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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 - documentary genre, icons, identity, language, media, media text, music, national identity, poetry, representations, 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.
  • about Banjo Paterson’s poetry and other poets of his era.
  • how a documentary film uses visual symbols and conventions to convey meaning
  • to create a visual text based on Waltzing Matilda

Curriculum links
National: The Statements of Learning for English- Year 5

Year 5 Reading
Students read and view texts that entertain. They read and view imaginative texts such as ballads and/or lyrics. These texts contain characters, settings and plots developed in some detail, and may contain topics and issues that extend beyond the immediate plot. Students understand that the main ideas in imaginative texts are developed through interconnecting plot, character and setting. They identify how language is used to portray characters, people and events in particular ways (eg to create a positive or negative perspective).
Students have the opportunity to draw on their knowledge of texts and language to clarify meaning. They know:

  • the function of the different stages of imaginative texts (eg in stories an orientation sets the scene and introduces and describes characters, a sequence of events can build up complications and resolutions to create tension and suspense)
  • that figurative language (eg simple similes) conveys images of settings and characters

Year 5 Writing
Students write texts for known readers to entertain, inform and persuade in print and electronic mediums. They write imaginative texts that may include stories, simple poems and scripts. They understand that writers can explore their own ideas and feelings through the characters and situations they create in imaginative texts. When students write imaginative texts, they describe characters and settings and use dialogue. They develop a storyline of sequenced events with a problem and a resolution and include details relevant to the storyline. They create an ending that draws together elements of the storyline, sometimes in a resolution.

This is an extract only. Go to The National Curriculum Statements for English
Teachers and students should consult their state’s curriculum and learning programs.

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. Students share Waltzing Matilda songsheets and sing song. Song sheets are available from a variety of sources (see further resources).
    1. How did Banjo Paterson come to write the lyrics for the song?
    2. What interpretation does Warren Brown give of the possible meanings for the lyrics?
    3. What was the origin of the music?
  2. A Matilda is a swag. What other Australian colloqulaisms appear in the song?
  3. Read some other examples of Australian poetry of the period written by Banjo Paterson, Henry Lawson and John Shaw Neilson, (see further resources).
  4. 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.
  5. How is the song sheet presented in the documentary? Discuss the narrator’s style, the production style and interview.


  1. Students work in groups to create a visual text based on Waltzing Matilda: a storyboard for a film, a TV commercial, a web page, a poster etc…
    Students could act out the storyboard as a drama project or film using a digital camera.
  2. Students write their own poem based on an Australian outback theme or icon.

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 Wallis and Matilda for Banjo Patterson’s biography and poetry, music clip and songsheet.

Go to Henry Lawson, government portal for biography and poems.

Go to Screen Education for excellent articles and teacher resources for teaching primary English and Media Literacy.