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Waltzing Matilda is considered by many the unofficial national song of Australia and is very recognizable to a great number of the population outside the continent, but has always seemed like a very sad, haunting song to me.
I know some of the history behind its creation, how the music is actually of a Scottish origin and that a man named Banjo Patterson wrote the lyrics to it back in 1895. How its content, while seemingly innocuous at first listen, does have a mooring in the mysterious death of an itinerant worker (swagman) who allegedly burnt down a non-union sheering building and supposedly committed suicide. But even with these dark tones behind the origins of the song I always interpreted the lyrics a little differently.
Perhaps the jolly swagman wasn’t jolly at all.
In fact, since during the time period in which the song was written, itinerate workers weren’t allowed to vote because a person was required to have a permanent residence for at least six months to have the right, and these workers didn’t due to the nature of having to travel so often.
Imagine trekking across a treacherous landscape on foot, performing hard labor, but doing so without the right to vote and have a say in the political climate to perhaps better yourself.
History is full of these situations upon closer inspection of different creative mediums, and songs are no exception. I truly wouldn’t be surprised at all if many of the people from the era of this classic tune waltzed much deeper and darker things while on the road.
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