Thursday, July 09, 2009

Be Careful Where You Shove Your Jumbuck

Theme Thursday again . . and since I don't believe in ghosts and whilst my father might be attacking me on a daily basis with an ectoplasmic Big Bertha to try to grab my attention, perhaps I just don't have the 'sight'.

So I dug up a quintessential Australian ghost story. . . . now for those who haven't a clue what's going on:

A traveller and vagabond wonders the countryside relying on the goodwill of others. It's likely he's a rather scruffy fellow who isn't adverse to stealing food and being unscrupulous. Or perhaps he's just down on his luck.

He travels with all his belongings on his back, his utensils and sleeping in little more than a blanket which is rolled into a swag and is come to be known by country folk as a 'Swagman' or 'Swaggie'. There were many of them in the early days, making their way, itinerant workers or wonderers. Like all of us, his swag or bed has become a close friend and so he's nicknamed her 'Matilda'. Hey! He's a bloke, hardly going to call it Bruce now is he?

One day, probably in a stinking 45 degree summer, he camps by a creek that has all but dried up, leaving a large pond of water where he water is he deepest. This is known as a Billabong. He seeks the shade of a large eucalyptus tree to while away the hours.

He unpacks his beloved bedroll "Matilda" and builds a fire. Among his belongings there is a tin can with a wire handle anchored across it's diameter. This handy water-boiling, bean cooking, stew steeping can is known as a Billy. Fortunately for him, it's a pretty warm day and a couple of sheep or Jumbucks come down for a dinky die drinky poo.

The swaggie, seeing an opportunity, lobs on one of the Jumbucks and probably after helping it meet it's maker, stuffs it in his food carrying duffle bag, known as a 'Tucker Bag' because let's face it we all like a bit of pucker tucker.

Basically, this is stealing and even now considered a heinous crime. All would have been fine for our hungry Swaggie had the gore not soaked through his tucker bag or perhaps his jumbuck was still experiencing a few death throes and twitchy bits. Either way, his actions were seen by the 'landowner'. An opportunistic settler who had just fenced off a piece of Australia simply because you could in those days and who had become pretty wealthy off the fat of the lamb, discovered the plot and called the police . . so the "Squatter" and his three "Troopers" confront the vagrant about his theft.

The vagrant decides it's all to hard and life in the lock-up for pinching his dinner just isn't worth it so he takes a swan dive into the creek and drowns. Personally I think they probably held his head under!

The upshot of all this drama . . like Jason, the Swaggie comes back! He haunts the creek and sings his sad lament 'You'll Come a waltzing Matilda With Me'. Or is it a threat to any thirsty jumbucks, greedy Squatters or over zealous policemen who might venture there?

There's no mention whether the sheepy poo actually comes back as well!

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong,
Under the shade of a Coolibah tree,
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boil,
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me.

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda,
You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me,
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boil
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me.

Down came a jumbuck to drink at that billabong
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee,
And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me.

Up rode the squatter mounted on his thorough-bred
Down came the troopers One Two Three
Whose that jolly jumbuck you've got in your tucker bag
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me.

Up jumped the swagman sprang in to the billabong
You'll never catch me alive said he . . . . . . .

And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong
"You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me . ."

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda,
You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me,
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boil
You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me.

The thing about this essentially Australian tune rather than the lyrics is that it has been adapted for ghosts of many kinds. It's a football anthem, a war anthem, a rememberence anthem. We all know the words, we all know the tune. It brings out a great pride in relation to the little guy and his death defying rebellion against authority and above all, a warmth in us that we all adore. But could I find a decent rendition of the tune? Must be a ghost in the machine.

Australian Guitarist Tommy Emanuel in the US:

Look, if you have the time and I know there are more blogs out there than jumbucks in the outback please go and have a look because there are some really interesting takes on the theme and some fantastic contributors. I look forward to this bit of the week more than most things so give 'em a bash. Oh . .and when I published this, the word ghost was in yellow . . I didn't colour it! Spooky!


Miles McClagan said...

Remind me 1ne day to tell you my Proclaimers ghost story...

laughingwolf said...

love it baino... thx

jason has 5 of 30 contest entries posted so far [mine's not, yet], but you can read it by clicking on 'clarity of night contest' in my sidebar...

Baino said...

Oooh Miley I dare you! I'd walk 500 miles!

Cool Wuffa . .did you get a dishonourable mention, they've been the best so far!

Poetikat said...

Well, you've cleared up a few things for me: now I know what a Billabong is (see the label all the time, and always wondered). Now I know where the Matilda comes from and now I know the origin of "Waltzing Matilda". It's reminding me of "Gallipoli".

