The Amazing Little Town of Winton
complete my experience on the Matilda Highway, late that afternoon I pulled into
the small town of Winton, Queensland. Winton,
with a population of about 1,500, is a very pleasant Outback town and, I
decided, was a good place to spend the night. Amazingly
enough, this tiny town sitting alone in the Outback is the birthplace of not
one but two of the most famous symbols of Australia:
“Waltzing Matilda” and Qantas Airlines.
April of 1895, shortly after Banjo and Christine co-wrote “Waltzing Matilda”
at the Riley’s ranch, the song was sung in public for the first time in
Winton’s North Gregory Hotel. The
song was an instant hit and spread across Australia like wildfire, eventually
becoming the country’s unofficial national anthem.
In the 1970s, Australians decided that they needed an official
national anthem, so they put it to a vote. I guess Aussies didn’t think the words of “Waltzing
Matilda” were dignified enough to represent them at the Olympics (can you
imagine a gold-medal winner standing on the podium while proudly singing about
billabongs and swagmen?), so they gave the nod to a rather bland tune called,
“Advance Australia Fair.” You
know how I would’ve voted.
other important event in Winton’s history happened in 1921, when a couple of
pilots got together here and formed the “Queensland and Northern Territory Air
Service,” which they abbreviated to Qantas.
The first meeting of Qantas took place in the Winton Club, which still
stands (although part of it today is a takeout Chinese restaurant -- seriously).
Qantas soon afterwards moved their headquarters to Brisbane, but without
the encouragement and financial support of the Wintonites (er, Wintonians?), Qantas
would have never gotten off the ground – quite literally.
two important events in Australian history occurred here in this tiny town in
the proverbial "middle of nowhere" I
found to be quite amazing. That’s especially true since the most famous thing that my
hometown of Portland, Oregon -- with a population of over one million people -- is
known for is being the home of that baton-wielding Olympic skater, Tonya Harding.
In case you haven’t heard, by the way, Tonya was arrested a while ago
for throwing a hubcap at her boyfriend -- yes, I’m serious.
But at least she hasn’t stuffed any jumbucks in her tucker-bag.
yet, anyway. But I digress…
hadn’t stayed in any hotels yet while in Australia but I couldn’t pass this
chance up, so I walked into the pub of the North Gregory Hotel and booked a
room. That evening, I strolled
along Winton’s empty main street and watched the blazing sunset, then returned to the hotel
where I’m writing this entry now. It’s
about 9 p.m. on a very warm and breezy Saturday night, and I’m on the
second-floor balcony overlooking the hotel’s courtyard where an outdoor
barbeque is finishing up. The North
Gregory Hotel is a pleasant place to stay, the staff here is very courteous,
and, best of all, you can almost hear “Waltzing Matilda” playing through the
left: Downtown Winton, a pleasant little town in the Outback.
center: Sunset at the North Gregory Hotel, where "Waltzing
Matilda" was first performed back in 1895.
right: The pub of the North Gregory Hotel. That's the
friendly owner, David Strang, standing with the phone. I had a nice chat
with him before I headed over to the Waltzing Matilda Centre.
left: Inside Winton's
Matilda Centre," the only museum in the world dedicated
to a song.
center: That's A.B. "Banjo" Paterson, author of "Waltzing
Matilda" and "The Man From Snowy River." By the way, Banjo
was named after his father's horse, not a musical instrument. Good thing
he hadn't named his horse "Daisy."
right: It's an interesting museum, but I probably learned more about Waltzing Matilda than I
left: Back outside, this is
Arno's Wall. Arno is in his 70's and immigrated to Australia many years
ago from Germany. He's put everything, including literally the kitchen sink, into
center: Qantas was founded here at the Winton Club in 1921. Part
of it is now a Chinese takeout restaurant.
right: Leaving Winton on one of Queensland's single-lane
highways. Fortunately, I didn't meet any Road Trains on this
road. Only six more hours until the coast!
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The Amazing Little Town of Winton