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And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda

The Bushwackers

In 1974 I had my very first – and very short-lived – university experience. Macquarie University. A few weeks into first term and I’d left. At that time 2 years of supporting yourself meant getting a government allowances to attend university – so full-time work beckoned.

Those few weeks were very enjoyable. The Bushwackers played on the main lawn – between the library and the administration building. Only a small audience – a few hundred students – witnessed what was a big performance.

Th Bushwackers

The Bushwackers

The following year they released what I thought was their first album … taking its name from the Eric Bogle song And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda. I think the first time I’d heard the song was by The Bushwackers, which is why I’ve chosen their version from that album for this Crossroad.

It’s a compelling song, that calls upon some powerful Australian icons – ANZACS, ANZAC Day, Gallipoli, Waltzing Matilda – nevertheless it speaks vividly and emotionally about the horrors of war.

How are And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda and Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye connected?

Both songs are stark and grim pictures of the impact of war. Young men’s bodies have been maimed and their spirit stripped away.

The once beguiling, dancing Johnny  …

You’re a spineless, boneless, chickenless egg
You’ll have to be put with a bowl to beg.

And the once free-spirited rover returning to Sydney amongst “the armless, the legless, the blind, the insane” and as the ship pulls into dock, he

… looked at the place where me legs used to be
And thanked Christ there was noone waiting for me

Another connecting point is Liam Clancy the youngest of The Clancy Brothers. Scottish folk singer, Archie Fisher who was producing an album for Liam & Tommy Makem, told them he had song they should include and sang them And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda. Liam’s reaction …

And I couldn’t sleep for three nights thinkin’ about that song, it was so powerful.

Here is the version from The Bushwackers album of the same name:


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* This is another song that has been performed by many, here are three:

the composer Eric Bogle (with John Munro), performing it some 40 years after he’d written the song.
a stinging version from The Pogues
Liam Clancy live at The Bitter End in 2008

* Eric Bogle wrote another great song that reflects on war  – The Green Fields Of France

And the next road takes us to?

North:  Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye  – we just paid him a visit
East:     Khe Sanh by Cold Chisel.
South:  Uncle Sam Blues by Hot Tuna.
West:    John Brown by Bob Dylan.

Crossroad 9