Waltzing Matilda Country
The Great Shearers' Strike
Queensland Mounted Infantry
Banjo Paterson (1864 - 1941)
Australian bush poet, journalist and author.

In 1893, Banjo Paterson headed north to Dagworth station near Kynuna, Queensland, to cover the Shearer's Strike for his Sydney newspaper and travelled with his fiancée, Sarah Riley. As a journalist, Paterson would have interviewed shearers for their take on their plight and the draconian work conditions experienced over the past two years. His empathy toward them would most likely have been the catalyst for the composition of his famous poem, Waltzing Matilda.

Paterson's source of information would likely have travelled North from wool growing stations and conveyed to him by shearers and workers who had witnessed and experienced the poor treatment and working conditions at stations such as Milo, Gumbardo & Emudilla in the the Adavale Shire, centred on the town of Adavale, the origin of  the Great Shearers' Strike.

Shearer’s discontent fomented on Milo Station, formally Tintinchilla & 25 mile west of Adavale township. The station boasted three shearing sheds and still holds the record for the most sheep shorn in one season (720,000). The largest shed boasted 100 stands during the days of hand shears.

ABOVE: Shearing Shed - Milo Station 1902. By the time this photo was taken mechanical shearing devices were in use as may be seen by the wheels on the right hand side.

ABOVE: Wool bale No. 2078 at Milo Station c.a. 1928. Milo Station is 12km west of Adavale.

When the first shearer revolts occurred at Milo, the sheds were barricaded and protected by armed landholders, station hands and the Adavale police, who's numbers were increased by two to three (Troopers, 1, 2, 3).

By the time of the above photo, the shearing sheds at Gumbardo and the Emudilla had been burned down by shearers in revolt. These stations were 40 kilometers east and 30 kilometers south of Adavale respectively with the manager at Milo Station not taking any chances. The Shearer's had a camp 8 mile (10 km) west of Adavale and posed a direct threat to the Milo Sheds.

An example of the conditions experienced by Shearers are said to have been as follows: A Shearer, if injured on the job, was no longer allowed to live at the shearer’s quarters or be fed at a station's mess. Instead, the shearer would be forced to find accommodation under some tree (Coolabah), near water (Billabong) and eat whatever could be found. If caught with a lamb or sheep (Jumbuck) for food, the landholder (Squatter) would have police (Troopers)  arrest the offender and he would be charged with theft and held in the Adavale watch-house to await trial at the Adavale Courthouse (both still standing).

ABOVE: This photo was taken .... Milo Shed time of the shearers' strike, 1893. Note the Troopers, 1, 2, 3 with rifles at left and the the Manager/Squatter and Stockmen to the right.
Author's note: Could Paterson have seen this photo, given the 2 years between it and his writing Waltzing Matilda?

It is interesting to note that the vast floodplains of the Bulloo River and Blackwater Creek (the Bulloo catchment) are particularly prone to the formation of Billabongs.

As Shearers moved north for work their numbers in discontent grew. At the Kynuna Pub (The Blue Heeler) Paterson and Riley premiered Waltzing Matilda to a rousing reception from the mainly Shearer patrons.

Subsequently, a meeting of discontented Shearers and workers was held in Barcaldine under the famous Tree of Knowledge giving birth to the Australian Labor Party.

ADAVALE: You may draw your own conclusion as to where the Shearers Strike ended but it is certain it started at Adavale properties. Take your time and look around and be prepared to search the natural evidence! - These floodplains and billabongs, with their Coolabah Trees, were certainly the scenes which may have inspired (by way of conduit of shearers), that inspired &  lead to the greatest of all poems reflecting the Australian Identity, were born.

The following is an interpretation of the lesser known terms from this period of history:
-  A peripatetic wool shearer who commonly carried, on his back, a rolled bedding known as a swag.
MATILDA -  Term used to describe a Shearer’s swag.
BILLABONG -  Outback Australian waterhole. They are formed from bends in creeks which retain water as the creek finds a new path over the floodplains. They often refill following heavy rain events. Similar to an Oxbow lake.
BILLY -  A tin with a wire handle used to boil water.
WALTZ - Today this is an old-time dance, however, during the 19thCentury it was considered too sensual for some courts to allow and was even banned by some. Queen Victoria's consort, Prince Albert (a German) was a fan of the dance but the Queen most likely had disdain for it as couples would dance in very close proximity with the male actually embracing the female with his left arm. Court dances to that time had been limited to touching with fingers.

-  Swagmen would often dance with their swags due to the absence of women while congregating around a camp fire playing harmonicas or other easily transportable musical instrument. A most appropriate dance for the working class, given its modernity and sensuality at the time. Naturally, at that time, the shearer would not dance with a colleague.
COOLABAH -  Eucalyptus tree found over extensive areas of floodplain far from permanent water, as well as near seasonally flooded springs or close to permanent bodies of water. Derived from the Aboriginal word “gulabaa.”
JUMBUCK An Australian English term for sheep.
TUCKER -  An Australian term describing food.
TUCKER BAG -  A Swagman’s bag to carry food.
SQUATTER -  Land holders. Pioneers in the colonies were said to “squat” on their selected land which they staked out and leased from the Government. Some selections were the size of European countries.
THOROUGH-BRED -  A well bred horse, denoting the rider’s wealth. Nowadays describes a race horse.
TROOPERS -  Police.
WHOSE -  Who’s is.

WALTZING MATILDA -  By Banjo Paterson
Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong,
Under the shade of a Coolibah tree,
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boil,
You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me.

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda,
You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me,
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boil,
You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me.

Down came a jumbuck to drink at that billabong,
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee,
And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag,
You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me.


Up rode the squatter mounted on his thorough-bred,
Down came the troopers One Two Three,
Whose that jolly jumbuck you've got in your tucker bag,
You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me.


Up jumped the swagman sprang in to the billabong,
You'll never catch me alive said he,
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong,
You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me.


What better place than the floodplains of the Bulloo River and Blackwater Creek for the birth of a proud Australian military dress tradition?

Called out on "special duty" during the Great Shearers' Strike, the Gympie Squadron of the Queensland Mounted Infantry broke the monotony of their long patrols by riding down emus, plucking the feathers from their tails and decorating their hats with the birds' feathers. Emu feathers adorned slouch hats for the first time during this time.

In recognition of their service, the Queensland Government allowed the whole regiment to officially wear the plume as part of their uniform. Some years later, this unit would wear their "special distinction" on active service for the first time, when Queenslanders arrived in South Africa as apart of the colonial contingents during the Boor War.


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