DENNIS O'KEEFFE


Dennis O'Keeffe is one of the nation's leading performers of Australian traditional songs,
and has been a successful song-writing teacher for over ten years.
For as many years, he has led the Australian traditional song sessions at the National Folk Festival in Canberra.
Dennis plays an anglo- concertina, an instrument that came to Australia during the gold-rushes
of the 1850s, and was the most popular instrument in the Australian outback until the turn of the century.
Regrettably, there are very few concertina players left in Australia.
Dennis has been at the birth of literally hundreds of songs, having written some forty songs about Australian history,
and nurtured many song-writers from their first idea through to the first public performance of their song.
Twenty years of painstaking research into the origins of Waltzing Matilda, combined with his knowledge of
Australian traditional songs and proven song-writing ability, gives Dennis an intimate understanding
of how the song was written.

WALTZING MATILDA - The Secret History of Australia’s Favourite Song, published by Allen and Unwin
will be available in stores throughout Australia from April.

Australians know Waltzing Matilda, written by our most popular poet Banjo Paterson, as our most loved song
and unofficial national anthem.
What Australians don't know is that their song is embroiled in a web of secrecy, violence and a triangular love affair.
Written at a pivotal time in Australia's history, Waltzing Matilda is as important to Australian culture as events like
the Eureka Stockade and the story of Ned Kelly.
In the middle of remote Queensland, shearing sheds were being burnt to the ground by striking union shearers,
amid violent gun battles and sheep being burnt to death. A swagman mysteriously died beside a remote billabong,
possibly shot by the squatter or one of the three policemen. Then a secret deal was done by unionists to conceal the truth
of the swagman's death.
Banjo Paterson becomes entangled in a love affair that destroys the lives of two women. This is the story of Waltzing Matilda.

Although various authors and historians have written about Waltzing Matilda, mostly they have been influenced by
their own political leanings.
Generally, the left side of politics claim the song is a political allegory and the conservatives claim Waltzing Matilda
is nothing but a 'meaningless little ditty'. All of them have neglected to consider in general that Banjo Paterson,
like a lot of successful men, was a womaniser. One hundred and fifteen years after the writing of Waltzing Matilda,
Australians continue to be fascinated with the song and sing it proudly wherever they meet to celebrate.
Given the facts outlined in this story, they will be further captivated and embrace the song for decades to come.

For centuries many songs of protest like the treason songs written during early Australian settlement,
were written as allegories, to disguise the subject matter of the song.

In the same simple tradition, many Australians, and people throughout the world, think Waltzing Matilda
is a simple song about a petty thief stealing a sheep. A common misconception. Which more than likely prevented the song
being selected as the National Anthem in the 1970s.
But it is not a simple song! Written in simple language yes, but vividly pictorial and displaying much of our national
characteristics. Created during an intense socio-political time, which embroiled the lives of many well know
Australian families, from opposite ends of the political spectrum.
Here we have the master poet at work, spontaneously continuing an oral tradition that was centuries old.
Penning a quintessential Australian song as an allegory. Based on real events, using words that have created an
Australian story that could not have been written in any other country.

During 1991 Dennis O’Keeffe sat alone in the windswept Tower Hill cemetery near Koroit and wrote a song for
union shearer Billy McLean, who was shot during the violent 1894 shearer’s strike.
Little did he know, this was the beginning of twenty years research into the fascinating story of Waltzing Matilda.
Since then his passion for the true story behind Australia’s pseudo national anthem has seen him singing Waltzing Matilda
in almost every corner of Australia, including the barren western plains of Queensland on the very spot
where the song was written, to the remote banks of the Darling river where the paddle steamer The Rodney
was burnt by striking shearers in 1894.

Twenty years of painstaking research into the origins of Waltzing Matilda, combined with his knowledge of
Australian traditional songs and proven song-writing ability, gives Dennis an intimate understanding of
how the song was written.
His ground-breaking research will shed new light and give deeper meaning to Australia’s most recorded song.

WALTZING MATILDA
The secret history of Australia’s favourite song

An exposé of two scandals and how they came together in a nation’s best-loved song.
Australians know ‘Waltzing Matilda’, written by our most popular poet Banjo Paterson,
as our most loved song and unofficial national anthem.
Written at a pivotal time in Australia’s history, ‘Waltzing Matilda’ is as important to Australian culture as events
like the Eureka Stockade and the story of Ned Kelly. What Australians don’t know is that their song is embroiled in
a web of secrecy, violence and a triangular love affair.
Twenty years of painstaking research into its origins reveal two controversial events that formed its inspiration;
one, the union cover-up of a swagman’s death amid the violence of a shearers’ strike; the other, a torrid affair
between Banjo Paterson and his fiancée’s best friend that destroyed the lives of both women. Waltzing Matilda
will heighten the fascination Australians have always had with the one song they sing so proudly.
Dennis O’Keeffe is one of the nation’s leading performers of Australian traditional songs.
ALLEN&UNWIN 9781742377063 $27.99.

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