Tom Waits:Waltzing Matilda

501 views
Skip to first unread message

JZabinsky

unread,
Jan 28, 1998, 3:00:00 AM1/28/98
to

Can anyone tell me what T.W.'s Waltzing Matilda means? It has a wonderful
melody, but I just can't interpret what the meaning of the lyrics is. The same
same goes for A nickle Over there. Please help. This has been driving me
crazy for years. E-mails welcome. thanks.

jz

Gene Duncan II

unread,
Jan 28, 1998, 3:00:00 AM1/28/98
to

I don't know about Waltzing Mathilda but I heard Waits give an
explaination of On the Nickel when he performed it on Austin City
Limits. He said that it was based upon a short story that a friend of
his had wrote about two homeless guys. The story mainly took place on
5th street where the guys grew up and now lived, hence the title refers
to 5th street as "The Nickel." The song seems to be about their
experiences and recolections of their life centered around the Nickel.

Gene F. Duncan II
GFDu...@webtv.net

dh...@sd271.k12.id.us

unread,
Jan 28, 1998, 3:00:00 AM1/28/98
to

I'd like to know what others think about this also. Matilda's the
defendent, she's killed about a hundred, and she follows wherever you may
go. . . I often figured Matilda was angst, alcohol or addiction,
shattered love / life. . .

I've been a TW fan for 20 some years.

David
dh...@sd271.k12.id.us

In article <19980128012...@ladder02.news.aol.com>,

-------------------==== Posted via Deja News ====-----------------------
http://www.dejanews.com/ Search, Read, Post to Usenet

LIA2882131

unread,
Jan 29, 1998, 3:00:00 AM1/29/98
to

The term "waltzing Matilda" is a metaphor for drinking

lia

Andre van der Hoek

unread,
Jan 29, 1998, 3:00:00 AM1/29/98
to

dh...@sd271.k12.id.us wrote:
>
> I'd like to know what others think about this also. Matilda's the
> defendent, she's killed about a hundred, and she follows wherever you may
> go. . . I often figured Matilda was angst, alcohol or addiction,
> shattered love / life. . .

Hi David,

"waltzing Mathilda" is Australian soldier slang for getting your gear on
your back and go to war. "Mathilda" is the nickname for the backpack.
hence "she follows wherever you may go". Origins are WWI.

Hope this helps,

Andre


Matthew Hubbard

unread,
Jan 29, 1998, 3:00:00 AM1/29/98
to

LIA2882131 <lia28...@aol.com> wrote:
: The term "waltzing Matilda" is a metaphor for drinking

Actually, it's slang for being a hobo or vagabond, which doesn't
have to have anything to do with drinking, necessarily.

MattH


Bernard Smith

unread,
Jan 30, 1998, 3:00:00 AM1/30/98
to

JZabinsky wrote:
>
> Can anyone tell me what T.W.'s Waltzing Matilda means? It has a wonderful
> melody, but I just can't interpret what the meaning of the lyrics is. The same
> same goes for A nickle Over there. Please help. This has been driving me
> crazy for years. E-mails welcome. thanks.
>
> jz

to my understanding "waltzing matilda" was a term for being on the road,
wandering aimlessly, in reference to both TW and the original
traditional Australian song.

-- b.

steves

unread,
Jan 30, 1998, 3:00:00 AM1/30/98
to


Bernard Smith <akm...@xtra.co.nz> wrote in article
<34D07B...@xtra.co.nz>...


