Origin of “Waltzing Matilda”:
Mr Sydney May, Queensland, University music lecturer and hon. secretary of the Queensland Place Names Committee, was the guest speaker at the weekly Rotary luncheon yesterday. He delivered an address on aspects of the committee’s work and his own researches into the origin of “Waltzing Matilda,” on which he has lately published a monograph.
Demonstrating the growing importance of the Place Names Committee, Mr May related that the Governor had recently sought information concerning the naming of the town of Surat, of which there appeared to be no record. Investigation showed that it was so named by Surveyor Burrowes after a place in India, where he had lived. The surveyor gave the main street his own name, and the remaining streets which constituted the township after his ten children. Whether there was no need for more, or the supply of children gave out, that was all the streets possessed by Surat. (Laughter.) Lately there had been an inquiry from the wife of the commander of the s.s. Barcoo as to the origin of that name. The place which gave rise to Barcoo sickness and Barcoo rot was hardly sufficient explanation; but investigation by the committee had gathered information which suggested Barcoo was an aboriginal word and signified the meeting of two streams of water.
Passing to the story of “Waltzing Matilda,” the subject of his own personal investigation, Mr May reviewed his inquiries which had extended as far afield as England, the Warnambool Race Club, the Register of Births, deaths and marriages and interviews with people still living who had association with the principal figures concerned. The tune of “Waltzing Matilda” was known in England as far back as 1700, when, under the title of “The Gay Fusillier,” it was sung by British soldiery going off to the wars. It appeared in Australia as a march for brass bands (the “March Craigilee”), and as such was played at the Warnambool annual races in the presence of Victorian vice-royalty, in 1894. On that occasion the air captivated the ear of Miss Christine Macpherson, daughter of a pastoral family which subsequently came to Dagworth station, Winton, and there made the acquaintance of the Riley family, to whose daughter Banjo Paterson was affianced and was then visiting. How Paterson wrote the words of the song arising out of incidents recurring on Winton stations, and how it was set to the tune that had lingered with Miss Macpherson from that day at the Warnambool races, and was sung by the group of’ young people at the Riley home at Winton, was related by the narrator in circumstantial detail. As an indication of the thoroughness with which the inquiry was pursued the Warnambool Race Club was written to and produced the programme played by the band at the races, and which included the number, “March Craigilee.”
This account of the song, Mr May added, was as complete and authentic as he had found it possible to make it, and it was accepted by historical authorities as correct.
Mr John Ross moved the customary vote of thanks to the speaker and the president (Mr L McIntyre) read a letter from the Governor (Sir Leslie Wilson), in which the hope was expressed that the Place Names Committee and the work it was doing would soon receive legislative recognition in this State.
The chairman announced that next Tuesday night Rotarians and their wives would meet Sir Leslie and Lady Wilson at dinner at the Commercial Hotel.
The Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld.), Thursday 21 September 1944, page 7