“If you want your life to be a magnificent story, then begin by realizing that you are the author and everyday you have the opportunity to write a new page.”- Mark Houlahan


Winton home of Waltzing Matilda

The long hot ride to Winton yesterday took a lot of energy, but I eventually made it as the sun was starting to go down. The roos start to come onto the side of the road at this time in the afternoon, so travelling on a motor bike becomes more hazardous. The journey by motorcycle across this country is a enlightening experience, albeit a tiring one.

When you’re on a motorcycle tour of Queensland, there are places that you just have to go. Places like, Birdsville, behind the black stump, Mount Isa, Daintree, Lawn Hill and of course, Winton. Winton is the home of Waltzing Matilda, but is it?

Winton home of Waltzing Matilda
Even the sheep in the story of Waltzing Matilda have a place in Winton.

This is a town of contrasts, from its historical support centre for the sheep and cattle industry to its modern day tourism and opal mining. There are so many aspects of Australian culture that emanate from Winton, yet it is one of those places that just seems to be to far out of the way for your average tourist.

There are so many interesting places to explore in and around Winton, that the one day I have allocated to explore the town, just isn’t long enough. Tomorrow, day five, I have earmarked to go to Opalton to complete my second bucket list item. Check out my blog post: Mad Opal Miners to read about my opal mining experiences.

Waltzing Matilda

The legend of the old swaggie that would rather have drowned in a waterhole than be taken in by police is a much loved song. It all started in and around this area, well 170 kilometres north to be exact. But in Australia that’s just down the road. Read may blog post Day Three, hunting ghosts for more information how I got here.

The symbols of the Waltzing Matilda story are everywhere in town. From the giant Waltzing Matilda Museum to grand North Gregory Hotel. There’s even an artificial billabong at the northern entrance to the town.

Winton home of waltzing Matilda swaggie
This statue is a copy of one that resides in the Waltzing Matilda Centre

Birth of an airline

The first official meeting of QANTAS, Australia’s national airline was held right here in Winton. When looking at the old Queensland building, it’s hard to believe that was where one of the biggest airlines in the world had its start.

The Winton Club was a place for the well to do of the area to meet and socialise, like a country club of sorts. There was no shortage of investment funds for innovative ideas to help people and goods move around the country. Air transport must have seemed like magic at the time and away of overcoming the tranny of distance.

If you’re on a motorcycle tour around Australia or planning one, don’t just ride through Winton. Take you’re time and explore, there’s more under the surface than you might expect at first sight. Stop for diner at the famous Winton Club, sip a cocktail at the Art Deco North Gregory Hotel or catch up with some Opal miners at the local Winton Hotel.

Winton Club motorcycle tour of Outback Queensland
This is where the plan for Australia’s first national airline Qantas was first conceived.

Houses designed for their environment

The first thing I noticed about Winton was how practical the houses were. They reminded me of Mount Isa, mostly fibre board and corrugated iron. They were built to reflect the heat, and not store it like some sort of heat sink. Unlike modern brick and tile houses in urban areas, the ones in Winton don’t need air-conditioning all year round despite the great summer heat. 

There are reminders of the region’s history everywhere. Like the old ploughs built into Arno’s Wall or the rusty old Ford trucks that sit like gnome ornaments in the front gardens. Winton is definitely a town with a lot of history and character, the town people have leveraged this character to create an unusual tourist Mecca. Every two years in the September school holidays, it hosts the Winton Outback Festival, at which time the town is literally packed out.

Old trucks winton motorcycle tour of queensland
These old trucks provide an interesting ornament for Winton.

The town is full of contrast from the old rusting cars and Arno’s wall to the stately and rather grandly named Royal Theatre.

Winton is the home of Waltzing Matilda Royal Theatre
The Royal Theatre is one of the grandest of outdoor theatres I have seen since Bowen.

Camping in Winton

It was day four of my motorcycle tour of outback Queensland and I had been woken by the constant chatter of Gallah’s in the nearby trees again, it seems to be a thing with Gallahs, see a tent and start talking?  If you missed how I came to be in Winton click on the following link Day three Motorcycle Tour of Outback Queensland .

Motorcycle tour - Winton
Camping in Winton

My plans for today are to take in the sites of the town and learn a little bit more about this interesting iconic town in the middle of nowhere. While I’m at it, I want to find out a bit more about Opalton and the condition of the road going out there. The ride out to Opalton is another of my bucket list items, see my blog post Mad miners, guns and Opals

Dinosaur Tracks

In its pre history around the time when dinosaurs roamed the earth, Winton was on the banks of a giant inland sea. The area had fertile forests and an abundance and diverse variety of dinosaurs. Winton promotes this by plastering the place with giant dinosaur feet covering rubbish bins and quirky signs. There are shops and even a small museum showing artefacts.

If you’re into dinosaurs there are two spectacular exhibits, Larks Quarry where actual dinosaur foot prints were uncovered. It was here that sciences first realised that dinosaurs flocked like modern day birds. The second exhibit is the relatively recent “Age of Dinosaur Centre” about 20 kilometres south of the town, on the road out to Longreach. I’ve been to Larks Quarry before and didn’t have time to go out there again on this trip. Although in hindsight, I probably should have camped at Opalton and found the track that goes across to the Quarry.

