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Dinosaur Trail Part 3 – Richmond

The road from Hughenden to Richmond is a bit of a shocker when towing. It’s like driving over wavey bumps. If you didn’t spot them in time to slow down, it was quite a bouncy ride. Having a tail wind was a bonus though and bought the average fuel consumption for this stretch down to around 12ltrs per 100km.

Grocery shopping had been limited in the last couple of towns. So with little food in the fridge, I suggested going to the pub for dinner. Amelie pipes up with “Yay! I love going to the pub!” Xavier shouts “Me too!” I chimed in with “Me too!” Craig however could only groan and shake his head.  With all his efforts and lectures on healthy food and looking after your body, this trip may turn our kids into bar hopping booze hounds!  I’m kinda sick of being the parent the kids get all their bad habits from, so I’m going to point the finger elsewhere, I’m blaming genes from the grandparents!

Rich Lake Fred Triton
Lake Fred Triton, Richmond QLD

The Richmond Caravan park is probably one of the nicest we’ve been to so far out here in Central Queensland.  Well organised, clean facilities, well maintained grounds and right next to Lake Fred Tritton. For a very small town they do tourism well. They seem to have events and activities organised every week and visitors were kept up to date. We were lucky enough to have arrived in town just as the Richmond festival was happening. We would be in town for the main fossil events and rodeo.

The Kronosaurus Korner Museum was fantastic! It had a really good display of primarily marine fossils, as the area was 60m under water millions of years ago. When you enter the museum you are given a hand held phone info thingy (technical term). Punch in the number on the display hold the thingy to your ear and hear all of the relevant info. There is also an amazing the plesiosaur which was the most complete prehistoric marine reptile ever found. It’s not yet typed but is possibly a type of elasmosaur. Also a dinosaur which has been called Mimni but is going to be renamed to a name that includes the local aboriginal word for shield. This dinosaur was pretty amazing as you could even see its skin texture. They think what happened was it became mummified on land and then got washed into the sea where it became fossilised.

I’m going to call it and say this was our favourite dinosaur place. Not necessarily because it had better fossils, but because it was so experiential! We went out to a dig site and searched for fossils with the resident palentologist, Patrick. The good thing about searching with someone in the know was learning which areas to sift through and what to look for. Poor guy had his named called every minute “Patrick! Is this anything?”, “Patrick, can you have a look at this?” “Patrick, what’s this?” He had the patience of a Saint and our family were probably the worst! Okay maybe Xavier was, but let’s just say he had exuberant enthusasium for  the task. A 7yr old girl found a vertebrae of a Kronosaur and the Palentologist at the time said “sure you can keep it, we have heaps of those.” She kept digging and found the skull and half of the body! She wasn’t able to take it home anymore. I think the pressure was on and Xavier was desperate to make an amazing find.

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Even though we’d been through the museum already, we went back for a guided tour with Patrick. It was the third day in a row that we had hung out with him and we were starting to feel like science nerd groupies or weird stalkers. Same thing I guess. Anyhow, it was even more interesting than going through with the ‘hand held phone info thingies’. We got to tour the lab for the second time and the kids even got to get on the tools and help prep a fossil! How good is that!

Apart from fossils the other discovery we made were the ‘Goat’s Head’ prickles.  Craig was amazed!  He’d never seen anything like them!  He was racing the kids around the lake on their bikes and tried to overtake Xav by going slightly off track.  Twelve punctures later in the ‘Fat Boy’, we were back at camp and searching the town for green slime!  All four bikes ended up having punctures.  Craig was carrying out repairs over two days!

Probably the only thing the town is lacking is a really good place to eat. The museum cafe was very popular and we also tried lunch at Treats for your Table and of course dinner at the pub with our pub loving kids. The meats were cooked well but the veggies and salads were pretty sparse. It does highlight the conveniences we have back home compared to these towns that are so remote from other towns. Fish is delivered to the town once a week. Bread is stored in the freezer at the grocery stores as they don’t get it delivered daily.  Seeing as water is such a problem it doesn’t  look like the type of place where fresh fruit and veg would grow let alone survive easily. If you come this way prepare in advance for your fruit, veg, eggs, bread and fish. Don’t worry about your meat, they have a great butcher in town.

We headed out to the Rodeo on our last night. None of us had ever been to one before. I was a little reluctant to go as I’d heard some negative things about how the animals are treated.  We decided to see for ourselves and took a spot on the hill. The girls were already in full swing with the barrel racing. Their skill with the horses was seriously impressive!  A display of fearless, competent, strong women and girls. I really liked that.

The bull riding was almost the polar opposite! It didn’t look like there was much skill involved trying to hang onto a riled up bull.  Looked like a bunch of Cowboys wearing their ‘fancy’ pants, strutting around with their chests puffed out. Guys were coming off pretty fast and usually nursing a suspected injury to a shoulder, elbow, wrist or leg joint. Seemed pretty stupid really. The rodeo clowns were impressive!  They were lightening quick and kept the bulls well away from the downed riders. I kind of liked it when the cranky bulls wouldn’t participate in going back to their stalls quietly.  It was like an “up you” to the riders and clowns. Streams of snot hanging from their nose, pawing at the ground and charging at anything moving.  I can see how a rodeo is a way of showcasing skill and a traditional form of outback entertainment, but I think they could do without the bull riding.  The animals seemed to be in good health with the only the cocky riders sustaining injuries!

