What the Man Boiled in His Billy and Other OddiTEAs

The famous Australian bush ballad “Waltzing Matilda” has lyrics that seem quite strange to those of us not familiar with that local lingo. Terms like “swagman,” “billabong,” “tucker bag,” and most importantly for this article “billy.”

And the words we think we know, well, they have very different meanings in the song: “waltzing” means to travel while working as a craftsman, learning new techniques from other masters, and then returning home three years and one day later; “matilda” is the swagman’s bundle containing his worldly possessions. So, no, the song isn’t about a guy swinging his gal Matilda around the dance floor. It’s about him traveling with his pack of possessions and learning his trade.

Billycan (aka billy) from Wikimedia (Screen capture from site)
Billycan (aka billy) from Wikimedia (Screen capture from site)

But getting back to that “billy”…three guesses what it is…nope, nope, and nope! It’s a can large enough to hold 2-3 pints of water and used for boiling water scooped up from such unsanitary places as billabongs (small ponds or lakes formed when the rivers they were once part of change course).

So, what did the man boil in his billy? Billabong water, of course! And, naturally, he threw in some tea leaves from his “tucker bag” (the bag that held his food stuffs) and let them boil and simmer in the water. (That may not be in the song, but us tea lovers realize that was just an oversight by the author and that he really meant it to be there.)

That may not be so odd after all, but here are a few things that are (at least as far as I’m concerned):

  • Funny and weird tea tattoo — you have to be quite a lover of tea (or have imbibed too much of something other than tea) to have a teabag tattooed on you; anchors and roses and your sweetheart’s name are more usual.
Teabag tattoo (Screen capture from site)
Teabag tattoo (Screen capture from site)
  • Green tea mints from Trader Joe’s – made of green tea (which one is unspecified) and peppermint and lots of sugar), tend to be crumbly and chalky according to some online reviews. I’d rather just drink the green tea and have a breath mint on the side.
Trader Joes Green Tea Mints (Screen capture from site)
Trader Joes Green Tea Mints (Screen capture from site)
  • Yak butter tea — A yak butter lack can ruin tea time for Tibetans. And tea to them is consumed as abundantly as coffee is here in the U.S. They believe that yak butter in their tea makes their bodies strong, longer lived, warmer, less hungry, and better at digesting their food. Yak Butter Tea is made of water, brick tea, salt, and yak butter.
Tibetan Yak butter tea (Screen capture from site)
Tibetan Yak butter tea (Screen capture from site)

Check our blog for more odd and offbeat tea items.

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

5 thoughts on “What the Man Boiled in His Billy and Other OddiTEAs

  1. Pingback: When Tea Was Brought to the Western Hemisphere and a Bit of History | Tea Blog

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  4. Identical looking mints are available here in Australia in an identical pack but with a different brand.
    And yes, I have two billies,a standard 1 litre and a 2.5 litre one. I made a youtube video about four years ago of the smaller one in action.

    1. A.C. Cargill

      I figured this was more your area of expertise, but I just couldn’t resist! You might want to do your own approach to this here.

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