May 2018, Winton, Qld
After having been thwarted in our attempt to free camp unpowered behind the North Gregory Hotel because of our failing fridge, we set up camp (powered) at the Pelican Caravan Park and I head off to visit the new Waltzing Matilda Centre.
Winton seems to have a few more empty shops than last time and probably caused by the current drought but the new Waltzing Matilda Centre is impressive. An edifice of concrete and steel they obviously don’t want this one to burn down like the last. There are exhibits for Banjo Paterson and Waltzing Matilda, dinosaurs, boulder opals, artesian water and the new industry here, movie making. The displays are all automated and the headphones talk through the bones in front of my ears. Massive steel doors sense ones’ presence and an immersive 3D display plays light all around me. Then I get lost. There is little signage as one is expected to follow the flow of the exhibits however I find myself outside in a traditional museum of railway and farm equipment (something of which I always get distracted by). The towering rusted steel walls of the building won’t open no matter how I approach them and there’s no one else around, but it is Monday. Then suddenly a wall opens and instantly I’m spat back into the 21st century. Phew! Time to think about dinner.
Four years ago we had an elegant dinner at the North Gregory Hotel in the dining room where (Australia’s unofficial anthem) Banjo Paterson’s song Waltzing Matilda was first publicly performed in 1895. Tonight, however the pub is looking a little shabby. In the corner there is a bush poet pumping out Waltzing Matilda on an old pianola. That’s a nice touch. He tells of the history and mystery of the song and recites Banjo Paterson classics Clancy of the Overflow and Mulga Bill’s Bicycle. We order our meals at the bar and it takes a few goes to find something that is available (it is Monday after all) but the lamb rump on sweet potato mash is sublime. The wait staff is another matter. A couple of lads in T shirts and brightly coloured board shorts, one in Crocs, the other in thongs. The patrons seem a little under dressed as well, wearing what we’d call ‘around the house grots’. The poet too is having a hard time of it as these diners don’t particularly enjoy having their poetry knowledge tested.
As we walk home the Tattersall’s Hotel is jumping with revellers inside and, out on the footpath enjoying the smooth sounds of a female saxophonist called Sassy Sax. We wonder if tonight we made the right choice. But it is Monday.