> JZabinsky wrote:
> >
> > Can anyone tell me what T.W.'s Waltzing Matilda means? It has a
wonderful
> > melody, but I just can't interpret what the meaning of the lyrics is.
The same
> > same goes for A nickle Over there. Please help. This has been driving
me
> > crazy for years. E-mails welcome. thanks.
> >
> > jz
>

Waltzing Matilda is pretty close to the Australian National anthem- a song
about theft, potential police brutality and suicide. It was written by
Banjo Patterson on a property a few hundred miles from where I live in
outback Queesland. There are a few theories about what a Matilda is how how
a person might Waltz with one. The most popular is that Matilda was the
familiar name a swagman [a sort of Australian hobo, I suppose] for his
swag- a canvas pack containing all the swagman's worldly goods. To go
waltzing Matilda was to go walk about from place to place doing some
itinerant work and looking for handouts from various farming properties. I
read somewher that the swaggies had their own language which they would
scratch into the gate pots/doorposts telling others what sort of a
reception they could expect. There are probably only a handful of true
swagman left wandering the Outback. I wonder whether or not there is some
of link between the swagman and the rain dogs - both wander around with the
traces of their past lost in either dust or rain. Steve.


beer

unread,
Jan 31, 1998, 3:00:00 AM1/31/98
to

JZabinsky wrote in message <19980128012...@ladder02.news.aol.com>...


> Can anyone tell me what T.W.'s Waltzing Matilda means? It has a wonderful
>melody, but I just can't interpret what the meaning of the lyrics is. The same
>same goes for A nickle Over there. Please help. This has been driving me
>crazy for years. E-mails welcome. thanks.
>
>jz

A matilda is a back pack so when someone is waltzing matilda, they are hitting
the road.

DAVID REUSS

unread,
Feb 2, 1998, 3:00:00 AM2/2/98
to

Matilda was also a friend of Tom's in Copenhagen (four sheets to the wind in
Copenhagen). He fell in love over here.
>

tsdumont

unread,
Feb 5, 1998, 3:00:00 AM2/5/98
to

beer wrote in message <6b2bog$4...@usenet41.supernews.com>...

>On the Nickel is a slang expression for being down and out and living in
the skid row area of Los Angeles in the vicinity of 105 St. It was the theme
song from a Ralph Waite (Mr Walton from the popular 1970's TV show "The
Waltons") movie made in 1978 with the same name. At least that is what TW
says while introducing the song during his 1979 appearance on Austin City
Limits.

John Sweeney

unread,
Feb 7, 1998, 3:00:00 AM2/7/98
to


beer <gb...@cyberwarrior.com> wrote in article


<6b2bog$4...@usenet41.supernews.com>...
>
> JZabinsky wrote in message
<19980128012...@ladder02.news.aol.com>...
> > Can anyone tell me what T.W.'s Waltzing Matilda means? It has a
wonderful
> >melody, but I just can't interpret what the meaning of the lyrics is.
The same
> >same goes for A nickle Over there.
>

On the nickel means to be bumming chnge off passers by I think

X

unread,
Feb 7, 1998, 3:00:00 AM2/7/98
to

I am quite sure this song is referring to heroin use in Vietnam, which
also could be related to wandering and travel.
Couple of lines affirming lines (look for plenty others):

"Wasted and wounded..."
"I got what I payed for now"
"Can I borrow a couple of bucks to go Waltzing Matilda"
"...I'm tired of all these soldiers here, no one speaks English..."
"Matilda's the defendant, she's killed about a hundred and she follows
you whereever you go...

Carl Desmond

unread,
Feb 9, 1998, 3:00:00 AM2/9/98
to

Wait a minute!

I thought Waltzing Matilda was walking drunk like. I don't think it's
hitting the road. I always get the impression of someone stumbling when I
hear the song. Plus, I had heard an old timer use it in the railroad bar
in my hometown talking about a fella who was waltzing matilda as he walked
down the street and he didn't have a back pack!

As far as "on the nickel" i wouldn't have an idea.

Don't lash at me for this one, it's only what I have heard. We could all
be wrong you know.

Cheers

murky spark

unread,
Feb 10, 1998, 3:00:00 AM2/10/98
to


Carl Desmond <ca...@brainerd.com> wrote in article
<carl-09029...@niceguy.uslink.net>...


>
> Wait a minute!
>
> I thought Waltzing Matilda was walking drunk like. I don't think it's
> hitting the road. I always get the impression of someone stumbling when I
> hear the song. Plus, I had heard an old timer use it in the railroad bar
> in my hometown talking about a fella who was waltzing matilda as he walked
> down the street and he didn't have a back pack!

