Tag Archives: winton

Off the blacktop you get bulldust

Winton is a much more interesting little place than you might imagine. While Cloncurry claims to be the original home of Qantas, Queensland and Northern Territory Air Services was actually incorporated in Winton. It is also the first place where Australia’s iconic “Waltzing Matilda”, written by Banjo Patterson on a nearby station (Ranch), was first publicly performed in 1895. The billabong cited in the song is just up the road aways. Out here it doesn’t rain often. Winton gets its town water supply from an artesian basin 1.2km under the ground. The water comes out at 83 degrees C and is cooled to 46 degrees before it’s added to the water supply. Showers leave one smelling pleasantly of sulphur. Like most outback town, the streets are very, very wide – they look like dual carriageways with usually a well-maintained central strip (at least in the main street). The width is so camel trains could turn around. This is also an opal mining area, so the scrub is dotted with mullock heaps and diggings.

More recently, the town’s major claim to fame is the dinosaur stampede, a fossil record of an ambush. A bunch of little dinosaurs were camped by a billabong…. No – having a drink at a forest lake. Watching in the trees was a theropod, a beast not as large but of a similar disposition to a T-rex. When the predator burst out of the trees, the little dinosaurs ran for their lives, leaving their footprints in the soft mud at the edges of the lake. Presumably the theropod caught dinner, the little dinosaurs escaped and life returned to normal. Then the prints filled with sand, millions of years passed and now we have a record. If you’re interested in this incredible story from ages past when Australia was a very different place, here’s some more information.

Prints like this are fragile and what’s really a big shed has been built over the site to prevent erosion by weather. An elderly gentleman who clearly knows his fossils explained the place to a bunch of tourists and we were allowed to see the prints from a metal walkway. There are something like 3,000 prints down there and you can clearly see the theropod’s tracks and the much smaller, scattered prints of the little dinosaurs.

Getting to Lark Quarry (the stampede site) was interesting in itself. This is dry country. As soon as you get off the blacktop, the dust flies – and of the 110km trip to the site, 60km was dirt road. That dust is fine and invasive, and is known in Australia as bull dust. Even with the car’s systems set to internal circulation, you could taste the dust and it has coated the car, inside as well as out. The 4WD has been officially christened.

We’ve come a long way from the times we believed Australia didn’t have dinosaurs. It seems we might even have a claim to the largest dino ever found. There’s a footprint on Point James in Western Australian 1.7 meters wide. That’s a big beasty.


No room at the inn? No room in town

We started day two with breakfast at Macca’s – raisin toast and a flat white, hoping to get onto the internet. No such luck. Wifi worked, but not internet access, so I guess their ISP had a problem. Bugger. So we were reduced to printed maps. How last century. We decided we’d stop at Longreach before we headed off to see the dinosaur stampede outside Winton. That way, we could do it all comfortably.

Australia, guys, is a biiiig country, with not much in it. You don’t really realise how big until you do the drive. I’ve included a few photos. Outside Emerald we didn’t encounter much traffic – but plenty of road kill. Roos, mostly but also some pigs and smaller, unrecognisable squashed bodies. The vegetation was very dry – much of Queensland has been declared in drought which is remarkable after the last few years of floods. But that’s Australia.

The country broods under a brilliant blue sky in muted shades of grey, eucalyptus green, silver, palest gold. Dried grass shimmers in the breeze and raptors circle in the updraughts. I’ve never seen so many birds of prey, and not just in ones and twos. They’re in flocks, wheeling around above the towns, gathering around the fresh road kill. Life’s not hard for the meat eaters out here.

Of course, I managed to get some great pictures. But that isn’t a wedgetail. I’m hangin’ out for that.

We stopped for lunch at Barcaldine on the way to Longreach. It’s pronounced bar-CALL- din. Its claim to fame is that it’s the birthplace of the Australian Labor Party, ostensibly created by a bunch of blokes gathered under a tree now known as the tree of knowledge. Some low-life poisoned the ghost gum a few years ago, but the town worthies have attempted to preserve the legend by creating a monument around its dead remains. This is a dead tree surrounded by a wooden box affair which is supposed to represent the canopy that no longer exists. You don’t want to know what that bit of madness cost – especially when they’re closing hospitals. I thought the whole thing was downright creepy. A bit like a mummy, but without the class.

Lunch (a salad sandwich and a pot of tea) took about 25 minutes to arrive. Ho hum. They only had white bread but the salad was fresh.

And then we arrived at Longreach, home to the Stockman’s Hall of Fame and the Qantas museum, complete with Boeing 747. We’d been to both of those on a previous visit. Longreach this time was just a port of call. Except it wasn’t. The town was fully booked. Honest. Not a vacancy to be had. It seemed Longreach was hosting a Government Conference, and somebody of consequence had died and the town was packed out for the funeral. So we looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and headed for Winton, about 175 km up the road.

I’m typing this up in a little motel right next door to the RSL, where we’ll have dinner and a drink. Tomorrow we’ll visit the dinosaur stampede, something which will be a highlight for me. And you never know, sometime I might be able to post this.

Oh. Update. The RSL was closed!!! Up for sale. Places like that are the life blood of tiny country towns. But we got a great steak at a local pub. Winton actually has a few things to brag about. I’ll write about that this evening. Dinosaurs first!