In January 1895, at Dagworth Station near Winton, Queensland, the poet A.B. (Banjo) Paterson heard a tune played by Christina Macpherson, universally agreed to be her adaptation of the Scottish folk song ‘Thou Bonnie Wood of Craigielea’.
Paterson began writing lyrics, believed to celebrate the defiant spirit of the local shearers’ strike in 1894. One of the shearers was later found dead at a nearby camp. Or they may tell the story of a swagman’s earlier suicide by drowning in a billabong near the station.
‘Waltzing Matilda’ quickly did the rounds of the district.
This manuscript represents the original notated version of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and is one of two written in Macpherson’s hand.
The version sung today was popularised by Marie Cowan’s 1903 arrangement for a Billy Tea advertisement. It differs from the original in both words and music. A third, often called the Queensland version, has a different tune again and boasts two further geographical variants: the Cloncurry and the Buderim versions.
In a nationwide poll held in 1977 to find a new national anthem, 28.3 percent voted for ‘Waltzing Matilda’.