HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA — Not many songs have their own interpretive centers, but "Waltzing Matilda'" is even more deeply ingrained in Australia's culture than the official anthem. "Waltzing Matilda," which has sent Australians to war and welcomed them home again, is a fixture at sporting events (including the Sydney Olympics closing ceremony), is learned by school children and played in the halls of power. Who'll come a-'Waltzing Matilda' with me? commemorates a song with a history worthy of a song of its own.
An online exhibition of the National Library of Australia, Waltzing looks at some myths and -as far as they can be established- the facts about the creation of the ballad in 1895, and follows its evolution to the present day. A keyword search is available, but largely unnecessary due to the logical, linear presentation of the site's contents.
Origins recounts how the song about an itinerant worker, written by a Sydney solicitor (who also wrote "The Man from Snowy River") moved from its birthplace in the sitting room of a Queensland station (ranch), to a performance before the state's governor, to publication in newspapers and leaflets distributed to regional pubs. Varying theories about the lineage of the melody are also provided - along with sheet music for those who may want to play along (and an audio file for those who may want to sing along).
Versions deals with three main interpretations of the song that have evolved over the century since its composition - again with audio for easy comparison. Not surprisingly for a song that passed through so many hands, the rendition you're familiar with is not the original, but a version altered -and marginally cheered up- to promote Billy Tea ("Australia's National Drink").
Unofficial Anthem briefly recounts the song's consideration when Australia chose a national anthem in the 1970s, and Living Traditions catalogs the song's continuing appearances in various forms of media - from background music in films and newsreels, to interpretive dance, to Eric Bogle's anti-war piece, "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda" (which effectively depicts the use of such patriotic symbols to manipulate feelings during wartime).
Finally, and perhaps most importantly for non-Australians, Meanings explains some of the terms that make no sense to the rest of us, such as Billabongs, Jumbucks, and the very act of Waltzing one's Matilda. A more detailed explanation of the last term, and a theory as to events that may have inspired the song can be found at The History of Waltzing Matilda, while Roger Clarke's Waltzing Matilda site includes a handful of parodies, and the rather convoluted assortment of copyrights connected to the song. (Patterson sold the rights to his composition for five pounds.)
Audio files at the National Library site are available in both RealPlayer and MP3 formats, with a variety of interpretations that include a downright sunny rendition, and a rather incongruous -given the song's history- orchestral performance - complete with baritone solo and chorus. (Not unlike hearing "Take me out to the ballgame" performed by Luciano Pavarotti and the London Philharmonic.) Text is complemented throughout with photographs of such artifacts as personal letters, newspaper clippings, sheet music covers, and a 1957 Waltzing Matilda Christmas card.
Who'll come a-'Waltzing Matilda' with me? can be found at http://www.nla.gov.au/epubs/waltzingmatilda/index.html.