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Waltzing Matilda - Australia's Other Anthem Grew From a Struggle Between Socialism and Capitalism

April 11, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 191

Home to sheep and cattle stations larger than many European principalities, the State's graziers and wheat farmers were desperate for labour. Maritime unions tied up Australia's wharves for five months in 1890, the Miners' unions cut production at Broken Hill for six months in 1892, and the Shearers' unions renewed their protracted strikes in 1893.

To the travellers, just as desperate for paid work, rural Queensland offered a lifeline. Getting there meant a train journey of three days from Sydney. Once landed in Brisbane, the State capital, the hopefuls faced a trek, on foot, to the towns where they could sign on at the Roll Call for station hands.

  • Across this enormous territory - twice as big as Texas - the country towns were few, with many hot and dusty miles between them. Because of this, the men had to carry their own supplies of food and water in a bedroll slung across their sweaty backs. In Australia, the arrangement of ground canvas and blanket, rolled around the traveller's provisions, earned the nickname of 'swag,' giving its bearer the name 'swaggie.'

As union bodies stepped up pressure on governments to introduce social reforms,activists used terror tactics against the big landholders. Bush workers were bailed up on the roads by union militants on horseback and forced into the camps of the rebels. Miles of barbed-wire fences were destroyed. Paddocks of feed-grass were destroyed by fires started with kerosene. Wool sheds were burnt with the season's baled wool inside.

  • The body of a union shearer called Samuel Hoffmeister was found shot to death by his own revolver, beside a waterhole - or 'billabong' - near the town of Winton, central Queensland.

It was a dangerous time to be tramping the back-country roads.

For reasons lost to history, the practice of wandering country roads in close company of nothing more than the bundle across a swagman's back became known as 'waltzing Matilda.' It is also the title of Australia's unofficial anthem.

The words to the song were written by poet and journalist A.B. 'Banjo' Paterson, who visited the rebel camps and wrote first-hand accounts for the readers of Sydney's leading newspapers. A close friend of one of the region's biggest landholders, Paterson understood both sides of the argument and is credited withhelping to convince both parties in the struggle - landholders and union leaders - to meet and work out a peaceful end to hostilities.

  • In 1894, the three-year conflict known to historians as 'The Shearers' War' finally came to an end.

In 1938, Paterson wrote, with tongue in cheek, of his delighted surprise to hear that there 'really was' a Man From Snowy River. Dozens were claiming themselves or a relative as The Man the poet had invented. Later, a similar compliment was accorded his now-famous swagman. From the time of settlement, the only record of fatal drowning was at Combo Waterhole where George Hamlyn Pope, a wool scourer, drowned after a night of heavy drinking, in September 1891.

Still the legendgrew...

Early in the 1990s, a party of sincere tourists from Marine City, Michigan USA, was filmed for television as they returned to Combo Waterhole on Dagworth Station, scene of a shoot-out between station owner and rebels, the final act of violence during The Shearers' War.

Here, their tour guide told them, was the very place where the poor swagman had drowned. So, with some ceremony and much goodwill, they set up a brass plaque to his memory and sang a chorus of 'Waltzing Matilda.'

Dorothy Gauvin is the author of Conlan's Luck, An Epic Story of the Shearers' War. This little-known uprising of the 1890s has been called a 'Secret Civil War.' Scholarly texts have been published about this seminal and colourful period of Australian history, but Conlan's Luck seems to be the only novel yet published on the subject. Check out Dorothy's blog on the mystery,history and wildlife of Australia at

Source: EzineArticles
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