Dinosaur Trail Part 1 – Winton

Winton flies1
The main reason we headed out this way was to explore the dinosaur trail. First stop, Winton. This small country town mostly known for it’s dinosaurs, also has links to Waltzing Matilda, the Great Shearer’s Strike, Qantas and copious numbers of flies!

Going back a couple of days in Longreach, I spied an elderly, yet spritely couple sporting wide brimmed hats with head nets and a camouflaged neck flap. My thoughts went something like this, “Geeze Louise! They are taking adventuring to a whole other level! I mean, we are in the Main Street of Longreach, not the inner jungle of the Amazon! They look like right dorks!’ Judging others without really knowing anything about them is something I hate to admit doing.  I try not to and writing it down makes me feel spiteful. My only saving grace is that I did not voice this judgement to anyone else at the time.

Winton flies2Fast forward two days when we are encamped at Winton. Without trying, I’ve swallowed one fly and snorted two up my nose. Amelie also swallowed one and snorted one. Amazingly, the boys got off fly ingestion free. Craig has an old growth forest of nasal hairs protecting his airway but I’ve no idea how Xavier got away without the pleasure of eating flies. This situation had me slightly torn. Do I lose any sense of dignity and invest in a fly net or continue to eat flies? The realisation that I’m neither stylish nor dignified, promptly had me hunting for nets. Museums were sold out and the shops were shut. Karma for judging the smarter oldies I guess!

The locals told us they were having an unusually hot week with temps in the low to mid 30’s and the flies had made a resurgence. The best thing for us to do was continue the tour of public pools. Our timing is excellent, the pool is closing just after we leave town. Apparently a company my crazy Uncle Michael worked for, built this pool. It might have been before his time with the company, but Craig liked to point out it was only 24m in length and slightly crooked. Despite the shoddy construction, it was very refreshing (Disclaimer: there is nothing wrong with the construction of the pool, we just like to give my Uncle a hard time.)

This tidbit is for the families that mentioned Winton is on their bucket list of destinations – bring drinking water! The caravan park is managed by the Tattersall Hotel located across the road. It has grassy sites, free use of the washing machines and did I mention it’s across the road from the pub? Cold drinks and pub meals within walking distance is a bonus! The water however is bore water, complete with strong sulphur smell. Drinking it ‘as is’ was a challenge. Boiling it first made it a little more palatable but still, it wasn’t awesome. The kids made a big song and dance about the ‘stinky’ water and we had to explain the town was lucky to have any water at all.

Winton’s Musical Fence is out the back of town and sits amongst industrial sheds and vintage car wrecks. First impressions are that it’s not much of an attraction, however we had great fun there. The hollow plastic tubes from the drum filled with ‘found things’ were the best at making big sounds! It was a percussionists dream bashing all the old bits of metal objects and twanging the wire fence. You could even have a go at playing Waltzing Matilda. The drum kit was everyone’s favourite. It was loud fun! Probably the reason why it’s located at the back of town away from the houses. We’re claiming that experience as an on the road music lesson.

One of the nice things about travelling is meeting new people, hearing their stories and learning from them. There was a really nice family from the Sunshine Coast staying at the van park with children the same age as ours. It was great getting to know them. The kids all loved having bike races around the park together. Fearless warrior Amelie took the corners on the gravel at high speed and certainly held her own against the older kids. Even Craig had to warm up with a few laps to try and catch her. He gave them some tips on bike cornering so we’ll call that a HPE class.

Their son had an avid interest in girls, which Xavier couldn’t understand and at the same time found hilarious. One of his sage words of advice to Xavier was ” if you like someone you have to ‘plug into them’ and if they decide to ‘turn on the switch’, then that’s when you have a love connection.” On a more serious note, I scored their home made midge/mozzie recipe, which is sure to come in handy when we head north.

Winton Age of Dinos1
Australian Age of Dinosaurs – Winton

The Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum is just out of town and where all the fly eating and snorting took place. Firstly they take you on a tour of the facility where volunteer technicians and palaeontologists are actually working away on fossils. We found out that people can volunteer to go out on digs there when you are 18+ years old. What most excited Xavier was that you can volunteer as a technician to help prepare the fossils when you turn 12. He’s counting down the days!