Well.. in Australia from whence the song comes (the original folk song that is
which Tom samples the chorus of) it really does mean hitting the road with a
knapsack - I think the phrase originally came out of the 1890s depression when
a lot of blokes in Aus had to hit the road looking for work.

Of course Tom may have had a totally different idea about what it means - and
it may have come to mean something totally different in the States - as is want
to happen

Murray

Carl Desmond

unread,
Feb 10, 1998, 3:00:00 AM2/10/98
to

In article <01bd3616$a7adaf40$LocalHost@murray>, "murky spark"
<mur...@nospambucks.net> wrote:

> Well.. in Australia from whence the song comes (the original folk song that is
> which Tom samples the chorus of) it really does mean hitting the road with a
> knapsack - I think the phrase originally came out of the 1890s depression when
> a lot of blokes in Aus had to hit the road looking for work.
>
> Of course Tom may have had a totally different idea about what it means - and
> it may have come to mean something totally different in the States - as
is want
> to happen
>
> Murray

Thanks for the info. I hope stuff like this keeps going here. I check the
list a lot and this the only time a real "thread" has started. I know more
people have some input here.

Where can I get the lyrics or music for the folk song? I would really like
to hear where the inspiration comes from. (I'm not trying to prove you
wrong here, I really would like to hear the song).

Thanks again!

Cheers!

dave

unread,
Feb 11, 1998, 3:00:00 AM2/11/98
to

Carl Desmond <ca...@brainerd.com> wrote in article
<carl-10029...@niceguy.uslink.net>...

> Where can I get the lyrics or music for the folk song? I would really
like
> to hear where the inspiration comes from. (I'm not trying to prove you
> wrong here, I really would like to hear the song).

Most Australians learn the song Waltzing Matlida (not the Waits version) as
children. It has even been suggested as a new national anthem by some. I've
sung many a drunken rendition of it in bars around the world with other
Aussies. It must have been covered by numerous Australian artists over the
years.

I did a quick search on Alta Vista and came up with the following sites for
you to see the words and hear it:

<http://www.aaa.com.au/Waltzing.html> (this has the words)
<http://www.ozemail.com.au/~bunton/sydney2.html> (this has the music
notation)
<http://waltzingmatilda.com/wmindex.html> (this has loads of stuff about
the song)
<http://www.effect.net.au/cuddlyk/myworld/waltzing/matilda.html> (has words
plus a .wav file that should play the song for you as it is traditionally
sung (not that I could get it to work))

Dave

murky spark

unread,
Feb 11, 1998, 3:00:00 AM2/11/98
to


dave <dby...@sprint.ca> wrote in article <01bd36e1$e214d700$400067d1@pleb>...


> Carl Desmond <ca...@brainerd.com> wrote in article
> <carl-10029...@niceguy.uslink.net>...
>
> > Where can I get the lyrics or music for the folk song? I would really
> like
> > to hear where the inspiration comes from. (I'm not trying to prove you
> > wrong here, I really would like to hear the song).
>
> Most Australians learn the song Waltzing Matlida (not the Waits version) as
> children. It has even been suggested as a new national anthem by some. I've
> sung many a drunken rendition of it in bars around the world with other
> Aussies.

<warning - I'm getting even more off-topic here>

I used to think that a song about a suicidal vagrant thief would not be all
that appropriate as a national anthem (again, I am referring to the folk song)
- but the more I thought about it the more the irony of it appealed. I think
that Tom would approve.

Another song to check out if you get a chance is "The band played Waltzing
Matilda" of which Shane McGowan and the Pogues did an excellent version. As
with Waits's "Tom Traubert's Blues", it samples bits of the folk song.

Murray

MB

unread,
Feb 11, 1998, 3:00:00 AM2/11/98
to

>
> Another song to check out if you get a chance is "The band played Waltzing
> Matilda" of which Shane McGowan and the Pogues did an excellent version. As
> with Waits's "Tom Traubert's Blues", it samples bits of the folk song.

