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March 16, 2002  (Winton, Australia)

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North From Alice

Alice Springs was interesting and colorful, but it was also kind of seedy and I was glad to leave and get back out on the highway -- so much for my childhood fantasies.  I thought about driving all the way up to Darwin, which is about three full days from Alice Springs, but for several reasons I decided not to go up to the "Top End."  I wanted to see some places up there like Kakadu National Park (where they filmed the waterfall scene in "Crocodile Dundee"), but it was still the Wet Season and I'd heard that a lot of the roads there were still flooded.  Apparently it was also pretty hot and sticky up there and motel rooms are pretty expensive around Darwin.  Also, I was getting road-weary and I didn't want to tack on another week of driving across this very large continent, so Darwin will have to wait until my next visit to Oz.


After leaving Alice Springs, I drove all day north on the empty two-lane Stuart Highway, passing a roadhouse every hour or two.  Around 3 p.m. and with the thermometer hovering around 95 degrees, I pulled into Tennant Creek (pop. 3,500), a mining town with a large Aboriginal population.  Indeed, it was the only semblance of a town that I passed through all day.  After filling the tank, I found a motel across the street and, after chatting with the pleasant owner for a bit, got my key and hefted my duffel bags into the room.  After closing the door, I cranked the AC up all the way, turned on the radio and listened to the local country music station, and proceeded with my typical post-drive ritual:  downloading photos.


By dusk it had cooled off 10 degrees outside, so I emerged from my nice-and-frosty room and wandered the quiet streets of this pleasant little town that sits alone in the desolate Outback.  On the way back to the motel, I stopped at a store where I bought some groceries, enough to get me to the coast.


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Above left:  Crossing the Tropic of Capricorn near Alice Springs.  I was now officially in the tropics.

Above center:  Memorial to John McDouall Stuart alongside the Stuart Highway.

Above right:  I guess this is why they call central Australia "The Red Center."


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Above left:  The Devil's Marbles near Tennant Creek, a large area of granite boulders way out in the middle of nowhere.  This area reminded me of Joshua Tree National Park in California without the crowds.

Above right:  Tennant Creek is the only town between Alice Springs and Katherine – a distance of 800 miles.  There isn't much to do here... except spend the night in a motel.


The Aborigines

About half the customers in the Tennant Creek grocery store were Aborigines, and one scene in particular was memorable.  A white woman and an Aborigine family who were obviously dear friends but who apparently had not seen each other in a long time embraced with unrestrained happiness and excitement.  What really struck me about it was that, although I'd seen plenty of Aborigines in Australia during the past few weeks, this was the first time that I'd seen whites and Aborigines interacting so joyously.  The event made me think more deeply about the Aborigine situation in Australia and so, being in the middle of the Outback, I thought this would be a good place to discuss it. 


You don't see many Aborigines on the east coast of Australia or down in Victoria, but you do see a lot here in the Outback.  The Aboriginal story is very complex and I've been trying to figure it out during my drive through Australia.  In many ways, their plight is similar to that of the Indians (oops, I mean Native Americans) in the U.S. but in some ways it's an even sadder story.  I'll try to summarize what I've learned here, but I'm sure it's going to be over-simplified.    


When the first white settlers landed in Australia in the late 1700s, Aborigines had been living here for over 50,000 years.  Unlike in America, where the white settlers recognized Indians as native inhabitants, the first white settlers here viewed Australia as an empty continent.  They just moved in and took over, while enslaving and killing thousands of Aborigines in the process.  Unlike in America and in New Zealand, the native tribes in Australia didn't mount a coordinated resistance to the white intrusions, mainly because there were dozens of separate Aborigine groups, many of whom spoke unique languages.  


During the early 1900s, the whites tried to extinguish the Aboriginal race by breaking up families, forcing children into boarding schools, and outlawing the language and customs -- a policy that largely failed.  Over the past 30 years, the Australian government has tried to make reparations to the Aborigines, including returning some of the land to the original tribes.  Although a lot has been done to heal the wounds of the past, there's much that remains to be done.


