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A Most Dangerous Tea

Updated: Feb 2, 2019

"And he sang as he watched and waited 'til his "Billy" boiled. You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me"

The Australian Tea Ceremony

Billy tea is Australia’s tea ceremony. Made in a what’s known as a billycan, this tea is made in the outback over a campfire. The name billycan originated from the cans that beef was transported in across Australia. Though some think the name originated from the Aboriginal word billa, meaning water. Billabong is an Australian English word for a small lake, specifically an oxbow lake.

Down Under Tea Number

The original lyrics of the song Waltzing Matilda were written by Australian poet Banjo Paterson. The song is not about dancing with your sweetheart. The title is Australian slang for journeying by foot with a pack or “matilda” slung over your back. The song’s protagonist makes tea in a billy. In 1903 the tea company Billy Tea used the song as a jingle and changed the lyrics to the traveller not just making tea but making Billy Tea.

Preparing the billy tea or to boil the billy requires a level of fearlessness I do not possess. The billy is filled with water and hung over a fire. When the water boils, it is removed from the fire, and a handful of tea leaves are added. The billy is then picked up by some brave soul and swung in a full circle windmill quickly causing centrifugation. The tea leaves remain a the bottom of the billy temporarily so the tea can be scooped out by the cup full. A variation of this is to add a few scented eucalyptus leaves with the tea.

The billy tea ceremony is the sum and substance of the risk-taking Australian mettle.


Safran, John (2002, December 20) Sidney Morning Herald


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