Analysis of ‘And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ (Eric Bogle)

Analysing other people’s songs can teach us a lot

This is the second song analysis to be posted on this blog. As I said I have said elsewhere, a song does not have to be good, or one we like, for us to be able to learn a lot from it about the craft of songwriting. This is a set of teaching notes that I created for a songwriting workshop at Wallingford Bunkfest (3 Sept 2016) and the Oxford Songwriters Meetup (25 Sept 2016). For those who came to those workshops, hopefully these notes will make sense straightaway. For those of you reading this song study of ‘And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ for the first time, I’d like to encourage you to work through my notes, with the lyrics open on another page, and stopping and starting the June Tabor video as you go. You need to set aside at least half an hour to do this, but it’s worth it. My analysis is organised according to categories in the Songwriting Pentagon, and the Oxford Songwriting Syllabus.

Introducing Eric Bogle’s song

  • Eric Bogle’s official lyrics for this can be found on his own website here.
  • “I wrote it as an oblique comment on the Vietnam War which was in full swing… but while boys from Australia were dying there, people had hardly any idea where Vietnam was. Gallipoli was a lot closer to the Australian ethos – every schoolkid knew the story, so I set the song there.” Eric Bogle
  • Wikipedia “The song contains elements that are inaccurate. The line that states “they gave me a tin hat” is anachronistic, as the British and Imperial armies were not issued steel helmets until 1916, the year after Gallipoli. The ANZAC landings were virtually unopposed. Furthermore, the sole Australian unit at Suvla, the Royal Australian Navy Bridging Train, landed early in the first day, but was left without orders until late in the afternoon, when they were set to building piers to receive the men and supplies of the later stages of the landing.”
  • ‘Waltzing Matilda’ (to which this, Eric Bogle’s song, refers) is often referred to as a the ‘unofficial’ national anthem of Australia. The original words of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ were written by the Australian poet Banjo Peterson in 1895, to a tune played to him on a zither by Christina Macpherson, who in turn probably drew for its inspiration from a tune written by James Barr in 1818 to words by Robert Tannahill in 1806 for a ballad called ‘Thou Bonnie Wood of Craigielea’.
  • A ‘Matilda’ is the ‘swag’ or bundle of bedding and belongings carried by a foot traveler in the Australian outback / bush.
  • Alec Campbell, the last known survivor of the ANZAC forces at Gallipoli (and the last known survivor of Gallipoli) died on Thursday, May 16, 2002 at the age of 103. Mr. Campbell enlisted at 16, and served at Gallipoli in 1915. He led Hobart’s ANZAC Day parade three weeks prior to his death.

Big Idea + Title

  • Big Idea: Story of a young man’s experience of war, and an implied protest against war. There is a strong through-line of how ‘Waltzing Matilda’ accompanies his life, but takes on different meanings.
    • NB Bogle is on record for having regretted the lines “And the young people ask what are they marching for, and I ask myself the same question.” He realised much later that some people thought he was disrespecting what the soldier’s had done in the war. This was not his intention; he wanted to stress the horror of war. This is an example of a piece of Lyric undermining the Big Idea.
  • Title:
    • a memorable song title (‘Waltzing Matilda’) is extended to make a new title
    • draws us in by partly making us ask what’s different about this from the well known song
    • poignant because the significance of the reference deepens through the song
    • placed at start of the Chorus


  1. Verse I + Chorus 1
  2. Verse 2 + Chorus 2
  3. Verse 3 + Chorus 3
  4. Verse 4 + Chorus 4
  5. Verse 5 + Chorus 5
  6. Coda [Chorus of the traditional song ‘Waltzing Matilda’)