Good twist on ghosts. I love that word, "ectoplasmic".


hokgardner said...

The girls and I love singing that song - we have a cool version by a singer named Dan Zanes - but I never knew it was a ghost story. I'll be sure to tell the girls about it.

Jill said...

What fun!!!!

The Jelly Monster said...

Cool!! Why is it that everytime I hear the word "vagabond" I always get that damn Elton John Lion King song in my head

Baino said...

Kat I stole it from Ghostbusters!

Hoki I must admit I knew it well before I came here and loads of Aussie kids don't even know what a 'jumbuck' is.

Jill I resisted showing the CNN pic of MJ's ghost

Jelly, the Circle of Life makes me cry . .then so do bagpipes. I'm weird that way.

Anonymous said...

that song is stuck in my head now :-) Tom Waits version of course!

Baino said...

Man! I nearly posted that but it's just so unAustralian . .

nick said...

Funny, I've heard snatches of that song so many times but never heard the whole song or realised it was about a vagabond and a sheep. Thanks for enlightening me. Good for him dodging the authorities - though in rather an extreme fashion!

willow said...

Waltzing Matilda always takes me back to grade school. It was one of my music teachers favorite songs. We sang it every week for a whole school year.

Kate said...

Ah yes - that famous Australian song taught in all English primary schools over 50 years ago ..... I wonder why? Not that it isn't a good song just a tad difficult for primary kiddies to understand not to mention old gits of course, until today that is!! Thanks Baino!

Roy said...

Huh! I've been singing that since I was a kid in elementary school, and I've even heard visiting Aussies sing it en masse in the local bars back in the days when they still raced the America's Cup here, and it didn't dawn on me until today that it's a ghost story. Thanks Baino!

Grannymar said...

Thanks for educating me, I never knew the back story to the song.

Anonymous said...

Cool take Baino(and now I know wot a jumbuck is! )The video was a nice bit. I'd've never known how to sing the song! And I blame the "ghost" colour on's been acting up again...

Brian Miller said...

the ghost in blogger come to haunt your post...what an interesting tal of the outback...and to know the story behind the song...nice play!

Candie Bracci said...

Yeah!!!That was really cool Baino!!really nice to learn a bit of australian..shall I say folklore?Whatever,great story!:)

Ronda Laveen said...

I have heard this song since I was a kid. We even had it in our song books in elementary school. But I never really looked at the words until now and never thought about it as a ghost story. It is interesting that you use it for all kinds of anthems to the lost. I do so enjoy learning tales from around the world.

Wings said...

Waltzing Matilda is a song that is known to us in the states as an Aussie tune! Never got the ghost connection, guess I never really listened to the lyrics!

Great take on the theme!!!

Baino said...

Nick there's much argument over whether he was a victim or a perpetrator but it's a rousing song at the rugby on occasion.

I think I learned it in primary school too. . .and every day on the six week boat trip out here Willow.

Kate aint that the truth. Although I had an Aussie teacher in 3rd grade so maybe that had something to do with it. I can't remember, I'm such a fossil.

Ah The America's Cup . . that elitist race that nobody got excited about!

GM happy to do so!

You do Subby? Good for you . . although it's not common vernacular! Aww don't take the shine of my spook

Sad little tale Brian .. and yep been a bit of bloggery spookiness going on lately.

I'm here to educate mon ami

Ronda there was a big push to use the tune as our national anthem only to replace the words with something more appropriate but it was defeated in a referendum in the 70' and now we have Advance Australia Fair - such a durge.

Wings I'm actually surprised that you Americans know it! Yeh, at face value it sounds like someone dancing with a woman I guess.

Kitty said...

Great story! We heard the song a few times when we were in Australia, but it's nice to see all the lyrics - I only knew the chorus.

otin said...

I am glad that you explained it, I would have never figured it out! LOL!

mouse (aka kimy) said...

absolutely FANTASTIC....every bloody word!

btw, have you heard june tabor's version of the band played waltzing matilda? now in my book here's a beautiful but horrifying ghost story in song.

my neighbor dog (australian cattle dog) is named matila!! she's a sweetheart -am sure I have a pic of her in my critter album on fb. gorgeous dog!


J A Harnett-Hargrove said...

Can't read that without it singing in my head! Thanks for the great post. -Jayne

nancy said...

I learned Waltzing Matilda in grade school. I always loved that tune but never knew the "real" story till now.

I loved the ghost story and the word "Ghost" coming up in yellow just added to the fun of the tale.


River said...

Ghost in your machine? I've got a gremlin in mine. Nasty little bugger. I've emailed my local computer doctor to find out how soon he can come and annihilate it.

