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By Graham McDonald
The entire history of Australian recorded music can be traced through versions of Waltzing Matilda.
Just about every craze, fad and fashion in popular music has generated a recording of the song. This happened not only in Australia, but in some strange and wonderful versions from around the world.
There are versions in the popular styles of the 30s and 40s, jazz improvisations, classical and choral arrangements as well as those in the style of rock ‘n’ roll, broadway musicals, dance crazes such as the Twist, 80s big hair and lycra power ballads and some so truly strange that they defy categorisation.
1. John Collinson
The first recorded version of Waltzing Matilda, recorded in London in 1926, by John Collinson a tenor from Queensland, accompanied on piano by Russell Callow. For no obvious reason they changed the melody a little for the chorus. It didn’t sell many copies, a fate shared by the next recorded version, by Colin Crane in 1930.
Broadcast (Deluxe Series) W573
NFSA title no. 283469
2. Peter Dawson
It wasn’t until Peter Dawson’s version in 1938, based on the arrangement by British musical examiner Thomas Wood, in 1938 that Matilda became a hit, and other versions came thick and fast after that one.
NFSA title no. 289629
3. Jack White and his Band
The years of the Second World War gave rise to numerous recordings of Waltzing Matilda. Jack White was an English band leader who led the band at the Astoria Dance Salon in London from 1936 until 1957 who recorded the song as a slow Foxtrot for Regal Zonophone around 1940-41.
Regal Zonophone G24528
NFSA title no. 190904
4. The 116th Rhythm Ensemble
The 116th Rhythm Ensemble was an Australian military entertainment unit during the war, and recorded this swing version for a radio broadcast. The vocalist is Gordon Andrews, with the arrangement by Ron Williams
NFSA title no. 276712
5. Tex Morton
Also a wartime radio broadcast, but with a very different feel is Tex Morton from 1943 and included on a souvenir CD release called Greetings from Australia.
NFSA title no. 471371
6. Horrie Dargie and His Rocking Reeds
Famed Australian harmonica player Horrie Dargie and His Rocking Reeds (a band of harmonica players) recorded this instrumental version in the early 40s. It was re-released as part of a collection of Australian harmonica tracks on a CD Band in a Waistcoat Pocket in 1995.
Regal Zonophone G24420
NFSA title no. 317353
7. Josh White
Waltzing Matilda became a popular song with foreign folk singers of various kinds in the 40s and 50s. Singers like Burl Ives, William Clausen, Harry Belafonte and the South African duo of Marias & Miranda all recorded versions as well as this blues tinged example by African-American singer and guitarist Josh White from 1951. White had originally recorded the song in 1944 for a set of discs sold only to American servicemen and then again in 1947 for a four disc album on Decca records.
NFSA title no. 471524
8. South Australian Symphony Orchestra and the Adelaide Singers
Queen Elizabeth’s Royal Tour in 1954 was the occasion for this recording of the Thomas Wood arrangement performed by the South Australian Symphony Orchestra and the Adelaide Singers for a Royal Gala concert.
Philips A00591 L
NFSA title no. 302816
9. Massed Bands of the Australian Army
The 1956 Melbourne Olympics generated several recordings of Waltzing Matilda, including this one from the Massed Bands of the Australian Regular Army, conducted by Maj. R.A.Newman.
10. Gary Cohen
A popular entertainment in Australia during the 1950s was Square Dancing, and just about any song could be turned into a square dance call. Gary ‘Chuck’ Cohen, one of Australia’s top square dance callers of the period, recorded a version of Waltzing Matilda on an album with the Noel Gilmour Quartet.
On ‘Square Dancing’- Columbia OEX9175
NFSA title no. 567978
11. George Trevare’s Jazz Group
Gearge Trevares was a trombonist and band leader during the 40s and this arrangement was recorded in Sydney in July 1945 as the B side to Back to Croajingolong. The band was Wally Norman (trumpet), George Trevare (trombone), Rolph Pommer (saxophone), Pat Lynch (piano), Morgan McGree (guitar), Horrie Bissell (bass), Al Vincer (drums, vibraphone) and a young Don Burrows playing clarinet.
Regal Zonophone G 24954
NFSA title no 190808
12. The Franklyn B Paverty Bush Band
The Franklyn B Paverty Bush Band has been a Canberra institution for many years and recorded Waltzing Matilda twice on one CD. Alongside the more common version arranged by Marie Cowen in 1903, they included the lesser known ‘Queensland’ version, discovered by folklorist John Manifold in the 1950s and rather closer to the Patterson/MacPherson original in words and melody. Recorded live in the Great Hall of Parliament House, Canberra, on the evening of its official opening in May 1988.
On Waltzing Matilda Again: The Great Aussie Folk Collection – NG99001
NFSA title no 454461
13. Eric Bogle
Waltzing Matilda has inspired numerous other songs. Perhaps the most famous, and most poignant is Eric Bogle’s And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda, which he wrote as a newly arrived immigrant to Australia in 1972. It was entered in a songwriting competition at a folk festival that year and was awarded third prize. No-one remembers the songs which took the major prizes. It has since been recorded almost 140 times, by singers from many countries. It was first recorded by Eric on his first LP Now I’m Easy in 1980, after several other people had popularised it in Australia and Britain.
On Now I’m Easy – Larrikin LRF 041
NFSA title no 197491