Saturday, 27 July 2013

Longreach and Winton

We arrived in Longreach after another long drive through out Outback countryside as we had been told the Stockman's Hall of Fame was not to be missed. There is also the Q.A.N.T.A.S. Founders Museum which appealed to us, not to forget the early history of the town with its Cobb & Co coach network spreading from here across the land in the early days of settlement.

We liked the idea of a coach ride to give us a taste of the old days, so we booked 'An Outback Show and Coachride' (with a gallop through the bush!) to begin our stay in Longreach. An old fashioned 'Dad & Dave' kind of presentation with input from clever horses, a lovely cheeky red heeler dog and chooks (chickens - to non-Australians!) was most enjoyable, before we were all loaded onto a coach pulled by four horses for our ride out from town to the bushy area nearby. Loved the ride although I doubt I'd have liked travelling very far a century or more ago. Roads were unmade and bumpy and with horses needing to be changed every ten miles it would have been an extremely uncomfortable and slow journey, although I supposed I've been very spoilt by modern transport. A Devonshire tea refreshed us and the afternoon finished with a viewing in a bush cinema of an old 1950s Australian movie "Smiley gets a Gun".

We had been looking forward to the Q.A.N.T.A.S. Founders Museum and were not disappointed when we visited. It is beautifully built and with much early history on the founding and growth of the Qantas airways and together with multi-media displays there was much to look at. A guided tour and talk about the planes on display here - an early Avro, a Catalina, the first 707 and finally a 747 was given by a very knowledgeable guide. Did you know that the big jet engines are attached to the plane by only 3 bolts?? I had looked forward to experiencing First Class for the first time on the 747, but sadly that part of the plane had been re-figured for more economy seats. I had to settle for Business Class and so I still have an unfulfilled dream!

On our final day in Longreach we visited the iconic Stockman's Hall of Fame. A beautiful building containing several levels each giving a different display on early Australian life and especially the outback people who persevered in those early settlement days on remote cattle stations.

The Hall of Fame featured a very talented leather worker, films and (another) Outback Show. Again there were multi-media displays and a area devoted to the Royal Flying Doctor Service was especially interesting.

Heading north again we came to Winton but just before we got there, we noticed a turn-off to the left directing us to The Age of Dinosaurs centre. Well, of course, we couldn't go past that and so turn in and drove about 10 kilometres before we had to unhitch the caravan and drive up a very steep hill (called a 'Jump Up') to the recently built complex. These dinosaur bones had been noticed for quite a few years by a local property owner, David Elliot, and eventually he sent photos to the University of Queensland who naturally were extremely interested. The result is the world's largest collection of Australian dinosaur fossils and a most  innovative natural history museum in which to house them. A massive amount of fossils have been extracted, encased in plaster and lined up on shelves in the laboratory awaiting attention. As this part of the country is extremely hot during much of the year, excavation work is only carried out for a short period in winter months. The bones are then worked on in the laboratory throughout the year. I would guess there would be about 100 years of work waiting! Volunteers to help are warmly welcomed and have a training session beforehand.

Peter decided that this would be a great experience and signed up for two day's work, so whilst I stayed with the caravan in Winton Peter went off to work each morning - just like the old days (although no pay this time!). He loved the work and learnt much about dinosaur fossils. I used the spare time to edit the family history journal which I do quarterly, interspersed with walks around town and talks with locals.

Winton, too, featured in the early days of Qantas, and it was also on a station near here that Banjo Paterson wrote the words to an old (supposedly, Scottish) ballad with the result that "Waltzing Matilda" is known far and wide and loved by more Australians than our anthem "Advance Australia Fair". Winton has a very good  museum devoted mainly to Waltzing Matilda, but again featuring local history as well.

After three really interesting days, it was time to pack up again and continue our trip and wonder what other unexpected experiences we'll have.

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