Christina’s Matilda – Bringing a Legend to Life

Everyone knows the song Waltzing Matilda, but how many people know the true story behind its creation?

Christina MacPherson, playing a marching-band tune was the girl who originally inspired Banjo Patterson to write his song while Banjo was visiting her brother.

Though the old Scottish tune and the lyrics are remembered, Christina’s part in the story was forgotten until the 1970s. Christina’s Matilda, written by Edel Wignell and illustrated by Elizabeth Botte brings Christina’s story to life.

What inspired Edel to write the book

In the early 1980s I researched a collection, A Bluey of Swaggies, and the spin-offs, Battlers of the Great Depression and a series, ‘On the Track’ (three titles). Since then I have maintained an interest in the history and folklore surrounding the creation of the song, ‘Waltzing Matilda’. The final chapter in A Bluey of Swaggies explains the events, but I wanted to focus on Christina Macpherson who has been neglected in history. Indeed, she went missing for a while mid-20th century.

The Story Behind the Story

I asked Edel to tell me the story behind the story of her fascinating new book.

While many people know that ‘Banjo’ Paterson wrote the lyrics of ‘Waltzing Matilda’, very few know that Christina Macpherson provided the tune, so I decided to focus on her. In 2002 I interviewed her great-niece, Diana Baillieu (who lived in Toorak, Melbourne), and she was delighted, lending photographs and other items which I copied and included in the book.

Diana Baillieu (aged 87 years) remembered when she was a child and ‘Aunt Chris’ would arrive by train and stay on the family property at Meningoort (near Camperdown, Western District, Victoria). The publication of Christina’s Matilda became Diana’s special project and she was thrilled when I found a publisher for it before she died.

The Pictorial Story

This book is a fascinating read, but it’s the pictures that really bring this story to life. Illustrator, Elizabeth Botté has captured the historical atmosphere by creating borders that reflect the textual and pictorial content of each page.

Anyone from 10 to adult with an interest in history and folklore will find plenty to interest them in this thoroughly researched non-fiction book from Interactive Publications.

The facts of Christina’s life and her contribution towards Waltzing Matilda have never been published in such detail.

Teachers notes are available at: for Teachers


The Story Behind the Pictures

Elizabeth Botté, the talented illustrator of  Christina’s Matilda has published more than 25 books, and today she talks to us about her creative journey.

Painting and drawing and simply soaking in the intricate details of visual imagery is something I’ve just always done. But naturally I presumed I’d grow up and get a real job. There were no illustrator courses when I finished school, and the artists didn’t like me and the designers didn’t like me…. as an illustrator, one meanders somewhere in between. But I chose to just kept practicing enthusiastically and learning on my own.

Sometimes there are those things in life that are deeply fulfilling; fortunately I discovered that creating useful images is what does it for me. Love getting into character for a new project, adapting to a new look and feel. And I do like having my own flexible schedule to work with.

Elizabeth says that her greatest achievement is that her  13yo son still thinks his mothers’ illustrations are the world’s greatest.

Elizabeth’s tips for new illustrators are that you have to practice and love your art and be prepared for  long hours of sitting very still and being in your own thoughts.

Illustrating Christina’s Matilda

Elizabeth says she was  handed a fascinating manuscript with some old photos, about a woman she’d never hear of, but should of.

It was a pleasure to find a way to make it all work together visually and turn it into a book.

Elizabeth says that Christina MacPherson was a  great woman in a difficult time.

It’s frustrating hearing about a time where a woman had her place, it was expected of her to be modest and not speak about her achievements etc. How could they stand it! My gratitude to Women’s Lib.

It’s great to see an historical work presented like an adventurous tale. An atmospheric scrapbook of Australian History to delve into.

According to Elizabeth the most fun part about illustrating Christina’s Matilda was immersing herself into the mood of the era to  concoct a visual atmosphere where Christina’s story could be told. She loved working in old fashioned sepia tones and says it was engrossing creating the menacing images of “Mad Morgan”.

She says that the hardest thing about illustrating this book was also  the most satisfying challenge.

To hold a bare, typed manuscript, and visualise how it should look as a finished, illustrated book.

You can see more of Elizabeth’s wonderful illustrations at