That brings us to the end of the dinosaur trail and I’m really glad we got to see it all. If you decide to head out this way and see it all, I recommend the family ticket for all four sites, it’s the best value for money.  We will start making our way out of the dry and back to the East Coast now.

Dinosaur Trail Part 2 – Hughenden

Winton to Hughenden
Winton to Hughenden

Craig did quite a bit of research into what vehicle and van would work best for our needs on this trip. Gotta say, he did a great job. He loved the car from the get go, and towing the van has been pretty easy. Typically we average between 14-15ltrs of diesel fuel per 100km. Towing the van with a roaring headwind all the way from Winton to Hughenden wasn’t fun and our average fuel consumption blew out to 20ltrs per 100km.

Hughenden Anderson
Oh where, oh where has my Anderson plug gone? Oh, where oh where can it be?

On arriving we discovered our first problem. The Anderson plug to the van has been wired to top up the battery in the van as we drive. It however, was missing in action. All that was left of it were some sheared off cables with the copper hanging out! I can only imagine the journey it would have had. Holding on and slowly but surely losing it’s grip on the connector to bounce and drag along the harsh bitumen of the Kennedy Development Rd. Made me think of watching Westerns with my dad, where some villian or poor hero has his hands tied and is dragged along behind a horse, loosing bits of flesh along the way. Luckily, we were camped right next to a helpful retired auto mechanic. He gave Craig some good advice and now we have a shopping list to repair it.

The second thing we lost on this leg of the journey was a tightening screw off the caravan awning. We lost one previously and they are expensive (for what they are) and tricky to replace. You also have to buy them in pairs! So we had a single spare handy for the one we lost this time. I usually put the awning away… soooo it’s probably my fault. No more spares! Must remember to tighten these screws properly!

Hughenden is 300m above sea level. That’s like living above Mt Coolum. The days were a little cooler reaching a maximum of 32 degrees during the day and we had one morning were it was a crisp 16degrees.  It was a bit of a novelty to reach for a jumper or extra blanket. In a rare show of solidarity, the children snuggled together to keep warm.

The whole reason we came here was to continue the dinosaur trail so I’d better get back to gas-bagging about fossils. The Flinder’s Discovery Centre has a life size replica of Hughie the Muttaburrasaurus. The original bones were found in Muttaburra and another skull, a few teeth and some additional bones were found in Hughenden. The Centre has a vast array of fossils and gemstones, a good video explaining the formation of Porcupine Gorge, a sheep industry display and a collection of items from years gone by. While this Centre has a lot of stuff, it lacked explanation of what was there and hence, my attention span was pretty limited. I wasn’t the only one! A few groups of people came and went in the time we were inside and I imagine the average length of visit would fall short of the one hour mark.

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The town has many dinosaur related installations throughout.  It also has locusts!  Winton has flies, Hughenden locusts, I can’t wait to see how big the pests get at our next stop!  Oh, also be careful of the Hughenden cows.  They eat cars apparently.

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Flinders River runs through town and at 1004kms, is Queensland’s longest river. It was almost bone dry. A small puddle under the bridge and a muddy section near the bank was all that was left of it in Hughenden. It was kind of surreal to see bike tracks along the riverbed and is yet another reminder of how desperately these towns need a decent drop of rain.

Flinders River 01
Flinders River

A walking trail winds its way along the bank of the river, includes an eco walk and, according to Craig, one of the best public fitness trails he has seen. That being said, he did think it was lacking lower body exercises… for his liking. Never skip leg day! There were also quite a few windmills, and windmill memorials around town. Thanks to Krissy, we now strain our eyeballs to see if they are Southern Cross windmills.

Heading to the local Chinese restaurant was a novelty and we figured the kids could practice their language skills. They only really said ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’, which is not nearly enough to warrant calling it a Chinese class. Amelie was fascinated with all of the Chinese decorations and told us the story of why the Chinese like the colour red. Well, she tried to. She gets a bit muddled with the details (as do I frequently enough), so Xavier corrected the story (as Craig is often left to do) and Craig and I learned a little something from the kids.Another interesting place to visit was the FJ Holden cafe. It is owned by Frankie J Holden and his wife and was a real step back in time. Juke boxes, Elvis memorabilia, Coca Cola collections and of course an extensive collection of all things Holden. The burgers were good too!

Porcupine Gorge 05.jpgThe absolute best thing about Hughenden, (in my humble opinion) was heading out to Porcupine Gorge.  This is where a pyramid section of rock is exposed and reveals the layers of earth as it formed.  It was a pretty hot day when we ventured there and I was looking forward to cooling off once we hit the water at the bottom.

It’s spectacularly beautiful in the gorge with caves of all sizes carved out of the softer sandstone and while their was water in various pools, it wasn’t flowing.  The stagnant water had a lot of ‘stuff’ growing in it.  You know, the plants and algaes that make swimming unappealing.  That stuff.  Most of the remaining pools were in the deepest parts of the river bed and the sides of the rocks were mostly vertical.  This made it difficult to even sit on the edge and dangle our feet in the water.

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Porcupine Gorge 10A steep walk into the gorge meant a steep climb out!  It took a lot of sweat with a few complaints after seeing false summits but we made it back and treated ourselves to cold fruit and yoghurt.  Hooray for a car fridge!  I also had to explain what these dragonflies were doing.

So, that pretty much sums up Hughenden.  Wait!  Just in case anyone was waiting with baited breath to hear if the pool tour continues… yes, for the record, Craig and Amelie swam in the Hughenden pool.  Now, we head towards our final destination on the Dinosaur trail, Richmond.

 

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.