  • Originally 8 verses, Bogle stripped it down to these 5 to remove repetition of ideas.
  • Mixture of colloquial, natural language, and more sophisticated (primed, slain, weary, maimed, reviving). [Does this mixture work?]
  • Story: clear timeline, development of the man’s life, and view of life and war.
    • 1 establishes main protagonist and his character, propels us quickly into dramatic turn of events in his life, sense of glory and innocence of joining the army. Band plays joyfully.
    • 2 plunged straight into the battle and unexpected horror, Turks introduced. Band now plays to support and commiserate.
    • 3 the horror continues, and our protagonist is horrifically wounded in a life-changing way. Now ‘Waltzing Matilda’, his symbol of carefree life, becomes beyond his reach.
    • 4 Those who had left Australia with glory in their mind now return brutalised. The crowds that cheered are now silent and shocked. The band’s tune now feels chilling and bleak.
    • 5 Many years later, dwindling numbers of heroes alive, proud of achievements, but the futility of war is underscored by the younger people not knowing what it is all about.
  • Rhetoric
    • Alliteration [NB uses the main consonants of the Title!!!]: v.1 Man, Me, Murray’s, My, Matilda, My, tiMe, raMbling, Me, Me, Me, Matilda, aMidst; v. 1 Green, Gave, Gave, Gun, Gallipoli; v.2 rememBer, terriBle, Blood, Bay, Butchered, Bullets, Blown, Blew, Back, Band, Bury, Buried, Buried; v.2 terribLe, bLood, heLL, SuvLa, Like, Lambs, sLaughter, weLL, buLLets, sheLL, fLat, bLown, aLL, heLL, bLew, AustraLia, pLayed, walLtzing, MatiLda, sLain, aLL; v. 3 Were, Well, We, World, Weary, Weeks, While, When, aWoke, What, Wished, Was, Was, Worse, Waltzing, Waltzing; v. 4 So, SHipped, uS, AuStralia, armleSS, legleSS, inSane, thoSe, Suvla, Ship, Circular, plaCe, legS, uSed, ChriSt, waS, Stood, Stared, FaCes; v.4 criPPled, shiPPed, Proud, ShiP, Pulled, Place, Pity, Played; v.5 Porch, Parade, Pass, Proudly, Past, PeoPle; v.5 So, Sit, paSS, See, paSt, Slowly, Stiff, Sore, aSk, aSk, Same, queStion; v.5 Me, Me, My, coMrades, March, dreaMs, Men, March, Marching, Myself, saMe, Matilda, Men, More, Men, soMeday, March. ‘Five minutes Flat’, ‘Far and Free’, ‘How in that Hell’
    • Anaphora: starting repeatedly with the same words: v.1 ‘they gave, they gave, they sent’, v.2 ‘how’ x3, ‘he’ x5; other kinds of repetition: ‘bury, buried, buried’, (v.5) ‘old’ comrades / dreams / men / heroes [contrasted with young people]
    • Enallange (bending grammar): ‘me pack’, ‘me hospital bed’, ‘me legs’, ‘me porch’, ‘there was worse things’
    • Isocolon: ‘from the Murray’s green basin to the dusty outback’, ‘they gave me a tin hat, they gave me a gun’, ‘he showered us with bullets, he rained us with shell’; ‘we buried ours and the Turks buried theirs’
    • Polypototon: v.1 lived / life, v.2 blown/blew, bury / buried, v.3 death / dead / dying, v.4 shipped / ship, v.5 march / marching
    • Prosopopeia (personification): ‘The country said …’
    • Rhymes: ababcccd ee; some liberties taken – v.4 maimed / insane, Australia / Suvla; v.5 porch / march, me / glories. Internal rhymes in l.2 of each chorus: cheers / tears, ours/ theirs, pegs/ legs, cheered/ stared, year / disappear
    • Simile: ‘butchered like lambs to the slaughter’.
    • Metaphor: ‘hell they call Suvla Bay’, ‘showered with bullets’, ‘rained with shell’
    • Tricolon: ‘cheers, flag waving and tears’, ‘blood, death and fire’, ‘crippled, the wounded, the maimed’ (and a tetracolon of ‘the armless, the legless, the blind, the insane’ perhaps deliberately overdoing the list to exhaust us), ‘to grieve, to mourn, to pity’
  • Characters: young man (I/Me), country, band, crowds, ‘we’ (comrades), Turks, wounded, waiting crowds, comrades, young people
  • Places: Murray’s green basin, dusty outback, ship on the quay, Gallipoli, battleground on the shores of Suvla Bay, Australia, hospital bed, green bush, ship, Circular quay, gangway and dockside, porch and passing parade (like the march in v.1), (full circle to the) billabong
  • Timeline: pre-war, sea journey, the landing and opening battle, 10 week continuing battle, post-battle recovery, loading the ship, arriving home, many years later.
  • Details: pack, green, dusty, tin hat, gun, ship, flag waving, sailed, blood, sand, water, bullets, shell, blood, fire, corpses, hospital bed, tent, pegs, legs, armless, legless, blind, gangway, stared, turn faces away, parade, slowly/stiff/sore, ‘they just stood’ (he, course, could only ‘sit’ on his porch, while his comrades ‘march’)
  • Narration; reported dialogue


NB There are significantly different official versions of the music. I have based my comments on

  • Verse: AA-B1B2-A
  • Chorus: C1C2D1D2E
  • Cohesion: opening of Verse and Chorus very similar
  • Verse: A=Arch, B stays high. Chorus: begins much higher then end of Verse, contains stepwise motion in the middle.

