Winton in Western Queensland has a population of about 1000 people. The main street has replica heritage street lamps and a centre strip of lawns and trees, even a water feature depicting the original town site of Pelican Waterhole. The town is busy and colourful which gives it a good feel. From what we see it appears that the people of this town aren’t afraid to have a go. This is the birthplace of Qantas. The grandest hotel in town is the North Gregory Hotel. After having been demolished and rebuilt with a second storey, it twice was burnt to the ground. After the last fire the townsfolk banded together to ensure that they got their pub back and so the council rebuilt it at tremendous expense in art deco style. It wasn’t because there was only one pub in town. They do have four. But the North Gregory Hotel was the hotel where Australia’s anthem* Waltzing Matilda was first publicly performed. It is grand enough to host any occasion. In fact the later to become US President, Lyndon Johnson stayed there in 1942 after his air force plane crashed on a nearby station.
This area is rich in boulder opals and a retired local opal miner by the name of Arno has built a wall around his house. It is a large block and the wall is made from rock and salvaged junk from the opal fields. There is a stove, a sink, even a motor bike cemented in. Arno’s wall is a treat.
The Winton water supply is pumped up from the Great Artesian Basin by four big pumps and then cooled before distribution. The water is clean and good but it does give off a gas as it comes from the tap. The aroma quickly disperses but when you are under the shower one need only close ones eyes to invoke memories of Rotorua in New Zealand.
I am beginning to think someone has stolen the clouds. We haven’t seen a cloud in days and the land is so flat as to almost curve on the horizon. It even feels flat, if that’s possible. There are little dips in the road for dusty dry creek beds to flow over, one day. The houses sit about a foot above the ground for air flow and everyone lives in tins. The houses are built with metal cladding or corrugated iron, even the motels. Temporary housing is in dongas (which are mining accommodation similar to shipping containers) and the van park amenities are metal portables. Even the new library is corrugated iron. Of course our caravans too are mostly metal.**
A little art doesn’t go astray in the outback as it softens the harsh landscape. In Mt Isa there are beautiful murals on corrugated iron sheets at the rodeo park. Here in Winton the van park doors have outback scenes painted on them. In the streets there are desert garden plantings instead of lawn nature strips.
While photographing the moonrise I watch two brolgas dancing in the paddock. This is a town that truly grows on you. Oh and the meal at the North Gregory is excellent.
*Not the National Anthem but the song that we all cry to when abroad.
**Inspired by the late David Bowie, “living in a tin can”.