Leah said...

What a wonderful post. I just read it aloud to my husband, and we both loved it so much. And I want to hear the Proclaimers ghost story!!!

Kris said...

The things that swagman planned to do with that jumbuck.

We'll, it's not right, is it?

It's un-Australian...

Kurt said...

I didn't know there was a story behind that song.

Christopher said...

Back when Nashville still had an Australia festival I had the great luck to hear "Waltzing Matilda" sung by Paul Killingly--super nice bloke and very funny--who dressed as a swagman. I never knew that it was proper swagman attire to have corks on strings danging from your hat (to keep the flies away) and rope tied around your trouser legs (to keep the snakes from goin' up 'em) until Mr. Killingly explained it all to us.

And I've heard that Waltzing Matilda is an "unofficial" Australian national anthem. By my count that makes four "unofficial" Australian national anthems. The others, of course, being "G'Day G'Day", "Home Among The Gumtrees", and "I Still Call Australia Home".

Baino said...

Kitty you've been here? Awesome. Too far for some Americans. Madonna amongst them!

Oh there's more where that came from Otin . .stay tuned

Hi Kimy no not that particular version but it's a powerful song. I was going to pop it up here but it's a bit sad for a fun post. It was written by a guy called Eric Bogle, country singer out here and quit the war torch song. I think that says a lot about Waltzing Matilda, it's ingrained.

Sorry Jayne . . If I said "this is he song that never ends" will that cure you?

Nancy I'm actually really surprised. All you Yanks seem to know it!

River I hear your pain. I've actually retired the Dell and am now on Clare's old Mac and apart from the sticky keyboard it's behaving well. Good luck with the fix. So when it's repaired, are you gonna blog, are you? Will you? (I am persistent)

Ah Leah Miley is an enigma, I doubt he'll ever tell - that's a dare Miles!

Kris thank God for New Zullunders . .we're off he hook

Kurt! Enough said.

Christopher Waldrup you never cease to amaze me with your knowledge. They play 'Still Call Australia Home' on returning Qantas flights, rather a lovely welcome back. Peter Allen wrote it and another one that's lovely "Tenterfield Saddler" very Aussie. Although I can't stand John Williamson who's the 'True Blue' guy awful. There's something very special about Waltzing Matilda though. I don't know who wrote the music but it's a Banjo Patterson Poem. Classic.

Mrsupole said...

Loved the song and very scarey about the word ghost coming out in yellow, but scarier would have been if it had come out in white, or red, or blue.

Great story, I have never heard it and I have always loved that song, not sure why, but it is catchy and fun to sing. We used to sing it as kids and not sure who taught it to us, not that we knew all the correct words, but we knew enough to do a decent song and have fun. We used to sing it walking to school. Not even sure if we knew it was an Aussie song. But I think we thought it had something to do with Kangaroo's.

God bless.

The Silver Fox said...

I was familiar with the song, but never understood it, really. Learn something new every day, don't we?

It always reminds me of an old LP called "Dracula's Greatest Hits," wherein a guy named Gene Moss imitated Bela Lugosi and sang a bunch of old standards with their lyrics changed to fit a horror theme.

"Waltzing Matilda" became "Waltzing Godzilla":

Waltzing Godzilla!
Waltzing Godzilla!
Won't you come a-waltzing, Godzilla, with me?
When you come into town,
You kill everything for miles around!
Won't you come a-waltzing, Godzilla, with me?

By the way, I'm betting that yellow "ghost" is only there because you keep telling everybody you don't believe in them! It's the spirit world's way of saying, "Oh, yeah?!?"

Marianna said...

What a great ghost story that was! Plus we learned something new that's connected to Australia :)

Have a great weekend dear!

Megan said...

I know that song. I know it well.

And check it out - my SIL (Kitty up above, there) brought me back a billy from her trip - a touristy one with pictures and such on it - but not of the Swaggie. Of the other bloke - The Man from Snowy River.


Baino said...

Mrsupole I think a lot of people know it but didn't understand the lyrics.

Hahah . . nice one Foxy! Well I 'willed' some ghosts to appear last night while I was home alone in the quiet and the dark . . not a sausage!Just big teases they are.

A little unusual I guess Marianna. You enjoy your weekend too!

Ooh I didn't know Kitty was your SIL, you Cahalans are bloody everywhere. Hot tip, when you've boiled yur billy, put in the loose leaf black tea then swing it in a full circle three times. The only way to make it. Fancy billies have a spout too!

lettuce said...

oh great memories of times gone by with a good ozzie friend who lived for a while in the North of England, near us....

and i like your comment here about how the tune is adapted in ghostly ways