Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Band Played Waltzing Matilda

Words and Music: Eric Bogle.

Copyright: Larrikin Music, Sydney, Australia

    When I was a young man I carried my pack
    And I lived the free life of the rover.
    From the Murray's green basin to the dusty outback
    I waltzed my Matilda all over.
    Then in nineteen fifteen the country said, "Son,
    It's time to stop rambling, there's work to be done."
    And 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 our ship pulled away from the quay,
         And amidst all the cheers, flag-waving and tears
         We sailed off to 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 call Suvla Bay
    We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter.
    Johnny Turk he was waiting, he 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,
         As we stopped to bury our slain.
         We buried ours, and the Turks buried theirs,
         Then we started all over again.

    Now 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,
    But 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 dying.
         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 armless, the legless, the blind and 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 and 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 my porch
    And I watch the parade pass before me.
    And I see my old comrades, how proudly they march,
    Reviving old dreams of past glory.
    And the old men marched slowly, all 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 meself 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 the billabong,
    Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me ?

***

I can't listen to this song without having tears come to my eyes. This is one of the most powerful anti-war songs I know of. Eric Bogle says that the battle of Gallipoli marked the coming of age of Australia because it was the first time the Australian army had home-grown officers rather than British. Judging by the lyrics of the song, though, the results were not very positive. Nevertheless, the Aussies commemorate it still. ANZAC day, I think it's called. In April?

Two nations came of age in WWI, the other being Canada. Shame on me, though, I can't name the battle that applies to Canada...was it Dunkirk? Ypres? Passchendaele? Vimy? What's the difference, eh? A lot of men never went waltzing Matilda any more after any of them.

1 comment:

w.t. said...

Makes me cry too. Hits that area of my being where I feel powerless, deeply sad, and defeated. Makes me so aware of how little I understand of this world and of life as a whole. Makes me feel like that little kid I ever was, again, shouting out to people in my dreams, "War is wrong. Don't you get it?" In those dreams I knew some kind of victory, still believeing in some kind of sanity, and my sincere attempts to bring that message with success. Now I know that such is in vain. And again, all I know to do is try to make the world directly around me a friendlier place. Lately I partly fail in that too.

I read Kurt Vonnegut also. Several of his books, at one time. Didn't remember about the music. But music sure speaks a language of its own. And even that can be mis- used. As in getting people excited about war. (Marching to music soldiers). Propaganda music. Stupid canned music, to dull people...

Mmmm, not using semiclons, eh? I do sometimes to mark a special kind of pause...It's not always easy to bring over in writing what you feel and think.

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