Ah, Winton. You sure caught us by surprise. The first we heard of you was from our friends Nikki and Drew, who passed through on their great Australian road trip.
“It’s only a one-street town, but we liked it. It was quaint, and it’s so nice to sit outside at the pub on the corner and watch the Winton world go by.”
The Winton world was everything I’d romantically dreamed up about an Outback Queensland town.
After the first evening, where we did indeed sit outside that pub on the corner, I commented to Craig how I felt like I was finally experiencing the Outback town I had imagined.
You could almost picture a Cobb & Co carriage rolling up and down the wide ambling streets and horses tied up outside the pub that sits on every corner.
Town folk sitting around the bar, open to conversations with strangers. Stories shared about the history and characters that roamed the streets, old and new, and a community where everyone knew your name.
It was all here in Winton, except for the horses tied up outside the pubs. There’s not a pub on every corner, but there are four pubs spread out about the town serving its community of only 2,000.
The Tattersalls Hotel was the pub on the corner where we sat with new friends John and Suzie on the pavement, under the stilted veranda above us. We arrived early, and the locals did indeed sit around the bar open to conversations with us.
There was the young man from country Victoria, who worked at the Dinosaur Museum, quietly enjoying a pot of beer before going home to cook dinner. He shared with us what he loved about the town and we talked a little about footie too.
There was another local, the owner of the motel down the road, who’s made several appearances in many of the films made in the region. His word ran into each other as he excitedly asked questions and shared his takings on the town and, of course, his love for rum.
The barmaid knew everyone’s name and order and was quick with service and super friendly. There wasn’t a look that said, “Oh God the tourists have walked in.” Instead, her eyes warmly said “Welcome to our pub and how can I help you enjoy yourself.”
Ahh. I might just settle in here at this bar stool for awhile and chat. The handy toy room out back occupied the kids and allowed Craig and I do that while the girls built a farmyard.
The owner Paul popped over to say hi and shared with us how, after traveling the country, Winton was his choice of home.
We’d only been there an hour, and already we had an inkling this place was something special.
Beside us during dinner, sat a film production crew. Winton is like the Outback Hollywood of Australia. On the drive into Winton from Mount Isa, we stopped in at the Walkabout Creek Hotel for a cold beer – the place where a thirsty Paul Hogan, aka Crocodile Dundee, drank.
This production crew was filming a series about the Alamo for an American production company. Mystery Road and The Proposition are a couple of the several films and documentaries produced here. Each year in July, Winton holds the Outback Film Festival, which I’m super keen to attend.
With its outback Wild West landscapes of jumps, or mesas, and its romantic history there are a lot of stories to be told here.
You’ll come a Waltzing Matilda with me
Winton is the place where Banjo Patterson wrote and first performed Australia’s unofficial National Anthem, Waltzing Matilda and to the great mystery was run out of town three weeks later.
Our new friend, Suzie told us parts of the story over dinner. Her great Aunt, Sara was engaged to Banjo for eight years. Suzie is making a documentary on the story herself.
You can learn all about the history of the area at the Waltzing Matilda Centre – the only attraction in the world dedicated to a song.
I will admit, I got a little teary while watching the holograph at “Billabong Theatrette.” The ghost tells his side of the story of Waltzing Matilda, a song that lives deeply in the heart of any Australian.
It’s not just a song about a sheep stealer that drowns himself to evade spending life in prison. Death was more preferable to a loss of freedom. On my travels around the world, Waltzing Matilda was often sung in pubs and around campfires where groups of Aussies hung out. You felt a strong connection to home and a belief that our culture was special and worth celebrating and loving.
All of this came rushing back as we sat and watched. I tried to explain to my children what it meant, hoping they’d understand the importance of it being more than a good poem and a lively tune.
For a bite to eat and your coffee fix while there, don’t miss the Coolabah Cafe attached to the centre. Hands down THE BIGGEST focaccias, we’ve ever eaten (Craig recommends the turkey & bacon). The coffee was top notch too. AND there’s free wi-fi, that works!
You can also visit the famous North Gregory Hotel, which is the place Waltzing Matilda was first performed.
Apparently there were also Dinosaurs in Winton, who knew?
Winton has more than just deep rooted Aussie cultural history; there’s also the history of another kind – the prehistoric kind – dinosaurs.
Imagine the surprise a local farmer got years ago when he stumbled upon some rocks that seemed a little unlike normal rocks. This unearthing of dinosaur bones led to excavations and the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum just outside of Winton now houses the world’s largest collection of Australian dinosaur fossils.
Previous to this discovery, Australia was the only continent where evidence of dinosaurs had not yet been uncovered.
You can learn all about the history and more, including touching a real dinosaur bone at the Laboratory attached to the museum founded by the very farmer who first discovered the bones.
Just the location of the museum atop a jump off, a rugged mesa that stands 75 metres above the surrounding plains is reason enough to visit.
You get a look out onto the flat plains now burying the dinosaur bones under a thick layer of black soil. With a little imagining (well maybe a lot) you can picture a land that was once tropical and filled with palm trees and dinosaurs.
I’ve never in my life been that interested in dinosaurs, but Winton trapped me into their allure.
But wait, Winton still holds more magic and charm.
We must talk about the musical fence. Imagine a standard wire fence with added acoustic resonators that amplify any sound in the wires, caused either by striking or by wind action.
It was right beside where we were staying and was our first port of call for our day’s exploring. As soon as we walked in we all dispersed to the instrument that called us most.
Kalyra headed for the drums, Savannah for the hanging chimes, and myself for the musical fence.
We had a great morning jamming session. None of us could hold a note too well, but who cares, we were having fun creating our own style of music.
But wait, there is something else special about this musical fence. Gotye, you know of the fame “Somebody that I used to know”, the massive Grammy award-winning hit from an Australian artist. Well, he got a lot of inspiration for that album from the musical fence!
Before he was known, he pulled up in town in his touring van and visited the fence to jam out and record some interesting tunes, which you now hear in his interesting music!
Yay. Go the musical fence. Go Winton!
You can actually watch that video here:
Winton is also one of the friendliest places in Australia. They were friendly enough for us to comment endlessly on how friendly the people were.
I got a real sense of community in Winton, again another reason why it lived up to my romantic ideals of an Outback town.
I think it’s the only Outback town I could live in for a wee while.
And if your coming to Winton via Mount Isa the landscape along the drive is just gorgeous.
Have you visited Winton? Share your thoughts in the comments below.