Below Left: A swagman with his swag and billy.
Paterson intentionally used bush slang in writing Waltzing Matilda. This song was about the sheep shearers of the outback stations, and the song itself was written in response to the shearer strike at Dagworth Station shortly before Paterson penned these words.
Swagman- Equivelent to the American hobo of the 1920's and 1930's, a swagman is a transient- usually an unemployed seep shearer who was travelling on foot looking for work. He was called a swagman because of the supplies he carried; the blanket or mat that a hobo carried was called a swag.
Billabong- A waterhole. Water is a scarse commodity in Australia, expecially in the hot barren expanse of the outback.
Coolibah- a species of Eucalyptus that is indigenous to Australia.
Billy- a billy is a tin bucket or pot which is used for boiling. A popular use of the billy is boiling tea. Billy tea is a bush specialty, and tends to be quite strong in flavor.
Jumbuck- a sheep. If you're not from Australia, you wouldn't know this, so the choice of this word holds special significance for the shearers for whom Paterson wrote this song for.
Waterbag- a waterback is a bladder type sling which is waterproof; hence, it became popular to call it a waterbag.
Tucker bag- Tucker is Aussie slang for food. A tucker bag is a bag large enough to hold several days worth of food and other provisions.
Squatter- A squatter is a land owner; usually the owner of a sheep or cattle station, or of a farm. In the earliest days of European settlement, people literally squatted land; that is, they held land illegally by occupying the land without a permit. The government had a hard time relocating squatters, and generally let them keep the land. Squatters became the first land owners in Australia.
Policeman- In various versions of this song, the word trooper is used in lieu of policeman. Either way, the word meant mounted police. One cannot walk in the outback because it is far too hot. One would tire within minutes if he attempted to walk through the desert. Also, there are many species of dangerous and agressive snakes in the outback. The only way to get around was by riding a horse.
Waltzing Matilda- When a swagman took to the road to find work, he was said to be "waltzing his matilda." In other words, he was "dancing" down the road or taking his swag for a walk. The matilda is another name for the swagman's pack, particularly his blanket or sleeping mat. There is several thoeries on how the matilda got it's name. The most likely explaination is that the word matilda goes back to the German word, mathilde, which literally translates to "blanket." Another term used to describe the travelling of swagmen is "humping the bluey." I'm not sure what this means. If anyone knows, please email me so I may add it here.
Below Left: A Coolibah Tree