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Video clip synopsis – The original handwritten score for Waltzing Matilda holds the story of a musical collaboration that created Australia’s national song.
Year of production - 2004
Duration - 5min 0sec
Tags - artists, documentary genre, icons, media, music, national identity, popular culture, Waltzing Matilda, see all tags


Waltzing Matilda Song Sheet

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About the Video Clip


Waltzing Matilda is an episode of the series National Treasures produced in 2004.

Waltzing Matilda
Most Australians know that Banjo Paterson wrote the lyrics to Waltzing Matilda but who wrote the music? And what does it have to do with a rather oddly titled song called Go to the Devil and Shake Yourself? Warren Brown tracks down the original handwritten score at the National Library of Australia, where curator Robyn Holmes reveals the story behind the chance collaboration that created our national song.

National Treasures
Take a road-trip of discovery with the irrepressible Warren Brown – political cartoonist, columnist and history “tragic” – as he reveals a fascinating mix of national treasures drawn from public and private collections across Australia. On its own, each treasure is a priceless snapshot of an historic moment. Together, they illustrate the vitality and uniqueness of the Australian experience.

National Treasures is a Film Australia National Interest Program. Produced with the assistance of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Curriculum Focus


Outcomes from this module

Students will learn:

  • about the origin and importance of Waltzing Matilda to Australian History, Literature and Culture
  • to critically analyze the representation of an Australian icon in the media
  • to analyze the symbols that are chosen to represent Australia as a nation
  • to produce a multi modal text

Curriculum links
National: The Statements of Learning for English- Year 7

Reading, viewing and interpreting texts
Students read, view and interpret imaginative, information and argument texts
texts in books, films, and on television programs, CD-ROMs and websites.
Students understand that:

  • texts can entertain and evoke emotion
  • subject matter is selected to appeal to different audiences
  • readers’ and viewers’ interpretations of texts are influenced by the knowledge and values of the groups to which they belong, and by their own experiences.
  • texts can be constructed for more than one purpose (eg to report, to present a point of view, to create a market for more readers and viewers)
  • creators of texts use their assumptions about readers and viewers to engage their interest and attention
  • aspects of subject matter are selected to appeal to, and to influence, different groups of readers and viewers.

Students write texts to entertain, inform and persuade in print and electronic mediums for unknown or specified audiences.
Students understand that writers:

  • select subject matter within a chosen topic according to purpose and audience
  • can draw on their own knowledge, experiences, thoughts and feelings
  • can draw on the subject matter and forms of texts they have heard, read and viewed.

Speaking and listening
Students speak and listen through discussions, conversations and oral presentations including prepared and spontaneous discussions, meetings, debates and group discussions. Students examine ideas and information and present arguments that are drawn from topics of interest to them and that may need to be researched.

This resource is also relevant to Media Studies: Audiences, the Documentary genre, Media in society, Representation and Media production.

Teachers and students should also consult their state’s curriculum and learning programs.
Go to The National Curriculum Statements for English

Background Information


Waltzing Matilda is Australia’s most widely known traditional song.
Banjo Paterson wrote the words during a visit to a Queensland property, Dagworth, in 1895.

The words may refer to an incident the previous year, when striking shearers burned down the Dagworth shearing shed. The owner of Dagworth station and three police chased a man named Samuel Hoffmeister, who shot and killed himself at the Combo waterhole rather than be captured.

The origin of the music is less certain. Christina Macpherson first played it on the piano at Dagworth. She later claimed to have remembered hearing a song Thou Bonnie Wood of Craiglea a few months earlier at a race meeting. However, there is little actual similarity between the music on the score that she produced and ‘Craiglea’. That tune was itself possibly based on a tune called Go to the Devil and Shake Yourself, and also sometimes called The Penniless Traveller or When Sick is it Tea You Want?.

The first published version of the music, produced in 1903, used a different tune — the one we identify with the song today. This is the Marie Cowan version. This version is, however, similar to a much older song called The Gay Fusilier, which Paterson may have heard during his time in South Africa, and brought back.

Another version dates from 1907, in Cloncurry.

The words are more certain, but also exist in several versions. We have Paterson’s original words, but in 1903 Marie Cowan changed the words slightly to identify the song with a commercial brand of tea, ‘Billy Tea’.

During the 1970s there was a popular vote to decide what would be Australia’s national anthem to replace God Save The Queen. Advance Australia Fair won. For a short while Waltzing Matilda was Australia’s national song, usually associated with sporting events, but now has no official status.

Classroom Activities

  1. Understanding and analyzing the video clip
    1. What is Waltzing Matilda?
    2. When was it created?
    3. Who created it?
    4. What was the origin of the music?
    5. Why were these words created in this place at that time?
    6. What is the political meaning behind the lyrics?
    7. How is the song sheet presented in the documentary? Discuss the narrator’s style, the production style and interview.
    8. Create a storyboard that presents the topic without using a narrator.
  2. Exploring issues raised in the video clip
    Look at the two versions of the words. You will find these in the PDF in the Further Resources section below.
    1. Compare the two versions. Identify the words that have been changed. What is the effect or impact of these changes?
    2. What is the message or meaning of Waltzing Matilda?
    3. Many people have suggested that Waltzing Matilda should be Australia’s national anthem. Do you think these words are suitable for an anthem? Explain your reasons.
    4. Look at Australia’s anthem, Advance Australia Fair. What is the message or meaning of those words. Do you think they are appropriate for an anthem? Explain your views.
    5. What would you choose as Australia’s national anthem?
    6. Look at words of other popular anthems, particularly those of USA, Britain and France. What are the messages or meanings of those words. Do you think they are appropriate for anthems? Explain your views.
    7. Look at the anthems of the most recent nations – such as South Africa and East Timor. What are these words trying to achieve?
    8. Imagine that you have been asked to write the words for a new national anthem. It could be for Australia, or for another country. What meanings and messages do you want to put across? What attitudes and values do you want to come through? How do you encapsulate the essential and unique elements of the nation? Write your anthem.
      You might work with music students to think about what style of music would be most appropriate for your anthem.
    9. Working in groups produce a video clip using your lyrics and original music. Compare with other film, Internet or television clips for national anthems. What differences can you locate between the versions.

Further Resources


For more National Treasures information and video clips go to the Investigating National Treasures website

Two versions of the Lyrics for Waltzing Matilda

Go to Music Australia for versions of Advance Australia Fair and Waltzing Matilda.

Go to Screen Education for excellent articles and study guides focusing on all aspects of Australian documentary form and for detailed instructions for producing media texts.

Go to The Australian Children’s Television Foundation Education Catalogue to order a film version of Waltzing Matilda from the Kaboodle Television series. This version is a claymation that presents an amusing reinterpretation of the song.