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Back in the museum we saw the fossils from three dinosaurs, Elliott, Banjo and Matilda and a video presentation. Elliott was named after David Elliot, the farmer who stumbled upon a strange rock which turned out to be part of a giant Cretaceous period Sauropod, Elliot. This farmer was super lucky! Years later, a meteorite crashed to earth in the area and those who saw it believed it landed on David Elliott’s property. So David visited all the people who saw it, took bearings of where they thought it went down using a ‘wooden hinged stick contraption thing’ (that is it’s technical name) and estimated it did indeed land somewhere on his property. He gave up searching after two weeks, and around two years later found it!

Millions of years ago the Winton was a swampland forest on the edge of the inland lake. Hence, a great place to find dinosaur fossils. Banjo is the most complete carnivorous dinosaur (Theropod) found in the Southern Hemisphere and Matilda was another Sauropod.  These two dinosaurs were found together and there are a number of theories about how that came to be.  It’s just as exciting as the theories about future Game of Thrones episodes.

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Winton Lark Quarry 01.jpg
Lark Quarry landscape

It’s a bit of a drive to get out to Lark Quarry to see the dinosaur stampede. A 110kms drive on sealed and unsealed road took us about 1hr 25mins. The sealed sections are interspersed with the unsealed sections, giving you and the car a bit of a break from the corrugations. The landscape around the site is quite harsh yet spectacular. It’s an arid landscape with sparse, gnarly vegetation. Driving up the ‘jump up’ to the museum opens up the vista and I can only imagine how beautiful the land would look under the light of a full moon.

Winton Lark Quarry 02.jpgThere are a few fossils on display and to see the stampede you pay for a guided tour. As we finished our tour a retired couple who’d just arrived, got in their car and left because they didn’t want to pay for the tour. So that’s a 220km round trip to refuse to pay $22 see the stampede. Really? The girl who conducted the tour is stationed out there for 5 days on her own, does up to 5 or 6 tours a day and has other duties such as watering gardens, cleaning etc. How can they run the place if there is no fee?

Different people have reviewed the attraction varyingly. Some say ‘it was the best thing ever’ to the other end where people thought it was ‘crappy to go all the way there to see some muddy footprints’. Personally, our family really liked it. I’m in awe that something from 95million years ago survived to tell us a story today. It is also the only one of its kind in the world. A stampede of three kinds of dinosaurs. Two smaller dinosaur types (Coelurosaurs and Wintonopus) are minding their business probably just having a drink and a bit of a gossip at the waters edge, when this big, trouble making, meat eater (Theropod) comes in and says “I think I’ll have some of that!”

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The site is now protected and we were inventing ways tourists could have a closer view of the prints. Craig suggested snow shoe like apparatus with sponge soles. I went down a more mission impossible route with getting strapped into a trapeze system that’s suspended from the roof so you could travel the path of the larger sauropod or for the thrill seekers, get thrashed around following the flight of a scared chicken type dinosaur. Tip: take food and drinks. Previously they had nothing available and now have a small section of long shelf life foods, such as bags of chips, lollies, ice creams and soft drinks.

We took a look around Bladensberg National Park on the way home. Dry creek beds, dusty roads and twisted trees formed much of the landscape.  We stopped at Scrammy’s Gorge for a bit, but stayed away from the crumbling edge with no hope of getting to the bottom in search of a bit of water. Scrammy Jack was a hermit who came out to this place, built a small shack and pen for his horse, and died out here. He was called Scrammy because he lost his hand (I’m assuming his right) when a wagon rolled over it and an old English term for left handers is ‘Scrammy’.

Winton Anzac DayANZAC day arrived, so a Winton dawn service it is.  They did a good job and had a RAAF representative from Townsville do the ceremonial address. The MC for the service was funny as he kept mumbling “bloody terrible” in the background whenever a small glitch occurred.

After the ceremony a couple approached me and I recognised them as past employers of mine. One of the first jobs I had when I left the RAAF was working for their advertising company on the Sunshine Coast, and here we are years later at the same dawn service in Winton. Australia is a large country and at the same time a small place!

Off we go to destination two on the dinosaur trail, Hughenden.

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