Aim: To show that life is frequently an uncomfortable mixture of good ambitions and bad activity.
Background.Note: The Australian Encyclopaedia definition of squatter is “persons who placed themselves upon public lands without license.” Some squatters were good men, but some were brutal and several massacres occurred. (For example see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myall_Creek_Massacre.) Of course even the best of the squatters stole the land, but they may have been like Charles Bonney(see picture)who sought to engage with the aborigines by playing his flute rather than shooting with his rifle. Bonney and his senior partner, Charles Ebden, set up Bonegilla Station in what is now Victoria, and which eventually became the famous migrant reception camp after World War II. (In 1857 Ebden and Bonney became members of the colonial assemblies of Victoria and South Australia, respectively, and Ebden ultimately became Treasurer of Victoria.)
After the depressions of the 1860s, 1890s and 1930s there were waves of swagmen travelling around trying to find work. Some station managers and squatters made them welcome. Hunter of Evora Station, north of Blackall, Qld, gave every swaggie a pair of boots; Hunter was said to be a Quaker and “a really good man”. (1)
In 1895, Samuel Hoffmeister, a shearer. was suspected of leading striking unionists in burning down the woolshed on Dagworth Station, Kyuna, Queensland, on 2 September 1894, with the killing of 140 lambs. Overnight, Hoffmeister shot himself near a billabong of the Diamantina River. Perhaps Hoffmeister’s suicide, shortly before Paterson visited Dagworth, together with a swagman on Dagworth at the time, inspired Paterson’s poem, Waltzing Matilda, about a swagman who also was a thief. The tune was composed by his acquaintance from Dagworth, Christina Macpherson.
Sing the song and/or perform a puppet show on the story, or, if puppets are not available, organise the children to act out the story.
Show picture of the Combo Waterhole where the lyricist, (Banjo) Paterson, may have imagined the action to occur. Begin the discussion:
Can anyone tell us who a swagman was? (see picture of swaggie)
Can anyone tell us who a squatter was?
The following questions could be typed onto A4 cards/sheets and displayed. Also give the children ‘traffic light’ discs of green, red and yellow, which they can hold up to indicated their agreement, disagreement, or ‘don’t know don’t care’, respectively. (The yellow disc is very important because it secures the cooperation of boys.) Tabulate the opinions on a black/whiteboard – a child always volunteers to do this in my experience. (Note very importantly: There are no right or wrong answers and the teacher withholds her/his own opinion, because the ‘traffic lights’ encourage valid responses from children as young as, wait for it, four!)
Was the swagman right to steal the sheep in the circumstances? (He was probably hungry, out of work and tired.)
Was the squatter right to call the police to arrest the swagman for stealing the sheep? (The sheep was probably unmarked and wandering around the squatter’s land, which itself had been stolen.)
Was the swagman right to jump into the waterhole and drown himself to avoid arrest?
Is there a message in the song?
Does the swagman’s ghost exist today?
Do ghosts exist?
Conclude the lesson by going over the results on the blackboard, once again without the teacher giving their own opinion. Ask the children individually what they thought. Then invite the children to retell the story themselves using the puppets, or organise the children to re-enact the story themselves.
(The teacher can supply props such as toy police helmets, hobbyhorses, an old coat for the swagman and a sheep puppet.)
(1) As told by John Nichols to Dave De Hugard of Maldon, Vic., email@example.com. (If anyone has further details on Hunter please advise Dave or Harry?)
All pix are from Wikipedia