Wednesday, July 14, 2010

This side of the Black Stump

In the heart of Matilda country, where Banjo Paterson wrote Waltzing Matilda and performed it for the first time was one of our most liked spots- Winton. In fact, Winton has many claims to fame, not least it is where the first board meeting was held for Qantas in 1921. However, it became world famous for Australia’s largest dinosaur discovered in 1999 and the only recorded evidence of a dinosaur stampede nearby.

Part of Arno's Wall. He has used anything and everything in its construction, Winton

Our visit to the region co-incided with the coldest day ever recorded for this part of Queensland. A chilly 11 degrees. After nearly two years of chasing the sun and experiencing 31 the day prior it was a rude shock. Five mils of rain had dropped from the icy heavens overnight, but we donned all of our winter clothes and made the 110 kilometre trek to Lark Quarry and the world famous dinosaur stampede site.
Now as you will agree 5 mils of rain is not enough to make mention of in most parts of Australia, but ‘out here’ where a thin layer of top soil covers clay it is enough to close roads. The dirt road seemed to show no ill effects and with no ‘road closed’ sign up, off we went. It was infact smooth sailing until the last kilometre. Coming down a small rise, the road was a mud bath. Our tyres and wheel arches soon became caked in the stuff. It was akin to driving on a slippery road with bald tyres. We no longer had control of the vehicle and we could only watch as we slid closer to a pole. Fortunately we started to slide in the other direction just before impact. Limping into the carpark, it was evident that everyone else had lost control at the same spot as us. Collectively we pondered how we were going to make it back out.

Scraping off mud, notice the 'new' colour of our car

Yet, we were here to see evidence of a dinosaur stampede, so huddled against the cold we set of on foot. Now protected by a building, over 3,300 fossilised dinosaur footprints from 95 million years ago are as identifiable as if made yesterday. Prints of Mum’s, Dad’s and the kids can be made out as they ran, fearing for their life, from attack by a hungry Carnosaur (he was big).

Standing next to a Carnosaur print, with many more on show

Ever so slowly we made our way safely home. Home, a Caravan Park in Winton, provided entertainment of an evening. Graham Rodgers, apparently a well known country singer, was not half bad. Having been a writer for ‘Slim’, we actually knew some of the repertoire. He was a real entertainer, and transformed ‘I’d love to have a beer with Duncan’. While his wife asked names of the audience, he quickly thought of a rhyme. Of course I was picked. I shall leave you in suspense as to what rhymes with Leis....... A bush comedian/ poet engaged us next and the many laughs seemed to dull the cold.

Graham Rodgers singing 'I'd love to have a beer with Leisa'

Experiencing the land first hand brings respect. Your days are planned by the weather, which can be devastating or rewarding with even the slightest change. It is a primeval feeling living with the land. Through all the heat, flies, dust and mud we still love it. A total sense of freedom, contentment and wonder prevails. Luckily we have been diagnosed. We are Psycho- Ceramic, i.e. Crack Pots! (insert laughter here). Alas, everyone is ‘mad’ out here, even the water. Still receiving our life giving sustenance from the Great Artesian Basin, water coolers are installed not water heaters. At a temperature of 80 degrees there is no short supply of hot water. Cold on the other hand......

Our three days of winter over (ah back to the balmy days we are accustomed), we set off for Longreach. A friendly little town, the homes looked like workers cottages although lovingly maintained.

The town itself was smaller than expected, but the tourist attractions big. Although Qantas started in Winton, headquarters were soon moved to Longreach (until the Government took over and moved Qantas to Brisbane in the 1930’s). The original Qantas hangar still stands, as does a replica of the first plane and 747.

707 Qantas plane- check out the steps vehicle too

We spent a day exploring the Stockman’s Hall of Fame, a five gallery museum of our pioneering history. The history behind our explorers, stock workers, pastoralists and Aborigines made our trip seem like a walk in the park.

Stockman's Hall of Fame, Longreach

We had been trying to get to Birdsville ever since Mt Isa, and with the recent rains the roads were still closed. Therefore, we continued south, were the nights got cooler, but the days remained warm. The first town encountered past Longreach was Ilfracombe, or as we dubbed it Il’free’combe.

General Store, Ilfracombe

Pioneer displays, heritage homes and sheep grazing memorabilia were all free to peruse. Town pride was evident with the original late 1800’s Post Office, General Store and pub still in use and in good repair.

Boundary Riders lonely hut (and sheep), Ilfracombe

Continuing along the Matilda Highway, we reached Barcaldine and home for the night. Barcaldine is famous for the Tree of Knowledge. This Eucalyptus was the central meeting place for the Shearer’s Strike of 1891 and this ‘disturbance’ led to the formation of the Australian Labour Party. The tree was poisoned a few years ago, so a rather large, well you could say gigantic cube has been placed on the site of the tree. (The cube recreates the size of the tree canopy).

Restored Tree of Knowledge, inside the 'cube', Barcaldine

Free camping in a bush setting a kilometre past town, we enjoyed the serenity. That was until we discovered the ticks. We pulled about 20 off us before the night was over and we were glad to get out of there!

Kangas at our campsite, maybe they brought the ticks!

Ticks plucked, we were headed for the ‘this side of the Black Stump’. Blackall, is where the original Black Stump can be found (well a fossilised stump in its place, the original burnt to the ground).

The Black Stump, Blackall

Surveyors placed their theodolites on the stump for latitude and longitude observations, as it gave more stability than a set of legs. Mapping of Queensland was done from here and at that time in 1887, country west of Blackall was ‘beyond the Black Stump’.