We love sleeping out under the stars in our swags when we go camping. At other times we just lay them out in the garden at home. Australia lends itself to sleeping outdoors depending on the time of year and your location. The swag is part of common Australian parlance and folklore (Australia’s unofficial National Anthem is called ‘Waltzing Matilda‘, a song which is an account of the exploits of a swagman). Despite this, and despite the fact that swags are still used widely in outback Australia, I am always surprised at how many Australians don’t know what a swag is. Most people overseas don’t have any idea at all what a swag is. So this post is an introduction to swags for the uninitiated.
In the early years of Australian settlement and especially during the depression years of the 1860’s, 1890’s and 1930’s itinerant workers would travel the countryside (outback) in search of work on farms and cattle/sheep stations. They carried with them all that they needed, which included their bedding. Generally speaking this would be blankets rolled up and tied and then slung over their back. When they had to sleep out they would roll out their ‘swag’ (bedding) light a fire and boil the ‘billy’ (a pot full of water for making tea, the pot made from an old tin can maybe).
These days swags are much more refined than the one shown in the above photograph and somewhat luxurious in comparison. In effect they are a a canvas cocoon into which you put a mattress and whatever bedding you require, sheets, pillow, blankets, duna/quilt. The top of the sway canvas can be zipped up or down and, depending on the grade of canvas, is water proof to varying degrees. Many these days have a built in mosquito net and look more like a single tent than a swag when they are erected. Once all the bedding is in the swag can be rolled up and put in the back of the ute (pickup) or on the roof rack. Nowadays swags are probably too heavy to consider carrying any distance.
There is something quite beautiful and serene about falling asleep looking up at the stars, being transported to thoughts of the vastness of the universe and the infinite complexity of God’s creation. To wake briefly in the night and see that the stars and the moon have shifted across the sky and to wake in the morning to the sound of the birds is a unique experience best repeated many times. All this and being snug and warm in your swag.