Category Archives: Australia

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

ANZAC troops bound for Gallipoli

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda is a song written by Scottish-born Australian singer-songwriter Eric Bogle in 1971.

The song describes war as futile and gruesome, while criticizing those who seek to glorify it. The story is told through the experiences of a young Australian soldier who is maimed at the Battle of Gallipoli during the First World War.

The song  concludes with the melody and a few lines from the 1895 song Waltzing Matilda by Banjo Paterson.

The song has been covered and recorded many times, perhaps most notably by John Williamson but my favorite version is performed by John McDermott. This is the original Eric Bogle version.

The song has been praised for its imagery, evoking the devastation at the Gallipoli Landings. The protagonist, who had traveled across rural Australia before the war, is emotionally devastated by the loss of his legs in battle. As the years pass he notes the death of other veterans, while the younger generation becomes apathetic to the veterans and their cause.

Full Lyrics

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 stopped rambling, 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 called Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter
Johnny Turk, he was waiting, he’d 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
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 dyin’

For I’ll go no more waltzing Matilda
All around the green bush far and free
To hump tent 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 legless, the armless, the blind, the insane
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla
And as our ship pulled 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 me porch
And I watch the parades pass before me
And I see my old comrades, how proudly they march
Reviving old dreams of past glories
And the old men march slowly, old 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 myself 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 that billabong
Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?

You might like to listen to the song “I Was Only 19” which has has similar themes.

I Was Only 19

I Was Only Nineteen

I Was Only Nineteen (or ‘A Walk Through The Green Light‘) is a folk song  written by John Schumann of  the Australian band Redgum. The song was released as a single by  Redgum in 1983, and stayed as number one in the charts for   two weeks.

The song gives an account of the experiences of an  Australian soldier fighting in the Vietnam War.  Listen to the song here.

The song has transcended the Vietnam War and has become an Australian icon for the tragedy of all wars.

Complete Lyrics

Mum and Dad and Denny saw the passing out parade at Puckapunyal
It was a long march from cadets
The sixth battalion was the next to tour and it was me who drew the card
We did Canungra and Shoalwater before we left

And Townsville lined the footpaths as we marched down to the quay
This clipping from the paper shows us young and strong and clean
And there’s me in me slouch hat with me SLR and greens
God help me – I was only nineteen

From Vung Tau riding Chinooks to the dust at Nui Dat
I’d been in and out of choppers now for months
And we made our tents a home, V.B. and pinups on the lockers
And an Asian orange sunset through the scrub

And can you tell me, doctor, why I still can’t get to sleep?
And night time’s just a jungle dark and a barking M.16?
And what’s this rash that comes and goescan you tell me what it means?
God help me – I was only nineteen

A four week operation, when each step can mean your last one on two legs
It was a war within yourself
But you wouldn’t let your mates down ’til they had you dusted off
So you closed your eyes and thought about somethin’ else

And then someone yelled out “Contact”, and the bloke behind me swore
We hooked in there for hours
then a God almighty roar
And Frankie kicked a mine the day that mankind kicked the moon
God help me – he was goin’ home in June

And I can still see Frankie, drinkin’ tinnies in the Grand Hotel
On a thirty-six hour rec. leave in Vung Tau
And I can still hear Frankie, lying screaming in the jungle
‘Til the morphine came and killed the bloody row

And the Anzac legends didn’t mention mud and blood and tears
And the stories that my father told me never seemed quite real
I caught some pieces in my back that I didn’t even feel
God help me, I was only 19

And can you tell me, doctor, why I still can’t get to sleep?
Any why the Channel Seven chopper chills me to my feet?
And what’s this rash that comes and goes, can you tell me what it means?
God help me – I was only 19

War Memorials

War Memorials

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Paris and the eternal flame rekindled every night

War memorials are a commonplace in the countries I have lived in: The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, The United States of America, Canada and Australia. Lots of wars spawn many war memorials and all the countries I have lived in have long histories of warfare; sometimes fighting alone, sometimes fighting as allies and occasionally even fighting against each other.

