Celebrated country musician John Williamson is not a jolly swagman. The singer-songwriter is incensed over the trademark controversy surrounding Australia’s beloved anthem, Waltzing Matilda.
In fact Williamson, who is not to be confused with the similarly-named composer of such film scores as Star Wars, Jaws and Jurassic Park, says he’d rather go to prison than pay a cent to sing the song that made him famous.
“If I had to pay someone to use the words Waltzing Matilda (on merchandise) then I would refuse and I would rather go to jail,” said Williamson, who won the hearts of a nation after performing Matilda at the 1999 Bledisloe and World cups.
And he isn’t the only person whose billy is boiling over the unfolding trademark stoush surrounding our unofficial national anthem.
The controversy has even caught the attention of Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has reportedly met with the mayor of the outback Queensland town of Winton, where the song was written by that ledge Banjo Paterson in 1895, in an attempt to discuss the whole thing.
Basically, the company that partly owns the rights to Waltzing Matilda, WM Productions, is trying to prevent the song’s title being used in merchandise and promotions, in the wake of an upcoming movie that they’ve got under production, coincidentally also named Waltzing Matilda.
While a spokesperson for the company told the Courier Mail that they do respect the song’s iconic nature, they also vowed to continue fighting to strengthen their trademark ownership, which would make it difficult for anyone outside of the song’s birthplace of Winton to use it without copping a fee.
But Williamson, who’s been performing the tune live throughout his 45-year career, reckons they’re barking up the wrong Coolabah tree.
“The authorities should have been drawn over the coals by allowing this trademark,” he said. “You shouldn’t be able to register words that belong to all Australians.”
“It is the only song that all Australians will sing from the heart.”
Watch: John Williamson – Waltzing Matilda Live, CMC Rocks The Hunter 2011