An unofficial anthem
Raising a brood of halflings, we try to instill a bit of that dreaded "multi-culturalism" into our home. As if I could rationally curtail the influence of their father, his vegemite, his butchering of standard English and his blatant irreverence for, well, if you do not know any Australians, you might not understand. One of the important functions of family, I think, is to help a child develop his identity, beginning with a knowledge of where he came from. Part of this at the moment includes a CD my husband made for the children of various Australian songs. No such collection would be complete without Australia's informal national anthem, Waltzing Matilda.

For anyone laboring under the delusion that this song has anything to do with dancing, I offer you a translation I wrote some time ago on my old blog. Advance Australia Fair is a bit cheesy, and if my husband's feelings on the topic are at all representative of the average Aussie, the poll elevating it to national anthem had to have been fixed.

Now, here in the US, we have a number of stories, images and songs floating around about our great founding which serve to inspire us toward something although much of it is learned more by osmosis than reflective thought. Take, for instance, the story of John Paul Jones. As his ship burned and began to sink, he refused Britain's offer of surrender, calling out instead, "I have not yet begun to fight!"

Waltzing Matilda ends with a similar defiant volley of words, evoking many of the same emotions in the Australian as Jones' words do for us:
Up jumped the swagman, leapt into the billabong,
"You'll never catch me alive," said he,
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by the billabong,
"Who'll come a waltzin' Matilda, with me."
This suicidal leap into the watering hole was made to escape capture by police after the drifter (swagman) was caught for stealing a sheep.

Doesn't that inspire you to the higher good?

But the song really does strike at the heart of something uniquely and truly Australian, I believe. It captures the heart of a nation that rose out of a band of convicts. It records its own struggle against British rule in a way that Advance Australia Fair never could. (And as an aside, wouldn't it be a whole lot more fun to play this after God Save the Queen at royal affairs?)

Life wasn't particularly good for the average man. "Squatters" controlled most of the land through licenses to possess and graze on it, although they did not own the land. A number of "swagmen" were left drifting, looking to piece together a living in a hostile environment where they could not own property and there was little work. This song was born out of a famous struggle between sheep shearers and squatters. During a strike which turned violent, resulting in the burning of the Dagworth woolshed in 1894 and the death of over one hundred sheep, police gave chase to Sam Hoffmeister. Rather than be captured, he shot himself.

This leaves me with a question. We have had our own controversy over our national anthem. The Star Spangled Banner has won out, and is unlikely to be changed. Many, however, prefer the easier-to-sing America the Beautiful. But if we want to truly capture something of the American spirit, that indefinable quality of defiance, irreverence and liberty, wouldn't Yankee Doodle be the best fit? After all, how many nations take a song composed to mock them and turn it into a national favorite? On October 17, 1777, British officer Thomas Anburey wrote after General Burgoyne's surrender to the Continental Army:
…the name [of Yankee] has been more prevalent since the commencement of hostilities…The soldiers at Boston used it as a term of reproach, but after the affair at Bunker's Hill, the Americans gloried in it. Yankee Doodle is now their paean, a favorite of favorites, played in their army, esteemed as warlike as the Grenadier's March — it is the lover's spell, the nurse's lullaby…it was not a little mortifying to hear them play this tune, when their army marched down to our surrender.
Perhaps religious dissidents and petty criminals have more in common than we might at first think.

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