“Once a jolly swagman…”

Dec 3, 2013 | 1 comment


Work of the Village Swagman

When I introduce myself, I often say “Sydney, like Australia.”  Usually that does the trick and I’m not called “Cindy” and my name isn’t spelled “Sidney.”  And there, unfortunately, my connection with the land down under ends.  That is, until Christmastime.

I’m not sure who started the Christmas tradition of hanging swags on the front porch of this house.  Probably my dad.  Nyel has continued the custom for the last twenty years or so and, at this time of year, I think of him as the Village Swagman.  Which, of course, takes me immediately back to 1944 and to Miss Hamilton at Lincoln School in Alameda, California.  She’s the one who introduced me and the rest of our fifth grade class to Australia.

It was the time of learning social studies by “units” and, very probably, a time before a unified curriculum for the state or even the city had been developed.  There was nothing like the “common core curriculum” that we hear so much about today.  I think Miss Hamilton taught us about Australia (and, later, about South America) because she was passionate about it.

Whatever her reasons, I still remember a lot about the country that is also a continent.  And somewhere I still have a booklet full of information and pictures done in my very best handwriting and with my all-too-limited drawing ability. There are pages devoted to kangaroos and koalas and to maps and platypuses.  In my head are still the words to “Waltzing Matilda” and, for some reason, “Billy Boy, Billy Boy” which isn’t an Australian song at all.  We must have learned it at the same time.


Australian Swagman, circa 1901

The “jolly swagman” in “Waltzing Matilda” has absolutely no relationship to the Village Swagman here in Oysterville. That  swagman of song refers to a transient temporary worker in Australia, who travelled by foot from farm to farm carrying the traditional ‘swag’ or bedroll – roughly the equivalent of an American hobo.  Nor does the swagman who puts together our gorgeous Christmas decorations have any relationship to the other sixteen or seventeen references I found when I looked up the word ‘swag’ on Wikipedia.

Nope.   The swags we’re talking about here are an arrangement of greenery (this year from the recent Monterey Cypress pruning up the street) decorated with holly berries (from Bradley),  oversized jingle bells and sugar pine cones (from the Christmas box in the back room),  and all suspended from a big red bow.  And the Village Swagman, himself?  To my way of thinking, he most closely resembles a very tall Christmas Elf.    I can’t wait until he turns his attention to the inside of the house.

1 Comment

  1. Nancy

    Idea! Because our front door is glass, no place to attach a wreath, I wondered about how to welcome visitors….ah ha! I will create a swag…Thank you for the idea. We will decorate the house with paper cranes!


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