Monday, April 28

Dinosaur country

Our Queensland outback adventure continued with a two-day excursion in sleepy Winton.  This quiet country town is 177kms northeast of Longreach.  It takes less the two hours to traverse the straight, monotonously flat highway.  The journey's scenic highlights consist of mainly Emus which can be seen grazing the area's sparse vegetation.

However, our journey did have one unexpected highlight. Along the way encountered a strange convoy of white trucks trailing miles of cabling.  At first we thought we’d encountered an NBN work crew.  However, we later learnt that we’d seen the Queensland State Government’s deep crust seismic survey team in action.  The survey consists of 40 people, travelling in 20 4WD vehicles, supported by five logistics trucks.

The survey is being conducted along 670kms of highway from April to June this year.   The crew work 7 days a week, travelling 15kms a day.  A team of surveyors lay positioning pegs, which a trailing team of cable layers use to spool out temporary cables attached to geophones (microphones that listen for sound waves).  Four Vibrosel trucks then traverse the route stopping occasionally to drop a giant vibration pad that sits mid-chassis.  Each pad sends vibrations rolling through the ground for a distance of up to 20 kms.  It’s an impressive set up.

We stopped for the afternoon at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum.   This facility sits on the lip of mesa plateau that rises above the surrounding Outback.  It’s home to Australia’s most famous dinosaur discoveries.  Less than two decades ago, very little was known about the nation’s Jurassic past.  All this changed after a chance discovery of fossils by local farmer. 

Today, we know that the entire Winton area is littered with fossils, sitting less than two metres underground.   Visitors are invited to join the scientists and chip away at bedrock surrounding the museum’s recent most discoveries.  The museum is also one of the only locations in the world where you can see an original holotype.  That’s what they call the first fossils used to identify a new species.  Every other museum usually displays casted replicas.

We spent the following day exploring all that Winton has to offer.  The town has two claims to fame.  It was here that the Qantas board first met to establish the airline.  It was also here that the iconic bush anthem, Waltzing Matilda was first performed in 1895.   The town now hosts a museum dedicated to the song. 

We wondered if a museum devoted to a song could occupy us for long.  However, we spent almost two hours unraveling the mystery of its quirky language and its surprising role in modern Australian history. I learnt that a jumbuck is a sheep and that the song's Matilda isn't actually a woman, its a bedding roll.  It also should have come as not surprise to learn that Waltzing Matilda was replaced the Australian national anthem after Shirley Strickland received gold medal for the 80 metres hurdles at the 1952 Helsinki Summer Olympics.
Our final day in the Outback was spent making our way back to Longreach, where we spent the afternoon exploring The Great Machinery Mile in nearby Ilfracombe.  This is a roadside collection of industrial and agricultural machinery, some it more than a century old.  Perhaps the most interesting item on display was a yellow grader, reputably one of only three in the entire country.  Who knew!

Saturday morning saw us catch a flight back to Brisbane and on to Sydney.  Our verdict?  Longreach is worth a visit.  We learnt more about the Australian Outback here than on any other trip we’ve taken.  As me, I’m making plans to buy McKinnon & Co.  They’ve got the local tourism market cornered with some incredibly well-crafted pioneering experiences.  Now I know what I’ll be doing in retirement.

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