This reminded me.....
Tom Waits should do a Duets album. He and Shane M. would be perfect
together. Maybe one with Nick Cave also.

Carl Desmond

unread,
Feb 11, 1998, 3:00:00 AM2/11/98
to

> Well.. in Australia from whence the song comes (the original folk song that is
> which Tom samples the chorus of) it really does mean hitting the road with a
> knapsack - I think the phrase originally came out of the 1890s depression when
> a lot of blokes in Aus had to hit the road looking for work.
>
> Of course Tom may have had a totally different idea about what it means - and
> it may have come to mean something totally different in the States - as
is want
> to happen
>
> Murray


Well, I found the lyrics thanks to "JZabinsky" who told me just to go type
the damn saying in (the address is:
http://users.highway1.com.au/~rusty/Waltzing.html )! So, I did. It's great
to see this stuff out there and learn more about the way things were meant
to be but, after you read on you just end up with more questions like:
"watched and waited till his billy boiled" ? , "jumbuck in his
tucker-bag"? What are these statements meaning? Can some Ausi answer these
?s for me?

If there is ever an American term you need definitions of, just let me
know. I would be happy to return the favor. :)

Cheers, have one for me!

Burt Heymanson

unread,
Feb 12, 1998, 3:00:00 AM2/12/98
to

On Wed, 11 Feb 1998 18:03:13 -0600, ca...@brainerd.com (Carl Desmond) wrote:

>Well, I found the lyrics thanks to "JZabinsky" who told me just to go type
>the damn saying in (the address is:
>http://users.highway1.com.au/~rusty/Waltzing.html )! So, I did. It's great
>to see this stuff out there and learn more about the way things were meant
>to be but, after you read on you just end up with more questions like:
>"watched and waited till his billy boiled" ? , "jumbuck in his
>tucker-bag"? What are these statements meaning? Can some Ausi answer these
>?s for me?

Alright, let's take this one line at a time:

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong,

Swagman -- an early version of the backpacker.. Carrying a swag, which was
a thin matress rolled up with clothes and other belongings in the middle,
the swagmen would wander the Australian country, occasionally stopping to
do work -- other times they would just steal food..

Billabong -- a natural water hole, like a large pond.

Under the shade of a coolabah tree,
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled,

Billy -- a tin pot with a handle used to cook food and boild water over a
campfire.. commonly used to boil billy tea -- just like regular tea, except
for the extra eucalyptus leaves -- and a dough-based food called damper..

"Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?"

to waltz Matilda -- to be a swagman -- carry a swag while walking the
countryside..

Down came a jumbuck to drink at the billabong:

Jumbuck -- a sheep..

Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee.
And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker-bag,

Tucker-bag -- a hessian sack used by swagmen to carry food..

"You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me."

Up rode a squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred;
Down came the troopers, one, two, three:
"Who's that jolly jumbuck you've got in your tucker-bag?
You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me!"

I think you should be able to understand the rest, if not let me know..

>If there is ever an American term you need definitions of, just let me
>know. I would be happy to return the favor. :)

Not necessary, I've lived in California for the last three years..

>Cheers, have one for me!

I'll even have an Aussie beer for you -- a VB.. Hang on, let's not limit
ourselves to just one here, I'll have at least one on your behalf though!

Happy trails,

Burt

--
Burt Heymanson bu...@wco.com

murky spark

unread,
Feb 12, 1998, 3:00:00 AM2/12/98
to


MB <str...@war.com> wrote in article
<strfkr-1102...@1cust37.max4.denver.co.ms.uu.net>...

Shane, Tom and Nick working together? Hmmm... could get interesting come 3am in
the morning and several bottles of whiskey later. ;-)

You know, none of these guys, (Tom, Shane and Nick) have what I would call
technically good singing voices - but they all share one thing - in the words
of my brother "they don't sing - they emote".