There are essentially two kinds of war memorial; those that simply commemorate the fallen and those that glorify some individual participant. I would shed no tears if all the countless statues of generals and their horses were consigned to cemeteries and museums or even broken up. Their histories, glorious or otherwise, will live on in rival history books written from this or that point of view.

General Robert Edward Lee
General Robert Edward Lee

The memorials to the fallen are an altogether different matter. When new, these enumerations in stone serve as a community’s thanks for the sacrifice of the individual soldiers and their still grieving families. As a war fades into history and slips beyond living memory these lists of the dead become fitting reminders of the terrible cost of war.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. not only honors service members who died in service in Vietnam/South East Asia, it honors too all those U.S. service members who fought in the Vietnam War, and those service members who were unaccounted for (Missing In Action) during the War.

Less well known than the Washington Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a memorial to the fallen in Australia’s wars. King’s Park in my adopted home town of Perth has a conventional Cenotaph in stone and marble but a less obvious, yet infinitely more touching memorial is the park itself.

Avenues criss-cross the park, but look a little closer. At the foot of each tree, lining those avenues, is a simple plaque. Each plaque honors an Australian soldier who didn’t come home. Look even closer, look at their ages so many didn’t even make their 20th birthday.

Most war memorials barely move me but this one does, even now as I write this. So you can keep your statues of generals and perhaps consider giving every soldier a tree. You will need a lot of trees though, there are a lot of trees in King’s Park.

Hate He Said

HATE HE SAID

by Steven Oliver, 24/01/2012

Hate, he said was in my heart
Hate, he said tore us apart
Hate, he said to let it go
Hate, he said but he did not know
That what I had inside of me
Was a sadness born of empathy
That because I did not celebrate
It did not mean I was full of hate
I asked him to just try and see
Through my eyes the tragedy
Of dispossession, of pain, of hurt
Of the red of blood that stained this earth
I mourn for all the lives that were lost
I mourn for what this country cost
I mourn for how we came to be
For the end does not justify the means
It’s in the past he said, move on
Why mourn for something so long gone?
I looked at him and came to say,
Do you think we should forget about ANZAC day?
It’s not the same was his retort
I said wait a minute, give it some thought

People died while fighting for their land
Defending it from a foreign hand
Make no mistake there was a war
That had been fought on these very shores
A war that didn’t always discriminate
Where the elderly or infants could meet the same fate
As those who fought to protect them so
And that’s why we should never let go
Never forget what price was paid
For us to live as we do today
He looked at me quite seriously
Said he celebrates because we’re free
He celebrates our democracy
And everything great in this country
I said, that’s fine, I get that, it’s clear
Just please don’t forget how we got here
Just take a moment to think it through
What price was paid for me and you
To live in this country as we do
Don’t take for granted the sacrifice
Both of land and of life
We need to remember those who died
Not let their legacy be swept aside
You got an apology, he said
It talked about loss and mentioned the dead

What more do you want? He asked of me,
And so I replied in the hope he would see
We have a day for Australia, the Queen
For New Years and Christmas and all those between
Like Labour and Easter, the ANZAC Parade
And just what the hell is Boxing Day?
There’s even a day that we have for the Shows
But nothing that speaks of my people’s woes
A national day to acknowledge the cause
To acknowledge all that has happened before
And I don’t mean NAIDOC I mean something more
Where the whole nation stops, like it does for a horse!
A day, is that too much to ask?
To remind us, don’t ignore the past
He processed my words and looked at the ground
We both sat in silence, then there was a sound
A sound that seemed like heaven to me
A sound of two words that said, I agree!
We talked some more as the day came to end
And despite our differences I’d made a new friend
He understood as the day came to night
That I needed some things in this country made right
And because I did not celebrate
It did not mean I was full of hate.

© Steven Oliver
Australian
24/01/2012

Listen To Steven Oliver as he recites his poem.