Waltzing Matilda : The Secret History of Australia's Favourite Song
Format: Trade Paper
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
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An expose of two cover-ups: one the death of a swagman by a billabong; the other, a torrid affair between Banjo Paterson and his fiancee's best friend, and how the two events come together in Australia's best-loved national song. Australians know Waltzing Matilda, written by our most popular poet Banjo Paterson, as our most loved song and unofficial national anthem. What Australians don't know is that their song is embroiled in a web of secrecy, violence and a triangular love affair. Written at a pivotal time in Australia's history, Waltzing Matilda is as important to Australian culture as events like the Eureka Stockade and the story of Ned Kelly. In the middle of remote Queensland, shearing sheds were being burnt to the ground by striking union shearers, amid violent gun battles and sheep being burnt to death. A swagman mysteriously died beside a remote billabong, possibly shot by the squatter or one of the three policemen. Then a secret deal was done by unionists to conceal the truth of the swagman's death. Banjo Paterson becomes entangled in a love affair that destroys the lives of two women. This is the story of Waltzing Matilda. Although various authors and historians have written about Waltzing Matilda, mostly they have been influenced by their own political leanings. Generally, the left side of politics claim the song is a political allegory and the conservatives claim Waltzing Matilda is nothing but a 'meaningless little ditty'. All of them have neglected to consider in general that Banjo Paterson, like a lot of successful men, was a womaniser. One hundred and fifteen years after the writing of Waltzing Matilda, Australians continue to be fascinated with the song and sing it proudly wherever they meet to celebrate. Given the facts outlined in this story, they will be further captivated and embrace the song for decades to come.
Dennis O'Keeffe is one of the nation's leading performers of Australian traditional songs, and has been a successful song-writing teacher for over ten years. For as many years, he has led the Australian traditional song sessions at the National Folk Festival in Canberra. Dennis plays an Anglo-concertina, an instrument that came to Australia during the gold-rushes of the 1850s, and was the most popular instrument in the Australian outback until the turn of the century. Regrettably, there are very few concertina players left in Australia. Dennis has been at the birth of literally hundreds of songs, having written some forty songs about Australian history, and nurtured many song-writers from their first idea through to the first public performance of their song. Twenty years of painstaking research into the origins of Waltzing Matilda, combined with his knowledge of Australian traditional songs and proven song-writing ability, gives Dennis an intimate understanding of how the song was written.