waltzing matilda

Tomorrow is Australia day. Our national anthem used to be Waltzing Matilda. Wiki has a number of theories as to how the lyrics were shaped.

What strikes me is how many German references are involved. Firstly “waltz”, then “matilda”.

“Waltzing Matilda 
 “to waltz Matilda” is to travel with a swag, that is, with all one’s belongings on one’s back wrapped in a blanket or cloth. The exact origins of the term “Matilda” are disputed; one fanciful derivation states that when swagmen met each other at their gatherings, there were rarely women to dance with. Nonetheless, they enjoyed a dance and so danced with their swags, which was given a woman’s name. However, this appears to be influenced by the word “waltz”, hence the introduction of dancing. It seems more likely that, as a swagman’s only companion, the swag came to be personified as a woman.
The National Library of Australia states:

Matilda is an old Teutonic female name meaning “mighty battle maid”. This may have informed the use of “Matilda” as a slang term to mean a de facto wife who accompanied a wanderer. In the Australian bush a man’s swag was regarded as a sleeping partner, hence his “Matilda”.” My thanks to Wiki.
There is however a German folk practice that exists to this day, where young German youths as part of an apprentise system would, dressed in leder hosen and with a swag on their backs and a staff in hand would go a wandering. The practice was called waltzing. The wandergesellen set out auf der walz on the wanderjahre in Germany – to cultivate technical and moral aptitude, to learn about work and life. I myself came across two young men in Canberra in 2005.
It’s the German equivalent of the journeyman setting out to learn about life; not a bad national vision.

About anton veenstra

tapestry weaver, fibre artist, gay/qr activist, multiculturalist
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