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