If you’re planning on riding out to Larks Quarry, take the road to Opalton where it divides, go right to Larks Quarry or left to Opalton. While Winton is the home of Waltzing Matilda, it was home to dinosaurs along time before Banjo Paterson arrived on the scene.

Winton is the home of waltzing matilda and Larks Quarry
This road goes to Opalton and Larks Quarry. Turn right at the intersection to go to Larks Quarry

Winton home of Waltzing Matilda

Winton home of Waltzing Matilda Motorcycle tour of Outback Queensland the North Gregory Hotel Winton
The fourth and current North Gregory Hotel – Winton home of Waltzing Matilda

The North Gregory Hotel is the most famous site in Central West Queensland, it is the home of Waltzing Matilda. It is also one of the best preserved examples of Art Deco architecture in Queensland. The North Gregory Hotel is a sublime example of the wealth and grandure of the town in its hey day.

Winton home of Waltzing Matilda Motorcycle tour of Outback Queensland and the inside of the North Gregory Hotel
Classic Art Deco styling in the foyer of the North Gregory Hotel. Winton the home of Waltzing Matilda.

In a small room just off the dining hall is a piano, just above that piano is a sign. It was here that Waltzing Matilda was first sung. A copy of the actual song sheet and words accompany the song and piano. But here’s the rub, it wasn’t.

According to records on the wall of the Kynuna Hotel it was first played there to striking shearers. Anyway this particular version of the hotel is actually the fourth in a long line of burnt out boarding house taverns. If the song was indeed played here it was in version one of the hotel.

Winton home of Waltzing Matilda - North Gregory Hotel
Where Waltzing Matilda was first performed apparently – Winton home of Waltzing Matilda

The North Gregory was always a “posh” hotel, the country was living off the sheep’s back and there was no better place for sheep than out here. At one point it was estimated that the local area contained 11854 head of cattle, 990515 head of sheep and 5652 horses. That was in 1891 when there was only 625 people registered in town. Winton came into being when it was gazette as a town in 1879.

Celebrating Banjo Paterson but not the Swaggie

It’s difficult to go past the Waltzing Matilda legend when you’re in Winton. Imagery is everywhere from the man made billabong at the entrance to town, to the giant “Waltzing Matilda Museum” and accompanying statue of its favourite son “Banjo Paterson”. There’s even a statue of the “Swaggie” from the song, unfortunately he’s on the opposite side of the road, tucked in behind a couple of trees.

Sitting down on the park bench next to the statue, with the town swimming pool at my back. I look across the road to the opulent tourist centre, with its book shop and city style cafe, I felt out of place. The KLR650 wasn’t your cafe racer after all it was the workhorse of motorbikes. I thought of the “Squatter mounted on his thoroughbred” which in todays terms would have been a rather expensive Ducatti. Wasn’t this a cruel sort of irony.

As I pulled out my gas stove, water, billy and coffee making equipment and settled in to make my brew, next to the swaggie statue. It occurred to me, “I wondered what I would do if the cops arrived, pointed their guns at me and told me I’d stolen my food. Would I give them the finger and jump into the swimming pool to drown myself, probably not”. No, I’d probably tell them to fuck off.

Winton home of Waltzing Matilda Waltzing Matilda Centre
Waltzing Matilda Centre – Winton home of Waltzing Matilda

Winton has the great Arno’s Wall

Stand a side Great Wall of China, you have been outclassed by Arno’s Wall. Behind the North Gregory Hotel is a uniquely Winton monument. It is known as Arno’s Wall, and was initially built by Arno Grotjahn a German immigrant who came to Australia in the 1960’s.

Arno’s wall is a uniquely original master piece, and reflects the man himself who was recognised as quite a character in his own right. As a young man he was a merchant sailor before joining the French Foreign Legion. In his thirties he came to Australia with his wife and settled in Winton. He spent most of this time when not building a wall, between his Opal mine and the town.

Apparently, according to Arno one of his ancestors stood along side Peter Lalor at the Eureka Stockage. This is why a giant Eureka Stockade flag is painted on the wall in honour of his ancestor and as a sign of defiance, harking back to the shearer’s strike in 1894. The wall itself is over 70 metres long and according to Arno is a monument to machines, and a way for him to display his collection.

Time to move on

I walked around the town admiring the architecture then realised it was time for a beer and where better than the North Gregory Beer Garden. As I sat there looking out over Arno’s master piece, I thought that Arno must have known the “one thing”. May be my future was in building a wall like Arnos.

The thought quickly exited my mind almost as fast as it had arrived. I’m not sure how my wife would take it if I built a 70 metre wall with old bits of machinery around our house.

I walked back to the caravan park thinking about tomorrow. This was going to be a day when I achieved a second of my bucket list items. Tomorrow I was riding the 119 kilometres to Opalton.

The Road out of Winton with one of the giant six deck road trains, they get bigger.

My time in Winton was also brief but as the sunset I thought about my next adventure, Opalton.

I hope you enjoyed this story, safe travels …….Swaggie:)

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Gary is a travel writer, educator, training specialist and part time adventurer. When not paddling rivers, diving on the Great Barrier Reef or riding down some dusty outback track on his trusted KLR650 "Emu" he likes to explore historical areas and look for the back story.

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