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Town Profile : Winton

Winton 2014-09-07 003water

 

We were in Winton for Juz’s birthday, and while we were a long way from home, and from anywhere for that matter, we tried to make the most of our time in the Dinosaur Capital of Australia.

 

Located on the Matilda Highway, Winton is about 470km east of Mount Isa or 1500km west of Brisbane.  It used to be known as Pelican Waterhole, based on the original settlement about 1km west of town on the Western River.  Unfortunately, a flood in 1876 caused the settlement to be shifted to where Winton is now.

 

The night before Juz’s birthday, we rolled into town and had a quick drink at the Tattersalls Hotel, which had a good vibe, friendly bar wenches and great prices.  We stayed at Long Waterhole, a free camping spot about 4km out of town and with minimal mozzies.  In the morning, we had a coffee at the Musical Fence Café next to the North Gregory Hotel and took advantage of their free Wi-Fi and decent coffee before heading off to visit the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum.

 

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Lunch was at Tattersalls Hotel, then we checked out the Musical Fence and Arno’s Wall, a massive wall that took 15 years to build, and is made of all sorts of scrap like motorbikes, car parts, sinks and rims.  Juz spent some time in the library while Dave replaced the shocker rubbers, and then we hit up Hollow Log Park to use their free (cold) showers.  Before leaving town, we filled up at the petrol station ($1.63 for diesel) and made our way towards Cloncurry.

 

That night, we slept at a rest area on the way to Cloncurry and met a great artist named Dennis Samphier.  He is new to solo travelling and loves meeting people, so he came over for a chat.  Over a couple of drinks, he found out it was Juz’s birthday.  He immediately ducked back over to his caravan and came back with a little prezzie for her.

 

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Winton might seem like a sleepy little town in the middle of the Queensland outback but it is significant for a number of reasons:

 

The Dinosaur Trail

Winton is part of a triangle of towns along the Dinosaur Trail.  The first official dinosaur discovery was in 1962, when a footprint uncovered an ancient stampede at Lark Quarry.  More than 95 million years old, the soil has fossilised around 3,300 footprints that are protected by a massive building. The footprints are only viewable via guided tours, which run daily at 10am, 12pm and 2pm.

 

A few decades later in 1999, some bones were found on a property just outside Winton, which lead to the beginnings of the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum. This new and innovative museum is the most productive fossil preparation facility in the southern hemisphere and holds the world’s largest collection of Australian dinosaur fossils.  Lucky for us, they also offer tours that run hourly from 9am.

 

Australian Age of Dinosaurs

 

The other two towns within the Dinosaur Trail are Richmond and Hughenden.

 

Waltzing Matilda

Banjo Patterson was visiting the Winton area in 1895 when he was inspired to write the lyrics of Waltzing Matilda, to accompany a tune written by his mate’s sister, Christine Macpherson. That same year, the first public performance of Waltzing Matilda was played at the North Gregory Hotel.

 

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There are plenty of ‘Banjo’ related activities on offer in and around Winton. There is a statue of Banjo Patterson outside the Waltzing Matilda Centre, which offers self-guided tours that follow the story of Waltzing Matilda.  You can have a meal at the North Gregory Hotel or go and see the Musical Fence just outside of town, which gives you the chance to play Waltzing Matilda on the wire fence – how Aussie is that!

 

About 132km towards Cloncurry is the Combo Waterhole, the place where the jolly swagman is said to have jumped into the billabong.  This is worth checking out if you’re passing through.

 

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Qantas

Australia’s airline, the Queensland and Northern Territory Arial Service (QANTAS), originated in Winton.  It was registered as a company in November 1920 and there is a memorial in town to commemorate it.

