Off the blacktop you get bulldust
Winton is a much more interesting little place than you might imagine. While Cloncurry claims to be the original home of Qantas, Queensland and Northern Territory Air Services was actually incorporated in Winton. It is also the first place where Australia’s iconic “Waltzing Matilda”, written by Banjo Patterson on a nearby station (Ranch), was first publicly performed in 1895. The billabong cited in the song is just up the road aways. Out here it doesn’t rain often. Winton gets its town water supply from an artesian basin 1.2km under the ground. The water comes out at 83 degrees C and is cooled to 46 degrees before it’s added to the water supply. Showers leave one smelling pleasantly of sulphur. Like most outback town, the streets are very, very wide – they look like dual carriageways with usually a well-maintained central strip (at least in the main street). The width is so camel trains could turn around. This is also an opal mining area, so the scrub is dotted with mullock heaps and diggings.
More recently, the town’s major claim to fame is the dinosaur stampede, a fossil record of an ambush. A bunch of little dinosaurs were camped by a billabong…. No – having a drink at a forest lake. Watching in the trees was a theropod, a beast not as large but of a similar disposition to a T-rex. When the predator burst out of the trees, the little dinosaurs ran for their lives, leaving their footprints in the soft mud at the edges of the lake. Presumably the theropod caught dinner, the little dinosaurs escaped and life returned to normal. Then the prints filled with sand, millions of years passed and now we have a record. If you’re interested in this incredible story from ages past when Australia was a very different place, here’s some more information.
Prints like this are fragile and what’s really a big shed has been built over the site to prevent erosion by weather. An elderly gentleman who clearly knows his fossils explained the place to a bunch of tourists and we were allowed to see the prints from a metal walkway. There are something like 3,000 prints down there and you can clearly see the theropod’s tracks and the much smaller, scattered prints of the little dinosaurs.
Getting to Lark Quarry (the stampede site) was interesting in itself. This is dry country. As soon as you get off the blacktop, the dust flies – and of the 110km trip to the site, 60km was dirt road. That dust is fine and invasive, and is known in Australia as bull dust. Even with the car’s systems set to internal circulation, you could taste the dust and it has coated the car, inside as well as out. The 4WD has been officially christened.
We’ve come a long way from the times we believed Australia didn’t have dinosaurs. It seems we might even have a claim to the largest dino ever found. There’s a footprint on Point James in Western Australian 1.7 meters wide. That’s a big beasty.