Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Winton and Dinosaurs

Aaah Winton. How you have vexed me.

We have been on the road for almost a month and this place was the first (and hopefully last) location I’ve ever had a thought process involving packing up and just heading home, tail between our collective legs. But we didn’t and we haven’t, so read on for tales of heat, flies and the occasional dinosaur.

The road between Longreach and Winton is picturesque in a sparse grassland and roadtrain kind of way. Fiela wanted to kill someone after the force of a roadtrain going in the opposite direction knocked his extended side view mirror in for the fifth time. Then I wanted to kill someone when we got out of the car at Winton and realised our fly problem had gotten worse. When everyone in the main street is wearing a fly net over their head, you know you’re going to have a problem.

Fly country.

We parked at the Tattersalls Hotel Caravan Park, which pleased Caesar no end as it was next to the highway and therefore trucks and roadtrains. It was fine, though the sulphur (read rotten egg) smell coming from the water was pretty full on. So it was hot, there were an unholy number of flies, everything smelt like eggs and things just really didn’t improve much from there.

The Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum

We drove the 20kms or so out to the Australian Age ofDinosaurs Museum, which is situated at the top of a ‘jump-up’ (rocky outcrop). A farmer found some bones on his property in the 1990s and realizing they weren’t sheep, emu, dingo or anything else for that matter; he sent them off to the QLD Museum for analysis. Turns out he was a bit of a dinosaur boffin and spent his few leisure hours helping to build the AAOD once it was confirmed that the bones were indeed part of a dinosaur. They’ve found a few different bones of dinosaur, though they’ve only ever recovered 65% of a full skeleton (apparently you only need 35% to be able to lay claim that you have found a dinosaur). This is significant as apparently prior to this it was thought there were no dinosaurs in Australia.

View from the top of  the jump-up at AAOD

Dinosaur bones, wrapped in alfoil, paper then plastercast waiting to be processed. They have a five year backlog of bones to be properly 'unearthed', and some people spend weeks volunteering to do just that.

Hoping for less flies but getting more, we went in and were directed to the first part of the tour. This occurred in a shed where Ben, a trainee was practicing his tour spiel on us. This became quite amusing once his supervisor joined us and shadowed the rest of the tour… so of course the kids tried their best to throw poor Ben off by running amok. He was unfrazzled and was really quite a sweetie, though the little toad who took the second part of the tour was lucky in two respects: 1. He didn’t have a supervisor watching him have a melt down when the kids didn’t make appropriate oooh and aaah sounds when he spouted his amazing wisdom about dinosaurs and 2. We’ve been trying to curb our (OK, my) language after Marguerite started muttering “Bloody flies!” everytime she stepped out of the van, and didn’t want to set a bad example by giving this trainee a dressing down. The exhibit is interesting, but my children weren’t.

Some bones are easily identified before they are preserved in the alfoil and plastercast combo...
... and some aren't.

Ben and Marguerite with a partially processed bone. It's a dinosaur vertebrae, with the white thing a vertebrae from a cow.

Fossils found from around Winton, which was once at the bottom of a sea.

Fossilised shark teeth found around Winton.

The processing centre.

Toad seen trying to get in photo at left...
Otherwise the bones they've found of this dinosaur with thick wire replacing those missing.

The dinosaur 'Banjo'... the one they've found the most bones for.

What we wanted to do with the kids after this museum visit.

Random emus.

So what would most intelligent people do? They’d avoid another museum type thing, but no, not us. We are clearly a bit stupid.

Even the bins in Winton are from dinosaurs...

Fun in the main street of Winton.

That afternoon we went to the Waltzing Matilda Centre, which if we hadn’t been to the Longreach museums a few days prior probably would’ve been great, but apart from a stirring explanation of the song given in a life size fake billabong, none of us were particularly taken with it. There’s a lot of history and what life was like when Banjo Patterson was alive, lots of old stuff (artefacts for the nerds) and another run down of the Qantas story. Unfortunately it was a complete waste of money for us, Marguerite and especially Caesar (luckily they got in for free!). But we’d done it, probably in record time, and decided to celebrate by eating out with the flies (the barflies were sensibly at the bar) and in the heat at the Tattersalls Hotel. The food was pretty standard for pub grub out this way- the steak was excellent, the vegetables were of the frozen variety and the garlic mash was plentiful. We went back to the van, put the kids to bed and sat up talking to a couple from Brisbane late into the night (about 11pm).

Feeling the history.

Marguerite struggling with the amusing billboard and your imposed face concept.

Caesar defiling some of the old stuff.

Lark Quarry.

Cool moveable model dinosaur.

The next day we trekked out to Lark Quarry, a 220km round trip on dirt road, feeling nothing but gladness that this would be our last ‘educational’ experience for a while. We got there just in time for the 10am tour with Gary. What a breath of fresh air. This experienced, local and friendly tour guide endured our noisy children with a smile and was happy to ‘get off track’ from his informational ‘speech’ (unlike some other trainee guides who have been aforementioned). Lark Quarry is the only evidence of a dinosaur stampede in the world. The stampede, which happened around 90million years ago is now enclosed in an environmentally controlled ‘shed’, though Gary told us how when they uncovered it in the 1960s, anyone could and did walk over it. Then they put a roof over it to try and protect it from the rain, which the cows and kangaroos thought was really kind as it’s hard to find shade out here. It was then fenced, but the stampede was then set on fire by a welding spark causing black plastic to melt onto it. Finally in 2002 an actual enclosed building was erected with some nifty looking stone walls, one of which promptly collapsed onto the stampede before actual walls that could pass a building inspection were put up. Luckily, when the section containing the stampede was first excavated a silicon mould was taken, preserving the integrity of the footprints for eternity, even if the site hasn’t been. It was really interesting and we did a quick walk around, admiring the stark landscape, and thinking that perhaps our luck had changed.

The stampede... you can see the predator dinosaur marks in a line on the right.
The rock shelves show how far down they excavated to get to the stampede.

Close up of the big dinosaur and then the scattering of the smaller ones. Below is a better explanation..

Beautiful colours at Lark Quarry.

Back to Winton and the flies, took the kids to the pool for the afternoon in an attempt to escape the searing heat, only to be told this was the only day of the year it was closed because of the school swimming carnival.

 Winton 3, the Uys Huis 1.

Winton isn't all that bad, having a very lovely main street, but it was definitely time to get away from it all. Next stop, Porcupine Gorge.

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