Saturday, March 5, 2011

Remembering Banjo Paterson. Sort of.

[The above is not a picture of Banjo Paterson]

It's been ages and ages since we've done any Australian words on this blog. See how many of the following rather old Australian slang words you can translate, taken from their famous song...

waltzing Matilda

A tip o' the tam to Adullamite for triggering this post, in a roundabout way.

"Waltzing Matilda" has become almost the unofficial national anthem of Australia. It was written by Banjo Paterson, though many believe it was based on an older Scottish ballad.

For a larger sampling of Aussie slang (and regular words) click on the flag logo towards the bottom of the BritishSpeak sidebar. And another list here.

Finally, is it just me or does Banjo look a lot like Steve Carell (in the movie 40 Year Old Virgin)?


  1. Once upon a time, I think I learnt these at school, but that was such a long time ago I've forgotten most.
    swagman - a tramp
    billabong - a pond
    coolabah - a tree of some description
    billy - you cook in these over your camp fire. Did you never do that? I was dragged camping only once but I had the billy cans for years. They work well for cooking during power cuts too.
    jumbuck - an animal of some sort, I think
    tuckerbag - where you keep your tucker. No tuck shops in the USA?
    squatter - I know what squatter means from the point of view of taking possession of an unoccupied building, but that doesn't seem to fit with Waltzing Matilda.
    stockman - the person who looks after the livestock.
    Matilda - a children's book
    waltzing Matilda - it's an Australian song, Max. I do pay some attention. Sigh.

    And now the tune is going to be swirling around my head all day.

  2. I too learned the song as a child, and yes, I undeerstand it all, including the context. A swagman was, perhaps, more kindly described as an itinerant worker. The swag was his bundle of posessions, a man walking in search of, perhaps, seasonal work, carried all he needed, in his swag. He lived off the land, but of course, there's always somebody who claims ownership of the land, so, when you're a bit hungry, and, miles from anywhere, you snag a tasty lamb, it's no surprise that it belongs to someone, and that if you get caught with it that the troopers might cosider you a felon.
    A squatter is a farmer, but one who does not have legal right to the land, in australia, all the land technically 'belonged' to the crown, and was allocated-sold or rented, by the crown commissioner. A squatter is one who is not in posession of such a land grant. However, these were often regarded as semi legitimate, on the grounds that a squatter might build up his homestad and thus acquire the money to become a legitimate farmer. Troopers? the equivalent of state police.
    Matilda? the swag-roll was about the size of a person. it was often joked that the swag was the swagman's wife. Hence "Matilda". With whom he would waltz, beneath the stars.
    Stockman? farmer of livestock.

    Whilst Banjo Paterson is known as the originator, the song's had a lot of changes since he wrote it, and the tune and version most commonly sung are not his...

  3. See, that was all fascinating to me. I didn't know any of the lingo, but I did enjoy learning.



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