Winton is famous for AB “Banjo” Paterson performing Waltzing Matilda here for the first time in public. It also claims fame as the Dinosaur Capital of Australia and the birthplace of Qantas. The Winton Shire covers an area of 54,000 square kilometres but with only a population of 1,600. More than half of this population live in the town.
While I was housesitting I got to go into Winton on 3 occasions so I got a bit of a feel for the town before I did my sightseeing. It is a neat tidy town, like most of the small country towns in the outback of Queensland. It is very welcoming to tourists. They know the value that visitors bring to their town and they embrace them. For the population I was surprised to see how many businesses there actually were there. It does of course cater for the man on the land with an abundance of farm supply and related stores servicing a wide area of the region. There are numerous opal shops, opals still being uncovered in the area as well as 4 pubs, 3 of which are in the main street. They all seem to be doing well. I stayed behind the Australian Hotel the night i stayed in town. Meals were a good size and it seemed to cater more for the workers. The Tattersalls Hotel on the corner seemed to be the busiest with excellent meals at lunch time and a popular meeting place for Station owners and workers as well as Grey Nomads with a Caravan Park opposite run by the Hotel. The $16 Rump steak lunch specials were divine. The North Gregory Hotel is the biggest hotel and was surely a grand old lady in her day. She is still an impressive building. This being the fourth time the hotel has been rebuilt following a number of fires in its chequered past. The Hotel has hosted some famous names over the years since first opening in 1879. A bush poet by the name of Gregory North (how ironic) performs for an hour or more each afternoon during the tourist season. He had a repertoire of 3 different theatre shows which he alternates each afternoon. He was very very good, reciting a number of Banjo Paterson’s poems as he told the story of Waltzing Matilda and the different theories on what each stanza is actually about. He worked hard to keep the fairly small crowd engaged but had us all singing Waltzing Matilda. He very much looked the part of Paterson with an uncanny resemblance.
Winton has a film festival weekend which is attended from far and wide. It was actually on while I was house sitting but I didn’t go into town for it. Winton has been the location for several major Australian films over the years.
The Waltzing Matilda Centre in the main street is a must see. It is the Visitors Information Centre as well as being a general museum and providing all things related to the sheep industry and the poem and song Waltzing Matilda. This was a fantastic place and took close to 3 hours to see all it had to offer. There was also an art galley within that had some interesting photographs of infamous long term prisoners of years gone by. The original Waltzing Matilda Centre burnt down a few years ago and the locals told me that the old centre was much better so it must have been pretty good because the current one is pretty damn good too. You couldn’t fault anything about it and for under $30 it was a great tourist attraction.
The Age of Dinosaurs Museum is situated about half an hours drive out of town on the Longreach road and would have to be the highlight of Winton. Situated on a “jump up” the views are spectacular. At present there are 3 separate tours for a $50 entry fee. Each is unique and worth doing. I would recommend doing all 3 as it gives you the most comprehensive coverage of all things dinosaur. I must admit I would probably have not been quite as interested if not for the connection I felt being on the Cattle Station where the Sauropod tracks were discovered. The 3 different tours include The Canyon Walk which was a guided tour giving a background on the different dinosaurs that were in the area millions of years ago. In the Collection Room tour you see a couple of short films and the actual bones of a number of different dinosaurs. Banjo, Matilda, Wade and Elliot are incomplete but you get a very real sense of the size and structure of these gigantic prehistoric creatures. In the Laboratory Tour you see how the bones are found, cataloged, removed and stored. On site are volunteers painstakingly scratching away the dirt and foreign material as they reconstruct the actual bones. The next section of the Museum, which is continually being added to, will store the Sauropod Tracks that were discovered on the Station where I was housesitting (see Bucket List #29 Volunteer on a farm somewhere). The new exhibition is due to open in April 2021.
The Age of Dinosaurs was a highlight and I highly recommend a visit.