Performance versions

  • June Tabor  – I have based my musical analysis on this version. I love the starkness of Tabor’s version, just voice, no accompaniment.
  • Eric Bogle – The tune as Bogle sings it is very different from all the other versions listed here.
  • The Pogues – I like the sparseness of the musical texture in the opening verse and chorus, just a simple banjo accompaniment as it opens, then a gentle countermelody on a squeeze-box; the voice has a roughness that suits the earthiness of the character of the storyteller. There is a consistent ‘un-fussiness’ in the instrumentation for the rest of the performance, which enables the listener to focus on the words. There’s something about the sound of the band at the end that feels that the ‘common man’ and his connection to roving the outback has triumphed in the end.
  • The Dubliners
  • Joan Baez – For me, this version doesn’t work. It is too sweet and ‘upbeat’ musically, and makes no sense of what the song is about – the horror of war.


  • Simple harmonies: I, IV, V, VI
  • Verses: I-IV-V-I-IV-V-I x2; V-V-IV-I x2; I-IV-V-VI-V-V-I
  • Chorus: I-IV-I-I-IImaj-V IV-IV-V-VI-I-V-I


  • Eric Bogle sweetly harmonious lullaby guitar part; very different from the well known melody that has been recorded by many artists.
  • Versions by Liam Clancy and Ronnie Drew also go for the harmonious lullaby approach. Drew’s uses sweet violin counter-melody, as does the version by the Dubliners. Joan Baez uses Hawaian guitar, as well as other guitars.
  • The Pogues: builds all the way; simple plucked banjo; then adds squeezebox; then drum on downbeats; then brass chords; whistle with Coda
  • June Tabor unaccompanied and stark – I prefer this one.

Combinations – Lyric/Melody/Harmony/Structure

  • Melody of 1-2 repeated in 3-4, Lyric idea is reframed; chord I esablished
  • Melody in 5-6 takes new direction, rising in pitch, with Harmony starting on and prolonging chord V; Lyric moves action forward.
  • Lyric of 7-8 gives us consequences of lines 5-6, or provides commentary on them; Melody repeats 1-2/3-4, bringing us home with familiar musical material, but taking us to a new place in the story; Harmony touches on relative minor (VI) to reflect this new reality.
  • Line 1 of Chorus Lyric has the band playing Waltzing Matilda every time (providing cohesion for the song), but the meaning of this changes through the song as the context of its performance changes in 2nd half of 1st line (ship pulled away, we stopped to bury, all around the green bush, they carried us down, the old men still answer). Chord V established more strongly by its V (IImaj); more use of IV and VI to keep us away from I for longer, emphasising how the meaning of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ is evolving through the song.
  • Line 2 of Chorus Lyric has internal rhyme, matched by sequence in Melody (same melodic fragment repeated at new pitch); and the Lyric content each time reflects a list or progression: ‘amidst all the cheers, flag waving and tears’, ‘we buried ours, they buried theirs’, ‘to hump tent and pegs a man needs both legs’; ‘nobody stood, they just stood and stared’, ‘as year follows year, the old men disappear’.
  • This is followed in 2nd half of 2nd line by a Lyric ‘punchline’ in which the Melody comes home to the root note.

7 Comments on “Analysis of ‘And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ (Eric Bogle)

  1. I am not quite old enough to remember the heartbreaking things that were being done and commemorated in this song, but it makes me cry every time I hear it. And it makes me wonder why human beings – all right, only SOME human beings – are so willing to do such dreadful things to other human beings. I can only hope that by singing such songs, maybe people will think more about spreading peace than war and hatred. Fingers are crossed!

  2. An absolutely beautiful song. The details of this analysis are thought-provoking. Personally, I think the cadence and emotion of The Pogues version masters it.

  3. I am struck by the similarity between this song and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot.

    • I wonder if you could describe what similarity you find? It’s certainly a ballad that recounts a tragic story, and honours those who died. But the structure of the song – musically and lyrically – is very different.

  4. While the original tune for Waltzing Matilda may have come from a Scottish air it was adopted by The Duke of Marlborough for his recruiting song and may have gotten to Australia in that form. I have created a medley where the choruses of Marlborough’s recruiting song are spliced with Eric Bogles verses to create, what audiences tell me, is a unique and powerful anti-war statement.

  5. For me, Liam Clancy is the man who best sings the song. He has me tightly in his
    grip through the entire performance, and as a veteran, I am not ashamed to say that I weep
    every time I hear it.

    • Just heard/watched Liam’s version fir the first time today, less than a day after your comment. Exquisite rendering brought the story home,

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