 

 

Australian Age of Dinosaurs

Prehistoric : Australian Age of Dinosaurs

Australian Age of Dinosaurs

 

Did you know that Australia used to be a lush forest full of dinosaurs?  We had all sorts of prehistoric creatures roaming the land, from big lumbering vegetarians to fast and ferocious predators.  The best place to learn about Australia’s dinosaur history is on the Dinosaur Trail in Queensland, and there is one particular location that will not only show you what life was like during the Australian Age of Dinosaurs, but how those dinosaurs live on today through their fossilised remains.

 

The Museum

The Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum is located 24km southeast of Winton, on a large flat-top mesa that overlooks the surrounding landscape.  It was founded in 1999 by a local sheep and cattle farmer named David Elliot, and since then, David and his family have been recognised by the Australian Geographic Society as Australian Conservationists of the Year, and David was Queensland’s Local Hero in 2003 and a finalist in the 2010 Australian of the Year Award!

 

The museum’s humble beginnings as a workshop in a farm shed developed over 12 years to include the laboratory and reception centre, complete with a café and special holo-type room to store and display the fossils. It is now the most productive fossil preparation facility in the southern hemisphere and has the world’s largest collection of Australian dinosaur fossils.

 

The museum is focused on Australia’s evolutionary history, as well as the discovery, conservation and research of Australia’s dinosaurs, all while being a major tourist attraction on Australia’s dinosaur trail.

 

Australian Age of Dinosaurs

 

The Dinosaurs

The fossils found in the area are from about 98 million years ago and most of them are sauropods – big, lumbering vegetarians.  Of the dinosaurs that have been found, there are two main characters that reveal a little about life 100 million years ago when the area was a moist forest.

 

Matilda was a sauropod – Diamantinasaurus Matildae to be exact – and she got stuck in the mud, literally.  Along came Banjo, a predatory Australovenator Wintonesis, who thought Matilda would be an easy meal.  Matilda fought back, Banjo fell beside her and after Matilda died of exhaustion, starvation or exposure, they were fossilised together.

 

Matilda was discovered first in 2005 and the Museum currently has around 30% of her skeleton.  If she were alive today, she’d be about 18m long, approximately 20 tonnes.  Banjo was discovered in 2006 and so far, about 40% of his skeleton has been found.  He is a raptor-like dinosaur about 5m long with big feet for walking on muddy terrain, strong arms with large claws and serrated teeth.  So far, he is the largest known predatory animal ever discovered in Australia.

 

Australian Age of Dinosaurs

 

Get Involved

The Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum is actually a not-for-profit, volunteer driven, science and education initiative.  If you are interested in volunteering and getting involved, there are two programs on offer to the public.

  • Prep-a-Dino allows people to work in the laboratory removing rock from fossils with pneumatic scribes and air chisels.
  • Dig-A-Dino involves being on the actual dig site, helping other dinosaur enthusiasts, professionals and palaeontologists unearth fossils. The palaeontologists choose a dig site after a grazier finds some surface material (bone) and notifies them.  They go out to assess with a bit of hand digging – if what they see has potential, then they bring the excavators in.  Digs happen once a year for three weeks and you’ll need to book two years in advance to be one of the 12 or 13 volunteers they accept.

 

You can also become a member of the Australian Age of Dinosaurs society by subscribing to their AAOD Journal, a fantastic documentation of Australian paleontological history.  A great library addition for any keen dinosaur fanatics.

 

Australian Age of Dinosaurs

 

The Essentials

The Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum is open daily from 8:30am to 5pm.  The turn off to the site is 13km SE of Winton, and another 11km along the gravel road.  There is a café onsite that has great views the surrounding area and offers snacks and refreshments.

 

Tours of the Laboratory and Collection Room run hourly from 9am.  The tour includes seeing their dinosaur fossil collection and animated recreations of Banjo and Matilda, as well as seeing the laboratory and meeting staff and volunteers that prepare the dinosaur bones.

 

For more information on prices, tour times and opening hours, or to get involved, contact the museum on 07 4657 0712, email info@aaod.com.au or go to their website: http://australianageofdinosaurs.com/