Combo Waterhole, a waterhole on the Dianmantina River near Kynuna,
is believed by some to be the setting for the story of Waltzing
Matilda, or at least part of the inspiration. 'Banjo' Paterson visited
the site in 1895 while staying at Dagworth Station and later wrote the
words to a bush song that captured the spirit of Australia –
The title is Australian slang for travelling by foot with one's goods
(waltzing, derived from the German auf der Walz) in a "Matilda" (bag or
backpack) slung over one's back. The song narrates the story of an
itinerant worker, or "swagman", making a drink of tea at a bush camp
and capturing a sheep to eat. When the sheep's owner arrives with three
police officers to arrest the worker for the theft, the worker commits
suicide by drowning himself in the nearby watering hole, after which
his ghost haunts the site.
The words were written to a tune recited by 21 year-old Christina
Macpherson, one of the family members at the station. Macpherson had
been taken with "The Craigielee March" which she heard played by a
military band while attending the Warrnambool steeplechase horse racing
in Victoria during 1894, and played it back by ear at Dagworth.
Paterson decided that the music would be a good piece to set lyrics to,
and produced the original version during the rest of his stay at the
station and in Winton. The march itself was based on the Scottish
Celtic folk tune "Thou Bonnie Wood of Craigielea", written by Robert
Tannahill and first published in 1806, with James Barr composing the
music in 1818.
It has been widely accepted that "Waltzing Matilda" is likely based on the following story:
In Queensland in 1891 the Great Shearers' Strike brought the colony
close to civil war and was broken only after the Premier of Queensland,
Samuel Griffith, called in the military. In September 1894, on a
station called Dagworth (north of Winton), some shearers were again on
strike. It turned violent with the strikers firing their rifles and
pistols in the air and setting fire to the woolshed at the Dagworth
Homestead, killing dozens of sheep.
The owner of Dagworth Homestead and three policemen gave chase to a man
named Samuel Hoffmeister – also known as "French(y)". Rather than
be captured, Hoffmeister shot and killed himself at the Combo
Waterhole. Bob Macpherson (the brother of Christina) and Paterson are
said to have taken rides together at Dagworth. Here they may have
passed the Combo Waterhole, where Macpherson may have told this story
Extensive folklore surrounds the song and the process of its creation,
to the extent that the song has its own museum, the Waltzing Matilda
Centre in Winton, Queensland. In 2012, to remind Australians of the
song's significance, Winton organised the inaugural Waltzing Matilda
Day to be held on 6 April, the anniversary of its first performance on
6 April 1895 by Sir Herbert Ramsay at the North Gregory Hotel in
Winton, Queensland. The occasion was a banquet for the Premier of
Combo Waterhole Conservation Park gets its name from the most famous of
the many waterholes found within this 49 ha park. Did the jolly swagman
camp by Combo Waterhole? In all probability he did, but we will
probably never know for sure. The Koa Aboriginal people were the first
to follow the Diamantina River—a web of life that traverses the
land in braided channels—pioneering paths of trade and travel.
Explorers followed, then settlers brought sheep and cattle and
established a stock route. Cobb and Co. teams trotted close behind.
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Today visitors can explore the historic stone-pitched overshots and
the most readily accessible Mitchell grass downs in the area. Camping
is prohibited at Combo Waterhole Conservation Park. Nearby Kynuna
offers camping facilities.
The story of Australia's most famous song is told at the Waltzing
Matilda Centre in Winton. The Billabong Theatrette at the Centretells
the story of the song and explains the different meanings behind the
words, along with the original words by A.B. (Banjo) Paterson in
comparison to the words of the song we sing today.
Combo Waterhole Conservation Park is just south of Kynuna and 132 km
north-west of Winton. Turn south off the Landsborough Highway 13 km
south of Kynuna and follow the short drive to the park. You can access
the park with a conventional vehicle, however four-wheel drive is
recommended. Vehicles are not permitted beyond the car park. Follow the
self-guided walking track to Combo Waterhole on foot, discovering the
story of Waltzing Matilda. Even small amounts of rain can make roads
impassable so always be prepared and have at least a week’s worth
of extra supplies in case of stranding.