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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, 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


Students explore the impact of people, events and movements of the past on Australian identities and democracy and consider ways in which people were governed in ancient times.

Students examine values reflected in national celebrations and commemorations, what these represent to diverse people and groups, how these have changed over time.

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. Using the video clip, explore how many students have heard of the song, Waltzing Matilda, and who can recall when they last heard/sung it. Investigate the meanings of Waltzing Matilda, by reading the words, singing the song, listening to a range of versions and the background to the author by briefly placing the writing of the song in historical context.

2. Examine the role of icons/symbols, for example, national anthems, flags, visual representations, in the creation of a national identity. What forms do they take? How are they created? Who/what creates them? Can icons/symbols become out-dated? What is currently the most famous Australian icon/symbol/celebration?

3. Consider the other contenders for Australia’s national anthem, including God Save the Queen and Advance Australia Fair. Discuss the words, meanings, values, melody.

4. Ask students to investigate one icon/symbol/ celebration/commemoration – its origin, creator, apparent values/beliefs underpinning it, when it is used, and the extent of its current popularity. Some students might investigate another country’s national anthem.

5. Ask students to reflect on the degree of importance of national identity symbols to them in the context of a very diverse multicultural society.

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