Landsborough Highway 172kms
A great pack up and an early start on the road. If it hadn't been for the necessity to stock the financial
stores, we could have been away even earlier, but the 8:50 am departure time from Longreach was quite satisfactory.
The drive was endlessly plain, as the terrain didn't vary much from dead flat, low scrub and boredom. Cheering broke out when we caught our first glimpses of the Forsyth and then later, the Tully, Ranges. The only thing about the drive which could draw comment, was the quantity of road kills we observed. It was rare to see only one every 100 metres. Given the distance travelled in reaching Winton, that is a serious dent on the native animal population !
Winton is, at first glance, a quite unremarkable little town. That is, until you move through the main street or stop and talk with a resident. To do so, is to scratch the surface on what would appear to be a well-spring of pride. My 1993 figures tell me 1281 residents can be found in Winton and it soon became obvious all would be happy to remind us this was "the real birthplace of Waltzing Matilda, mate, eh !" As definite as they were, one couldn't complain they were aggressive or even assertive: just very definitely proud of their place in the history of the development of the Australian ethos.
Our first stop was the caravan park. We had intended dropping the trailer and heading to Lark Quarry, where archaeological evidence abounds as to the movement and type of dinosaurs which existed in Terra Australus. However, the heat, which seemed to be increasing with every day we headed further north and inland and the prospect of 200 kms of dirt road and the advice of the friendly proprietor, put paid to the idea.
These included a bottle collection said to number into the 4000 range. None of us had ever seen such an amazing number of bottles in one place and some of them defied the imagination. There were intricate cars and people, guns, animals and even a toilet, all made from glass and all bottles of some type. A gun display graced another wall and some of the makes included Enfield's and Winchesters.
An iron lung donated by the hospital was on display - although this model appeared to be a wooden lung ! Medical equipment, which had once tortured the body, now tortured the mind, in imagining how the patients survived the treatment. A full size steam engine - complete with tracks - was in the yard, as well as old farm vehicles and equipment. Books of locally kept history, letters, telegrams etc were all available for anyone with the time, patience and interest to look.
From here, we walked the short distance which makes up the main street and observed the facades of the shops and two of the other features behind them. Through the chemist shop and ultimately behind the cafe, we found one of the few remaining open air theatres still operating. A sloped cement floor and galvanised tin walls encase the canvas "deck chairs" which are the seating for patrons. Some atmospheric dummies have been placed about the place, but it is essentially unchanged since 1938. The theatre had existed before that (1918) but was burnt down in the same fire which destroyed the North Gregory Hotel - for the third time - in 1938. The film caught alight and quickly spread, destroying much of the business district with it. Rebuilt in the same location, the theatre is still in the hands of the same family. The new owner, following the re-opening in 1938, passed the mantle to his son in 1960 and the son still does the honours on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Fifty seven years of movie memories provided by one family.
The other highlight of this walking tour was the thrice pyrotechnically challenged North Gregory Hotel. Now a brick structure of some substance, it is the fourth hotel of the same name which has stood at this spot since the day in 1895 when Banjo Paterson first performed "Waltzing Matilda" in public. It's reputation as the place where patrons first heard the pathos-ridden tale of the swagman and his fatal brush with authority, is only flawed by a the tourist driven need to be "the first" or "the only". In this instance, the claim to fame is akin to the farmer discussing the family history of his axe:
"Yes mate. That axe has been in my family since the pioneer days. Of course, I had to change the
handle last year and Dad replaced the head that time after he struck the big rock by the wood block
and Grandad put a handle on it after the big bush fire in '43 and ..."
One sculpture caught our eye. Located on the grass centre section of the main street. It was a series of six short columns, each one featuring four or so lines from "Waltzing Matilda", on a plaque adorning the top of the column. Emanating from the body of each column, were brass sculptures of body parts or relevant items which matched the lines from the poem. Hence, "Up rode the squatter ..." is accompanied by the foreleg of a horse. Very effective art.
Home for campsite relaxing and then some tucker, before returning to the theatre for a night under and in front of the stars. The atmosphere was excellent and the picture was not bad either. Jaffas and Fantales were bought and consumed and we all had a fabulous time. Gog and Pa, meanwhile, opted to stay at camp and enjoy the culinary delights of a campfire and bush tucker provided by Gloria - an ex roo shooter, who now deals in the sale of skins, presumably animal. She was as tough as nails and the current arm wrestling champion of Winton. In past years, she had owned a pub and no doubt entertained patrons with the same gravel voice and colourful outback language. The food was reportedly good, despite the smoke chasing them, and the ambiance established by the hostess led to a cheerful night around the fire.
For us, after the thrill of the moving pictures ... home ...journal ...full moon ... contentment... bed.