Winton - Dinosaurs, Waltzing Matilda and the beginnings of QANTAS

Sunday, Aug 30, 2009 at 00:00


Winton - we follow the Dinosaur Trail with next stop at Winton; home of the Waltzing Matilda story, a town at the heart of the commencement of Australia Aviation

Winton was once known as Pelican Pool, and a pond together with model pelicans in the centre of the wide main street is a reminder of this past.

Our stay in Winton commenced with a visit to the Matilda Centre, where the story of the writing of the much loved Australian ballad Waltzing Matilda is told, but there is also so many more things to see and do at this Centre.

An art gallery within the centre was exhibiting works from Albert Namatjira and his school of art, which including paintings by some of his family as well as other Arrente artists. While many of the paintings were in the Namatjira traditional style, a few modern style paintings did not compare with those of the classic Namatjira style of art.

The Waltzing Matilda journey starts with a visit to the Billabong Theatrette, where the ghost from the billabong tells the story from his side, with his hat spinning eerily over the dark still waters of the billabong. Characters from the story are illuminated as their roles in the events are talked about.

A large display of machinery, tools and collectible memorabilia take up several display sheds. These are well set out in contrast to many other museums of similar era collectibles. Many of these reminded us of things we had seen in our grandparent’s or even our own parent’s homes and farms.

The Qantilda room outlines the history of Winton including about those who served in the various wars. Then take the opportunity to rest your legs by sitting and watching a video narrated by Hudson Fysh on the origin of the Qantas airline. The Winton chapter of QANTAS begins when the Birth of QANTAS was announced on November 16th, 1920 in Winton with the initial registration of the company – Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Ltd. Subsequently, the first Board Meeting was held at the Winton Club on February 10th, 1921. The initial board meeting of the newly formed company was held at the Winton Club on 10 February 1921. Later in 1921, the Winton Shire Council became the first local authority in Australia to support Commercial Aviation after subsidising by half the cost of establishing a landing field in Winton , to the sum of £20. The first Qantas commercial flight took place on 2 November 1922. The headquarters of Qantas was relocated to Longreach.
In 1924 DH50 aircraft were built at Longreach.

Winton Timeline

600 million years ago the earliest forms of life appeared according to fossil finds
93 years ago the dinosaur tracks were formed – see Lark Quarry
10,000 years ago shows the first evidence of humans (Aboriginals) in the area
1860 the first explorers, including Burke and Wills came and were soon followed by pastoralists
1875 the first town called Pelican Pool was at Pelican Waterhole, although due to flooding the townsite was relocated to the present townsite with the first building being at the location of the present bank
During the 1880s the first hospital and school were constructed
1888 opals were discovered in the area, and due to inadequate water supplies, an artesian bore was sunk
1871 was the year of the shearer’s strike
1898 to 1899 drought caused the loss of 75,000 sheep and 4,000 cattle

Corfield and Fitzmaurice Building Displays

Aside from the Matilda Visitor Centre, other places to visit in Winton include the former shop building Corfield and Fitzmaurice, which is now a museum displaying fossils and the centerpiece; a representation of the stampede at Lark Quarry with models of the dinosaurs at the size they would have been. This display is good introduction to the Lark Quarry stampede story. There is also a comprehensive display of opals. Corfield and Fitzmaurice was the first general store in Winton .

While most of us think of animals of the dinosaur era, be they marine or terrestrial, as being huge, there were many more of the smaller species and the average dinosaur size was that of a sheep.

The recreation of the stampede shows the massive flesh eating Carnosaur towering over the fleeing smaller Ornithopods which were plant eating animals the size of sheep when fully grown, and the tiny chook sized Coelurosaurs which were hollow boned like birds and left somewhat bird-like tracks. Carnosaur means flesh (eating) lizard, Ornithopod means bird footed and Coelurosaur means hollow (boned) lizard.

The fossilised remains if a massive dinosaur, nicknamed Elliot, were found on a remote sheep station near Winton, central western Queensland. Based on the size of the thighbone, palaeontologists estimate Elliot to have been almost four metres at the hips and an incredible 16 to 21 metres long. At this size he would have weighted about 20 – 28 tonne; as much as five African elephants! Elliot was at the time of discovery the largest dinosaur ever found in Australia. Since the discovery of Elliot, further discoveries of larger dinosaurs have been made in an area rich in fossils near Eromanga.

Deck chair theatre

Built in 1938 on the site of the original picture theatre which dated back to 1918 is the open air picture theatre – one of the oldest still in operation. A small display showcases film projection equipment through the times the Theatre has been operating in Winton. They also boast the world’s largest deck chair.

The Opal Walk

On the way to theatre, you can take the opal walk at Wookatook Gift and Gem. The walk is a passageway that features a display on western Queensland opal fields and leads right into the theatre.

Musical Fence

Near the site of the Qantas landing strip is the musical fence, a novelty with wires of a fenced tuned as a giant musical instrument together other pieces you can play. There are large percussion instruments.

Winton’s Musical Fence was commissioned in July 2003 by the Queensland Music Festival with the Winton Shire Council and the generous support of Ergon Energy. It was created by artist Graeme Leak with assistance from the Winton Community.

Arno's Wall

Just behind the North Gregory Hotel where Waltzing Matilda was first played, you can see a seventy metre long wall containing all sorts of junk including lawnmower parts, boat propellers, vintage typewriters, plaster figures, copper pots, sewing machines, motor cycles, car parts, and all sorts of other junk set into the concrete wall by private citizen Arno Grotjahn. Arno works his claims at Opalton. The nearby North Gregory Hotel offers customers free caravan parking at the rear.

Winton’s water supply

Artesian water is brought to the surface from 1,200 metre below at a temperature of 83º. It is cooled in large tanks and used as the town water supply. The sulfurous odour of the water is unpleasant, but leaves no residue when used for showing or washing clothes. Allowing the water to stand for a while in an open container produces water suitable for drinking.

Next we will head to the amazing Lark Quarry , site of the only known dinosaur stampede trackways in the world. The preservation of the footprints of this event is amazing, and its discovery in our time awesome.

Read more detail about this trip and see all the photos in our 2009 Travelogues

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