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The Band Played Waltzing Matilda -- Eric Bogle

Thanks to Paul Stimpson, who suggested this as a followup to Poem #980
(Poem #981) The Band Played Waltzing Matilda
 Now when I was a young man I carried me pack
 And I lived the free life of the rover.
 From the Murray's green basin to the dusty outback,
 Well, I waltzed my Matilda all over.
 Then in 1915, my country said, "Son,
 It's time you stop ramblin', there's work to be done."
 So they gave me a tin hat, and they gave me a gun,
 And they marched me away to the war.

 And the band played "Waltzing Matilda,"
 As the ship pulled away from the quay,
 And amidst all the cheers, the flag waving, and tears,
 We sailed off for Gallipoli.

 And how well I remember that terrible day,
 How our blood stained the sand and the water;
 And of how in that hell that they call Suvla Bay
 We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter.
 Johnny Turk, he was waitin', he primed himself well;
 He showered us with bullets, and he rained us with shell --
 And in five minutes flat, he'd blown us all to hell,
 Nearly blew us right back to Australia.

 But the band played "Waltzing Matilda,"
 When we stopped to bury our slain,
 Well, we buried ours, and the Turks buried theirs,
 Then we started all over again.

 And those that were left, well, we tried to survive
 In that mad world of blood, death and fire.
 And for ten weary weeks I kept myself alive
 Though around me the corpses piled higher.
 Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head,
 And when I woke up in me hospital bed
 And saw what it had done, well, I wished I was dead --
 Never knew there was worse things than dying.

 For I'll go no more "Waltzing Matilda,"
 All around the green bush far and free --
 To hump tents and pegs, a man needs both legs,
 No more "Waltzing Matilda" for me.

 So they gathered the crippled, the wounded, the maimed,
 And they shipped us back home to Australia.
 The armless, the legless, the blind, the insane,
 Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla.
 And as our ship sailed into Circular Quay,
 I looked at the place where me legs used to be,
 And thanked Christ there was nobody waiting for me,
 To grieve, to mourn and to pity.

 But the band played "Waltzing Matilda,"
 As they carried us down the gangway,
 But nobody cheered, they just stood and stared,
 Then they turned all their faces away.

 And so now every April, I sit on my porch
 And I watch the parade pass before me.
 And I see my old comrades, how proudly they march,
 Reviving old dreams of past glory,
 And the old men march slowly, all bones stiff and sore,
 They're tired old heroes from a forgotten war
 And the young people ask "What are they marching for?"
 And I ask meself the same question.

 But the band plays "Waltzing Matilda,"
 And the old men still answer the call,
 But as year follows year, more old men disappear
 Someday, no one will march there at all.

 Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda.
 Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?
 And their ghosts may be heard as they march by the billabong,
 Who'll come a-Waltzing Matilda with me?
-- Eric Bogle
Today's poem (song, actually) highlights another of those aspects of a war
that get overlooked in the trumpet's blare. The war comes and goes, and
fades into irrelevance, and the heroes, 'reviving old dreams of past glory',
are largely forgotten by the next generation.

And, of course, there are those who carry a far more bitter legacy -

    And when I woke up in me hospital bed
    And saw what it had done, well, I wished I was dead --
    Never knew there was worse things than dying.

says it all. Throughout, the primary mood is one of stark disillusionment -
or, rather, illusionlessness, made explicit in the verse

    But the band played "Waltzing Matilda,"
    As they carried us down the gangway,
    But nobody cheered, they just stood and stared,
    Then they turned all their faces away.

Bogle gives the narrator's plight an extra poignancy by invoking Banjo
Patterson's famous "Waltzing Matilda", a song that, like much of
Patterson's work, idealises the 'free life of the rover'. The contrast is
conveyed as much by the music as by the words, actually, and the segue into
"Waltzing Matilda" in the last verse is almost heartbreakingly powerful.

Links:

  [broken link] http://www.westfront.de/eric_bogle_waltzing_matilda.htm has Bogle's
  comments on the song

  Biography of Bogle: [broken link] http://www.stoneyport.demon.co.uk/bio/boglebio.html

  Waltzing Matilda: http://www.ozramp.net.au/~senani/waltz.htm

-martin

35 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Kevin Rafferty said...

G'day...there are superb covers of this song by Australian "bush" band The Bushwackers and the Irish/English band The Pogues. As I recall the Bushwackers had a major hit here with it from an album released in 1976, but their version drops a verse (the third I think, where he says "Never knew there was worse things than dying"). At the end of that version, a brass band fades in playing Watzing Matilda...haunting stuff. Eric lives in Adelaide, by the way, and has for many years, but he's originally Scottish.

Kev (Melbourne, Australia)

bizzie said...

This is a fantastic poem/song that dates back well before 2002!!! I don't know when it was first written, but I first heard it in 1989, and the guy who sang it had known it for years before that day. Whoever is claiming to have written it in 2002 is fibbing and stealing someone else's glory.

ICCU said...

this is a great song. I cried the first time I heard it.

International Legal Advisors P. A said...

It is not possible that the poem and its music (have you heard it?) was or were written in 2002. I was a student of Law at the American University back in 1988 and there was a radio station which every sunday night transmitted a program called Music Americana with Dicks Erie. I listened to the song then, I recorded it so it is in no way a song written recently!!!!!!!!
I shall look for the tape and will come back to you.
Roger, from Panama

Roger West said...

One of the most meaningful poems (and songs) I have ever heard. Oh
what I would give to be able to put my name as its author.

Roger B West

elizabeth cushla geary said...

I first heard Eric Bogle singing this song during an interview he gave on TVNZ, the same year that the film "Gallipoli" (with a very young Mel Gibson as one of the leads) was released. As nearly as I can recall, Bogle said he had written the song the same year (early '80s??)
I've since heard many recordings - the best is the Pogues - including one by Billy Conolly. I've even sung it myself on the odd occasion.

Minstrel

Charles Murton said...

It would be really good if whoever wrote this could learn to spell Banjo
Paterson's name correctly.

Charles Murton

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