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August 30, 2003, by Léon Krijnen

Waltzing Mathilda   

wallabies.gifThe world in Australia is upside down: Waltzing Mathilda may no longer be performed as the national rugbyteam stampedes onto the grounds. My favorite reference work, the official dictionary of Australian slang, has to be extended with at least ten pages of new expressions or expletives, i guess. Aussies not only wear their hart on their sleeves, but they'r also pretty creative with language. Fair dinkum!

To prevent misunderstanding: there is only one Waltzing Mathilda, and that's not, as almost everybody in the US and Europe seems to think, the burden of Tom Traubert's Blues, as performed by Tom Waits. That song, to use suiting terminology, hasn't got a fuck to do with it.
Waltzing Mathilda is what Banjo Paterson wrote an sang for the first time in 1895. About the jolly swagman under the coolibah tree who's watching his billy boiling, and sadly drowns when he jumps in the billabong, with the jumbuck and the tuckerbag.
What the hell I am talking about? You may borrow my dictionary mentioned above.
Waltzing Mathilda may no longer be officially performed as Australia takes on the defence of the world title from the tenth of oktober. The fat is in the fire, because Mathilda is the guardian angel of the Wallabies. No longer allowed, not even during the opening ceremony in the Telstra Dome in Sydney, with 82.000 seats months before the event sold out.
Measured to it's 74.000 union members Australia is a rugbydwarf, compared to France, South Africa, New Zealand en England, while even the Japanese Rugby Union has over 100.000 members. But it are the in green shorts and gold shirts dressed Wallabies - a little kind of kangaroo - that have won everything that is possible to win in the world of rugby. The World Cup in 1999, when France was beaten in the final in Cardiff, being the crown on a reign of terror in the last decennium of the twentieth century.
When the Cup was brought home someone started to sing Waltzing Mathilda when the newly crowned champions of the world played for home audiences. In the samen manner as You'll never Walk Alone was made world famous and immortal from Liverpool. According to the legend in 1965 Gerry Marsden visited a Liverpool home match when someone on The Spionkop spotted him an started to sing the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, then a hit as covered by Gerry and his Pacemakers. The rest, right, history.
In the gigantic Melbourne Cricket Ground Mathilda floated above her protegees when a sold out crowd sang them to the decising try in the last seconds of a game. Coincidence or not, with a deafening Mathilda more matches were won, so the myth was born.
Myths get cultivated. A bloke called John Williamson was brought in from the outback. A singing true blue jackaroo - check my reference - RM Williams at his feet, Akubra on his head, acoustic guitar in his hands, put right in the middle of the stadium five minutes before match time. People loved it, the players swallowed the perfect and legal drug, Australia sang along.
It's over. The international rugby union has ordered that from now on only national anthems may be performded at the beginning of international matches. Rules are rules, one is inclined to think, but why made an exeption for hymns with extraordinary cultural or historical bond? And what's wrong with Mathilda, culturally and historically?
For now this stupid decision suits New Zealand very well, because under the new rule the All Blacks are allowed to maintain the performance of their fearfull Haka. The same All Blacks who, as they admitted last year, succeeded in keeping 0-0 on the scoreboard until five minutes before the game started. 'Then 100.000 people started singing Waltzing Mathilda and we'd lost the match before it even started'.
The good news for Australia is that the problem will be solved. To begin with, for years there's a very active movement Down Under that wants to dump the national anthem, the a bit pompous Advance Australia Fair, and replace it by something else. Guess what. Right.
Secondly premier Johnny Howard, on the far left side of the political spectrum also known as the bloody little creep, said something smart - even the left wing agreed this time - when whe was asked about the case that will keep his country busy for a while.
'No worries', a grinning Howard shrugged his shoulders, 'how in the world can they prevent 82.000 people singing Waltzing Mathilda?

For the original column in Dutch, as published in Bn/DeStem on august 30, 2003, as well as on the website of BN/DeStem, click here (archive BN/DeStem). If you haven't done so already, you'll have to register yourself.

Posted: August 30, 2003 09:23 PM (785 words).   

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