Banjo Paterson's Waltzing Matilda was one of four potential anthems Australians were offered in the 1977 plebiscite. The song received 28% of the vote, while Advance Australia Fair slid over the line with 43%.
The story was probably inspired by the Queensland shearer's strikes of the 1890s. During one violent protest at Dagworth Station, angry shearers fired their guns in the air and burned down the woolshed. The owner of the station and three policemen gave chase to a bloke known as Frenchy who, rather than be captured, ended up shooting himself at the Combo Waterhole. Some historians have described this apparent suicide as more akin to a gangland murder.
The State Library of Queensland has a pic of of the temporary shearing shed erected after the fire. There are three troopers on the left. The bloke fourth from the right is the land owner, dismounted from his thoroughbred.
All this is classic folk music fodder: Sad guy gets sadder and kills himself in the final verse. No idea why he's described as "jolly" in the first line, unless the term is intended in the same way my mother uses it as a substitute for a swear word. ("Now, where are my jolly keys?")
Some people don't get why this was ever suggested as a national song. I like it, but I'm a folkie who likes this kind of stuff. It's fun to sing and it's an engaging tale. The arguments are usually around the Aussie battler, the bush and all that. A fair go for short poppies. It's a better anthem than God Save The Queen, but I'll get onto that in my next entry.
Having said that, the melody and the story don't match up at all. So I've messed around with each, stealing a melody from one of the greatest thieves. A stolen tune seemed appropriate, after all.