Winton is the start of what I’m calling the golden triangle of dinosaurs – Winton, Richmond and Hughenden. There will be more about the other points of this triangle later, but for now, let’s talk about where it all started – a farmer’s paddock somewhere a little outside of Winton.
One day in 1999, a sheep farmer was out in his paddock when he stumbled upon what he thought was a rather unusual bone. He sent it off to the Queensland Museum in Brisbane only to find they were rather excited. You see, he had discovered the very first dinosaur bone in Australia. Up until this point, there was no evidence of dinosaurs on the continent. He had found the femur of a giant sauropod (the towering plant eaters). This lead to more dinosaur discoveries in the area, most notably two dinosaurs affectionately called Matilda (a sauropod) and Banjo (a meat eating theropod) found curiously together. They are named after colonial national poet from Winton Andrew Barton ‘Banjo‘ Paterson, and his famous ballad Waltzing Matilda.
Fast forward two decades and you now have the Australian Age of Dinosaurs museum which encompasses a working laboratory, a museum showcasing the found original bones and a canyon walk with sculptural interpretations of some of the most notable finds of the area.
At 42 years old, having lived across the world, I have amassed a working network I am proud of. And luckily enough, this is far reaching – or as far reaching as Winton at least. It is in evidence as on our tour of the laboratory, we ran into an old colleague of mine from my St John’s days who I noticed working delicately on the fossils, and on our tour of the canyon, we were lucky enough to be guided by the daughter of my aunt’s best friend! Talk about 6 degrees of separation! Each was able to give us interesting and personal insight into their work in their area of paleontology.
The museum is a must if you’re in this area of the world – and to be honest, I thought there would be little other reason to be in Winton, population 875.
The town clearly wasn’t large but there was also:
1) ‘The Musical Fence’ – a collection of percussion instruments made from an assortment of metal junk complete with an apparently musical fence which, despite instruction, we couldn’t seem to resonate anything other than the same ‘note’. (It must have been possible as there was a grandstand there suggesting they held concerts of some sort, but we didn’t have the musical skills.)
2) Arno’s Wall; another collection of landfill junk, this time cemented into a wall. Another one of those random outback oddities.
3) The now derelict (?) house of the Crack-Up Sisters, a whip-cracking comedy show that some Brisbanite Ekka attendees might remember.
4) And indeed it seems we also arrived during the Winton outback film festival, so the town was booked out. Although we didn’t take in any of the films, we were treated to a live dinner feature on the life and motivation of Banjo Patterson in his writing of Waltzing Matilda, which meant that we didn’t need to visit the town’s other famed attraction, the museum dedicated to the ballad.