<interesting side note>
I read an article recently that said that Shane and Nick are good mates.

Murray

Horse Ripper

unread,
Feb 12, 1998, 3:00:00 AM2/12/98
to

>you just end up with more questions like:
> "watched and waited till his billy boiled" ? , "jumbuck in his
> tucker-bag"? What are these statements meaning?

Billy = billycan. For boiling water (and, I guess, cooking) on an open
fire.

Jumbuck - used to know, can't remember. Probably food-related.

Tucker-bag = backpack (tucker = food)

Oh, I'm English, so if I've made any errors, please feel free to correct
me.

dave

unread,
Feb 12, 1998, 3:00:00 AM2/12/98
to

murky spark <mur...@nospambucks.net> wrote in article
<01bd37a6$123369a0$a72470c3@murray>...

> I read an article recently that said that Shane and Nick are good mates.
> Murray

I think they've been friends for a while. I used to work in a club in
London and one night (i think it was in 1991 or 1992) they both came in,
blasted out of their heads. After an hour or two McGowan came up to the bar
and asked for a bucket, in that wonderful "I'm completely fucking wasted"
drawl of his. I presumed it was for Cave, but in any case I was surprised
McGowan could stand up at that stage of the morning. And you're right about
those two and Waits, it would make a hell of an evening and a wonderful
addition to anyone's musical collection if they could get together.

Dave

Lars Nordbryhn

unread,
Feb 13, 1998, 3:00:00 AM2/13/98
to

On 12 Feb 1998, murky spark wrote:

> MB <str...@war.com> wrote in article

> > This reminded me.....


> > Tom Waits should do a Duets album. He and Shane M. would be perfect
> > together. Maybe one with Nick Cave also.

(...)

> I read an article recently that said that Shane and Nick are good mates.

Nick Cave and Shane MacGowand _have_ released a duet-single (92) - "What A
Wonderful World". The single also includes MacGowans "Rainy Night In Soho"
sung by Cave, and Caves "Lucy" sung by MacGowan.
Pretty singing? - No!
Beautiful? - Indeed!

---
Lars Nordbryhn <lars...@stud.ntnu.no>
http://www.stud.ntnu.no/~larsnord


beer

unread,
Feb 19, 1998, 3:00:00 AM2/19/98
to

I think that the Nickle is a strip in LA where there are alot of homeless people
hanging out

John Sweeney wrote in message <01bd3410$351a9ea0$506945c2@default>...

Evan McKenzie

unread,
Feb 25, 1998, 3:00:00 AM2/25/98
to

The Nickle is E. 5th Street in downtown Los Angeles, which is the heart of
skid row.

In article <6cjt21$gb7$1...@bandit.cyberwar.com> "beer" <gb...@cyberwarrior.com>
writes:>From: "beer" <gb...@cyberwarrior.com>
>Subject: Re: Tom Waits:Waltzing Matilda
>Date: Thu, 19 Feb 1998 22:18:18 -0500

tsdumont

unread,
Feb 26, 1998, 3:00:00 AM2/26/98
to

According to what Tom says on his 1979 appearance on Austin City Limits "the
Nickel" refers to 105 St in Los Angeles where the folks who are down and out
live.

beer wrote in message <6cjt21$gb7$1...@bandit.cyberwar.com>...

DF 98

unread,
Mar 3, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/3/98
to

'Waltzing Matilda' is a take-off on the Australian national anthem of the same
name. The chorus remains untouched, but the verse lyrics have been given the
usual Waitsian surreal spin. A lot of his songs resist the temptation to
produce a narrative or 'meaning' and often exist as a series of snapshots,
random images that paint a panorama without tangible characters or plot.

rkrisem...@gmail.com

unread,
Jun 14, 2020, 1:25:34 PM6/14/20
to
I always thought this tune is a representation of a "Heroin User's" life. Burying the dagger, being the mainline with the syringe. The seedy hotel's junkies stay. The alleys, and the filth.
Reply all
Reply to author
Forward
0 new messages