Dinosaurs once roamed the countryside around Winton, a Queensland outback town that’s now famous for the evidence of their existence.
Winton’s other claim to fame is as the birthplace of Waltzing Matilda, Australia’s unofficial anthem.
These two facts alone make it a fitting place for the start of the Outback Way, an (almost) trans-continental road-trip dubbed “Australia’s longest shortcut”. There’s plenty to do in Winton and on our first day here – before setting out on that 2800km drive – we took the chance to see some of the town’s major attractions.
First up was a visit to Lark Quarry, where evidence of a dinosaur stampede that occurred about 95 million years ago lie in the rocks. The 4000 footprints show (so the theory goes) that about 150 small dinosaurs – carnivorous coelurosaurs about the size of chickens, and slightly larger plant-eating ornithopods, perhaps the size of emus – were drinking at a lake in what was then lush land. A large meat-eating theropod, smaller than a Tyrannosaurus, began to stalk them and the panicked smaller dinosaurs left a mass of footprints in the mud as they fled.
The fossilised dinosaur trackways are now inside a visitor centre and the tour is fascinating. The site is about an hour’s drive south of Winton, in “jump-up” country, a dramatic landscape of flat-topped hills, gullies, and escarpments.
For those interested in dinosaurs, there’s also the Australian Age of Dinosaurs, home to the world’s largest collection of Australian dinosaur fossils – and there are loads of them! In this area, dinosaur bones – sometimes even whole skeletons – are being found on a regular basis. Founded in 2002, the museum is still in expansion mode, with the latest addition being Dinosaur Canyon, an outdoor art installation featuring life-size sculptures of Australian dinosaurs. Kids will love it!
Back in town, Winton is an interesting place with quite a few good pubs. We made it back for the 4pm “Chicken Races” at the North Gregory Hotel, where we were staying. Every afternoon a crowd gathers for this quirky Queensland event. Coloured chickens are “auctioned” and when the chickens are released from a cage to chase a remote controlled car, the winner’s “owner” wins half of the prize pool. The rest goes to a local charity, and the fun event has so far raised $13,000 in 13 weeks.
A walk around the streets of Winton reveal that the dinosaur theme is everywhere – even the public rubbish bins are dino-shaped!
In the main street, the town is also watching the rebirth of the Waltzing Matilda Centre, the local information centre and museum, which burned down about two years ago. Construction has started and the new $22 million centre is expected to open in April 2018.
The centre is named after the famous song Waltzing Matilda, first performed in the North Gregory Hotel after being written by Australian poet and writer A.B. “Banjo” Paterson in 1895. The hotel has many reminders of it, including wonderful etched glass doors to the dining room, created by Queensland artist Daphne Mayo.
After a hectic day, it was time to enjoy the first of many amazing outback sunsets; an end-of-day treat that we came to expect! For this one, we headed out of town a bit…
A Glass Half Full travelled as a guest of the Outback Highway Development Board.