Central Queensland

Saturday, Nov 06, 1999 at 01:00

ExplorOz - David & Michelle

The "Matilda Highway" is the name for the connection of highways from Karumba on the Gulf of Carpentaria to Bourke in country NSW. We joined the Matilda Highway at Mt Isa and followed it through Cloncurry, Winton, Longreach and Barcaldine where we turned off to make our way eastwards towards the coast through Carnarvon Gorge NP, Cania Gorge NP and finally to the shores of Hervey Bay where we took a vehicle barge to Fraser Island.

Little did we think that our Desert Sands to Sandy Shores would take us back to the east coast, but anyway life's full of changes these days!

But first, we had to cross the desert again to make our way east from Alice Springs to Mt Isa in Central Northern Qld. I suppose most people might take the Barkly Highway route from Tennant Creek right across to Isa but we opted for the 4WD option and took the Sandover Highway which veers off the Plenty Highway. There really wasn't much to the Sandover and I don't think we took any photos along the day and a half drive so we haven't dedicated a page for that part of the trip.

I have always wanted to see Mt Isa... my mind's eye conquering up images of rodeos, blueys and big hats...

However, it was a long drive through plenty of cattle properties to get there and although we passed a truck full of jackeroos we didn't spot one hat in town! And the year's only rodeo had long gone.

We camped just west of town in the dry creekbed of Spring Creek and the following morning spent a few hours in the visitor's information office where an excellent museum has been setup to house and explain the Riversleigh fossil find near Lawn Hill.

Last year we were in Lawn Hill as part of our Gulf Trip and only vaguely knew of a fossil find nearby. Only this year did we learn more about it and realise that the Riversleigh area has revealed the most significant fossils of extinct Australian mammals, reptiles, birds and bats ever. The Riversleigh Fossil Centre at Mt Isa is worth the visit and cost $5 per person.

With only 3 weeks left to get to Sydney we had to seriously consider where we spent our time and so we hit the highway and drove south on the tar through Cloncurry (lunch) to McKinlay (pub where Crocodile Dundee was filmed) and onto Kyuna (Blue Healer pub where Banjo Patterson observed the champagne being handed through the window to end the angry shearers strike of the 1800s.

Kyuna isn't only famous for it's pub, but for being the home of Richard Magoffin and his ancestry who were friends with the Macpherson's whose daughter Christina wrote down the music to what is now Australia's national song, Waltzing Matilda. If you visit Richard at his Matilda Expo in Kyuna you'll quickly get the picture that there's a lot more to this simple song that you've ever imagined.

The catchy tune was one Christina had picked up while attending a steeplechase meeting in Victoria's Warrnambool and she played it on her lira to Banjo one day as they waited for the change over of horses at Combo. Banjo wanted to know if she knew the words and she said she didn't so Banjo Patterson knocked up a few verses using imagery of the shearers strike and other allegories of the day. Before long the song was whistled and sung all the way down to the Darling River and within a few months was well known in Australia. For fear of getting my facts messed up I won't elaborate any further. If you're interested, make sure you see this man's lifetime dedication to exposing the true meaning of the song and it's significance to all Australians. Just one final word, Magoffin is highly regarded as a historian and is himself a ballardist. He believes Australian's have a right to get the facts and how better than from someone who still lives where the song was written. Richard is unhappy by the recent construction of a museum in Winton called the Waltzing Matilda Centre because he says they spent too much money on building dioramas and displays depicting fiction rather than ensuring that the story was right in the first place... it's a lot of fuss about a song, but I must admit I learnt something! HINT there was no swagman who drowned in a billabong

By the time we'd exhausted ourselves relearning the Matilda story the novelty of the Matilda Highway was wearing a bit thin (but the cold beers were good). In Winton and Longreach and all the way inbetween you are bombarded with signs for the "Swagman's Hotel", "Banjos Diner", "Matilda Cruises" and so on it goes for the whole stretch of the highway. In Winton at least they have a few other claims to fame being the place of the first Qantas boardmeeting and the location of the worlds most preserved dinosaur stampede but the bright green and yellow garbage bins in the shape of a dinosaur foot have to be seen to be believed! Errrck

David (DM) & Michelle (MM)
Always working not enough travelling!
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