A national identity

1. With your students, read or sing the original text from Christina MacPherson’s notated manuscript of Waltzing Matilda. (You may like to read the text to the class, or read or sing the song together.)

Next, listen to, or read, the version of Waltzing Matilda that students are more familiar with. Use the following questions to explore the poem with your students in a class discussion:

  • How is the original song different from the song you know?
  • Why do you think the song has changed over time?
  • Why do you think MacPherson’s handwritten copy of the song is considered a national treasure?
  • What is the storyline of this song?
  • What does the phrase 'Waltzing Matilda' mean?
  • What is a jumbuck? Why might the swagman have captured the jumbuck?
  • In colonial Queensland, law enforcement was the responsibility of the military. During the shearers’ strikes of the 1890s, troops travelled in small groups. How many troopers do the lyrics suggest travelled together?
  • (Show your students the online digitised version of the song.) How old is this document? How can you tell?
  • List the slang words in the lyrics that are no longer in regular use.
  • What does Waltzing Matilda symbolise for Australians today?

2. Invite students to create an illustration for Waltzing Matilda that reflects their personal response to the words and music, and to the song’s place in Australia’s national identity.

3. Ask students to research the shearer’s riot at Dagworth Station in 1894. Show students (or encourage them to independently research) 1894 newspaper articles from Trove that report on the death of Samuel ‘Frenchy’ Hoffmeister, the man about whom Waltzing Matilda is said to be written. Based on the newspaper reports and the song’s lyrics, ask students to form their own opinion of events surrounding Hoffmeister’s death, and to write a newspaper article about or obituary for Hoffmeister.

4. Ask students to write a song that captures how they feel about living in Australia.

Other Treasures sources that relate to the concepts explored in this source include: The poet of Australia and Documenting Federation.