images on flickr, you can follow their stream at I think it's great that a government body has done this - old photos can tell us so much about history and it's really enjoyable browsing collections of old photographs like this - especially from the other side of the world!

In keeping with State Records NSW's request, I'm pasting in the following information about this image, so you can properly source the historical record:

Description of the photograph:  A Sundowner, Riverina District

Dated: by 11/05/1908

Digital ID: 14086_a005_a005SZ847000022r

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