This Winton weekender will immerse you in Aussie history
It’s not just rugged wilderness you’ll find in Outback Queensland, but places rich in Australian history and culture. Especially when it comes to Winton, the town 177km north-west of Longreach that is home to more than its fair share of cultural wonders. This is an ideal destination for the history buffs – it’s the birthplace of QANTAS and Banjo Paterson’s Waltzing Matilda after all, as well as the discovery site of the Boulder Opal and the state’s dinosaur capital.
These days Winton remains a regional cultural capital as the host of the Vision Splendid Outback Film Festival and the annual Winton’s Way Out West Fest, which sees the town’s population explode from 900 people to 6000. As you can see, there’s plenty of things to do in Winton, even if you only have a weekend to spare.
Make your way to Winton, cruising along the Matilda Way which stretches between Cunnamulla to Karumba. For those craving a challenge, there’s also a much-loved five-day road trip that will introduce you to the best of the outback with a trail that runs from Winton to Tambo. But if convenience is key, take the easy option and fly your way into Winton direct, or via Longreach. Whether you cruise by car or plane, keep in mind that a window seat is a non-negotiable as the landscape here is legendary.
Perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to visit during the Vision Splendid Outback Film Festival. Every June the annual celebration of cinema is welcomed to Winton, a local take on the Sundance Film Festival that has led to the town being dubbed ‘Hollywood in the Outback’. The non-profit organisation was developed by the Winton community and takes place annually at the historic Royal Open Air Theatre. Even if you miss Vision Splendid, you can still catch a movie here, which has been screening films since 1918.
Head into town to settle in for the night. The North Gregory Hotel on Winton’s main street is arguably the most historic accommodation option. While physically the pub is an ode to art deco design, it’s better known as being the exact spot Waltzing Matilda was performed for the first time in 1895. In celebration of the much-loved Australian ballad, an obligatory sing-a-long takes place nightly led by whoever has taken to the stage – enjoy the performance while you tuck into your pub grub dinner. Post-meal make your way to one of the 29 rooms available, or the 18 van sites out the back to get some rest.
Let your musical endeavours continue well into the next day with a stop at the Winton Musical Fence – the world’s first permanent musical fence. Playing it is simple – just grab a stick and let loose on the wires, which have been designed by percussionist and composer Graeme Leak. Refresh yourself with a quick break (and a quick cup of coffee) at the accompanying Winton Musical Fence Cafe.
But Winton’s musical interest doesn’t end there – the town is home to the Waltzing Matilda Centre, the first museum in the world to be dedicated to song. The refurbished space experienced an architecturally award-winning $22 million upgrade in 2018 after burning down in 2015 is well worth a visit. It’s not just Banjo Paterson memorabilia you’ll find inside either, but a comprehensive guide to the community, from the Great Shearers Strike of 1891 to the birth of QANTAS.
Take a trip back in time with a visit to Winton’s famed fossil sites. The town boasts its own natural history museum, Australian Age of Dinosaurs. There you can gaze at the country’s largest collection of dinosaur fossils and take part in the centre’s annual dinosaur digs, open to anyone over the age of 12.
Or indulge your inner archaeologist, making your way out to Lark Quarry. It’s here that the only known dinosaur stampede took place 95 million years ago. Near 4000 footprints mark the site, alongside a trio of dinosaur skeletons, and a handful of paleontologists who continue to work away on the space. If your thirst for dinosaur’s is still not satisfied, continue your expedition along Australia’s Dinosaur Trail, an Outback-based triangle encasing Winton, and the neighbouring towns of Hughenden and Richmond.