STORY BY Jane Holden
We reluctantly left Magnetic Island on the ferry early Monday morning and drove out of Townsville, the city with the grand new stadium, being built on north Queensland chutzpah and Jonathan Thurston charm ($100mill for a rugby league stadium in FNQ, that’s a Try!)
We also made sure to refuel on the way out. Despite all our anxious joking about preparedness and staying fully fuelled up as possible – as we only had one tank, no subs or extras – Rose had a few days earlier stopped at a station and become so distracted by an egg muffin and a coffee, she forgot to refuel and almost ran us outta gas … (We hadn’t even left the populated Bruce Highway yet. It didn’t bode well for remote Aus.)
Leaving the greener coastal fringe, the big dry was again obvious. Dark clouds roiled overhead and teased rain, but didn’t let out a drop.
Big rigs rolled past on ever narrowing highways, the landscape started to shift gradually but constantly.
As we drove towards Hughendon we were excited to pass part of the massive new solar and wind farm under development. (With a vociferous and ugly anti-science, pro-fossil-fuel-big business campaign at the Courier Mail, and our otherwise mediocre news, many Queenslanders probably don’t realise billions in renewable developments are underway or planned right through central and north-west Queensland, which are generating clean, real ongoing jobs for the regions, far and above anything the corrupt Adani mine & co might.)
More excitingly, we entered the Great Australian Dinosaur Zone!!!
The loop around Hughendon, Richmond and Winton, in which many of Australia’s dinosaur fossil remains have been found.
Hughendon was typically quiet. One pub was boarded up. We pulled up at a modest shopfront, which was their museum. We paid our salutary $5 and entered a big shed out back, only to be confronted, and actually really very impressed by, the reconstructed skeleton of MUTTABURRASAURUS!
Somewhat weirdly, even though we had read reports and seen bits and pieces in other Australian museums, it had always been hard not to associate dinosaurs with American culture (Jurassic park movies, Natural History Museum, Ross from Friends…) or some other exotic other thing. European “pre-history” (whatever that means, life before the various Royals, Mafias and The Beatles?
Now looking up at the giant jaw, of this giant plant eater in a back shed, in the outback, I finally understood that Australia had been a great big land of great fucking big roaming dinosaurs.
HOW COOL WE HAD ACTUAL BIG GIANT DINOSAURS! FOR REAL. IN AUSTRALIA (Well, Gondwanna land). BUT HERE, IN QUEENSLAND. AND EATING FERNS and things BIGGER THAN A CLIVE PALMER PROMO SIGN!
The Muttaburrasaurusalso had a distinguishing feature of “enlarged nasal passages in their front snout.” So it may have had the ability to honk! Although a plant eater, it’s a hilarious thought that the big, famous Aussie dinosaur, was like a cross between the T-Rex and the mad Honkers off Sesame Street.
We got back in the car and as the late afternoon approached, the sky started feel different, the land seemed more vast and sparse, and great long streaks of cloud, like nothing we get on the East coast, appeared in front of us. We saw our first pair of Brolgas by the roadside. They had a wee flirt, kicked up foot or two, but sadly didn’t dance.
A beautiful sun began to set, and though we had no bullbar (along with no extra fuel tank, one of those other tough choices we made about our car and were a bit worried about Roos kamikaze crossing the road at speed, but we pressed on into Winton, arriving in the dark.
The town centre pubs were ablaze with grey nomads … and the van parks were all full. We were directed out to local showgrounds, to locate the caretaker, and find a campsite in the dark, in the middle of their racecourse. It was bitterly cold something that sounded like a school-yard flag pole flapped and clanged in the breeze, and Maggie could hear a horse snorting about, somewhere nearby.
It was both cool (in every sense of the word) and eerie.
The next morning we had coffee at the fabulously designed “Waltzing Matilda centre,” then headed out early to the Australian Age of Dinosaurs – Museum of Natural History. It is an organisation created locally to stop the big guys from the cities making off with all their crazy fossilised creatures. It was 26k’s or so out of town, only a few minutes on a good bitumen road, perched up on a “jump up” or bit of escarpment, with fabulous views. We had a tour of their lab (also a giant shed, but with fun looking gear, local vollies with air brushes zapping giant fossilised bones and thingies, and shelves containing big slabs of plaster of paris, encasing dinosaur bits also, apparently.) The bearded guide in khaki was from country Victoria, but surprisingly entertaining.
There was enough to get almost anyone’s inner nerd ticking and find things to enjoy…. With a couple more exhibits and tours locally, and a world only “dinosaur stampede” encased in rock at a national monument about an hour or so down the road, the region is worth the visit if you want to get delightedly paleontological, or have dinosaur fetish.
We spent lunch and the afternoon in the famous and quirky North Gregory pub, where Waltzing Matilda was first performed, only to realise Banjo Patterson wrote the lyrics but a woman, Cristina MacPherson wrote the tune (or at least pinched the bulk of it from something heard at the Warrnambool Steeplechase and taken it to outback Queensland, replaying it by ear. (Eat your heart out Paul Mac, Cristina sampled Waltzing Matilda!). Anyway, why hadn’t we learnt this before? Like most “great aussie anthems” more people know the damn tune than the lyrics, for sure.
Why wasn’t her statue outside the Waltzing Matilda Centre too?
(Or for that matter, the Traditional Owners of the region? How the hell did history skip from a honking dinosaur to nihilistic shearers? )
Winton sits on the country of the Koa peoples, though for all its story telling and appeal to visitors, we didn’t see one sign or exhibit in Winton that told us who the Traditional Owners of the region were.
The region is worth a visit. We might go back during the wet (praying it comes), and follow the seasonal burst of water, through the channel country from north to south.
By Jane Holden
To read more about Jane and Jen’s trip, check out their Winton to Alice Springs Blog CLICK HERE
Check out our Travel Bras –> HERE
Use code ‘LOVETRAVEL‘ to receive 10% OFF your order
Perfect for travel. Secret Pockets to store valuables!