I’m a big fan of Tom Waits; here he is singing the Australian song, “Waltzing Matilda.”

This song has many uniquely Australian words referred to as Strine. They are explained below.

Jolly – means happy.

Swagman – a hobo, an itinerant worker, who traveled from place to place in search of work. A swagman usually carried all his belongings wrapped up in a blanket called a swag.

Billabong – a waterhole or pond. It is an aboriginal word that originally meant little or no water.

Coolibah Tree – a eucalyptus tree which usually grows near water. The name coolibah is derived from the aboriginal word gulabaa.

Billy – a tin can with a wire handle used to boil water. If the swagman was fortunate he may have boiled some tea in it.

Jumbuck – a sheep. The origin of the word is uncertain. It’s most likely derived from two words jumping buck.

Tucker Bag – a bag for storing food. It was usually an old sugar or flour sack. Tucker is a slang word for food.

Squatter – a wealthy landowner, a rancher.

Thoroughbred – An expensive pedigreed horse. The Mercedes Benz equivalent of its day.

Trooper – a policeman, a mounted militia-man.

Waltzing Matilda Story

The song tells the story of a swagman in outback Queensland, Australia in the mid-1890s.

1st Verse: A swagman is resting under a eucalyptus tree on the banks of a watering-hole. He is singing and passing the time. He has lit a fire and is boiling something in a tin can (most likely tea).

2nd verse: While there, he notices a sheep wandering down to the watering-hole for a drink. The swagman catches the sheep, kills it, probably eats what he can and stows the rest in his backpack. (Swagmen were disadvantaged workers who were so poor they didn’t know where their next meal would come from. So this sheep was an opportunity too good to miss).

3rd Verse: Unfortunately for the swagman, the wealthy landowner comes by the water-hole. He is mounted on his fine, expensive horse and is accompanied by three policemen. They catch the hapless swagman red-handed with the remains of the sheep, telling him that he is under arrest for stealing and killing the sheep.

4th Verse: Absolutely terrified the swagman leaps up and jumps into the watering-hole hoping to escape. Unfortunately, he drowns in the waterhole. Ever since that day his ghost still haunts the waterhole and can be heard singing his song.