When I was a young man I carried my pack
And I lived the free life of the rover.
From the Murray's green basin to the dusty outback
I waltzed my Matilda all over.
Then in nineteen fifteen the country said, "Son,
It's time to stop rambling, there's work to be done."
And they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun,
And they marched me away to the war.
And the band played Waltzing Matilda.
-"The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" by Eric Bogle
“Once a jolly swagman camped by a Billabong
Under the shade of a Coolabah tree
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled
You’ll come a waltzing matilda with me.”
“Yeah, yeah I know the song. We’ve all heard it before, so stop singing it.” William said, as the singer paused to breathe.
“Listen to ‘im John. Or else I’ll help him shut you up.”
John shut up. The room went back to silence. It was a room full of engineers, of soldiers and above all else, Australians. Outside the metallic crate they called their room, the HMAS Encounter rocked back and forth. The rocky waves pushed the cruiser around, and the soldiers who were a little less familiar with the ocean felt it. William was one of them. The constant singing of his crewmate was not helping.
“Thank you Frank, I was going to kill the man.” William said, leaning over the side of his chair. So far he had kept in the rather pitiful lunch they had been given before their journey. It was just a drill, not even a real deployment. They were preparing for the war, but everyone knew it would be over before the Anzacs got into it. No matter though, because here they were, floating around in the South Pacific.
“Oh come on, don’t you all get it? We are going to be heroes! The pride of Australia. Don’t you all want to join in for a verse?” John said, eagerness pouring out of every word. He was just a bit too young for the rest of the men aboard. He claimed to be 18, but everyone knew he wasn’t. He was the youngest engineer of the battalion. Most of the men had joined up when the empire called for men, all part of the reserve forces. The First Corp of the First Division. Some of the lads had taken to calling themselves the ‘fighting first’. As though they would ever see any fighting.
“No John, I’m tired of that song. Heard it when the war started, heard it when the first weapons went off, heard it when they called us up, heard it when we set sail. I’m tired of “Waltzing Matilda.” I’m tired of training, and most of all I am tired of this damn boat!” William said, drawing attention from the other engineers. Most of them were tired of the boat ride as well. They wanted action; it was why they signed up. Now they were just wasting time.