Australian Aborigines today, like Native Americans in America, face a lot of problems, including discrimination, poverty, and high levels of unemployment, alcoholism, and substance abuse.  From what I've seen, and save for a few chance encounters in grocery stores and such, there doesn't seem to be very much social interaction between Aborigines and whites in Australia.  It's probably for the same reasons that there isn't much interaction between Indians and whites in America:  a difference in culture, a lack of understanding, and some degree of mutual suspicion.  It's certainly a sad situation, but it does seem to be getting better... slowly.  



Crocodile Dundee's Pub

After leaving Tennant Creek the next morning, I turned off the Stuart Highway, my companion for the past two weeks, and headed east on the Barkly Highway.  I pulled in that evening to the mining town of Mt. Isa, just inside the Queensland border and the site of one of the richest copper, silver, lead and zinc mines in the world.  There isn't much else to say about Mt. Isa, so I won't.  No, actually it's not that bad of a town.  In fact, the fish & chips dinner that I had here was pretty darn good.


There's a rhetorical saying in the U.S. that goes, "Have you ever seen anyone wash a rental car?"  The implication, of course, is that if you don't actually own something, you don't feel attached to it or responsible for it.  Well, I've been driving my trusty Hertz Camry for a month now and I feel both responsible and attached to it.  So the next morning, hot and glorious it was, I did, indeed, give my rental car a much-needed washing.  Shortly afterwards, I filled the tank at a BP and left Mt. Isa, continuing my eastward journey across the Outback. 


There are a couple ways of getting from Mt. Isa to the coast:  the quick way and the interesting way.  I chose, of course, the interesting way which is called Route 66, better known as the Matilda Highway.  After a few hours of dodging Road Trains, including a quadruple that was over 200 feet long, I pulled into the hot, dusty hamlet of McKinlay.  If you’ve seen the movie “Crocodile Dundee,” then you’ve seen McKinlay because the town’s only pub, now called “The Walkabout Creek Hotel,” was used for the bar scene in that movie.  (By the way, a “hotel” in Australia, unlike in America, is an older pub with simple and inexpensive accommodations that are usually on the second floor). 


I really enjoy visiting towns where movies were filmed, and in the past few years I’ve been to Mystic, Connecticut (site of “Mystic Pizza” – don’t laugh); Florence, Arizona (site of “Murphy’s Romance”) and most recently, Coober Pedy, which is where the Mad Max movies were shot.  I didn’t see the second Crocodile Dundee movie but, like many Americans, I really enjoyed the first one, so I had to see the Walkabout Creek Hotel.


I know it’s been a few years since the Crocodile Dundee films were made, but I was still expecting to see at least a couple of tourists poking around taking pictures.  When I walked into the bar, though, I was surprised to see just a barmaid and a few local guys sitting at the counter drinking beer and watching the horse races on television.  I spent a few minutes looking around the pub, which is pretty much like it was in the movie.  The walls are covered with several risqué posters, some candid photos of Paul Hogan taken during the filming and a few pictures of his co-star, Linda Kozlowski, wearing the skimpy-but-oh-so-memorable black thong at the crocodile pond.  That thong made a big impression not only on me but also on Hogan, I guess, because shortly after he started raking in money from “Crocodile Dundee,” he dumped his wife of several years and married Linda.  Last I heard, Paul and Linda were living in southern California.  Unfortunately, Crocodile Dundee's gone Hollywood.


The pub was interesting but it wasn’t worth spending $25 on a “Walkabout Creek Hotel” t-shirt.  I didn’t buy a beer either since I still had about 200 miles of driving ahead of me that afternoon, so after chatting a bit with the friendly folks there (none of whom, unfortunately, looked even remotely like Linda Kozlowski), I got back in the Camry and hit the road as the thermometer topped 95. 


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Above left:  "Three Ways" is a big dot on my map but as it turns out, it's just a roadhouse north of Tennant Creek at the junction of the Stuart and Barkly Highways.  Not surprisingly, it's where you can go three ways.  I said goodbye to the Stuart Highway here and headed east on the Barkly Highway.

Above center:  The Barkly Roadhouse.  As you can tell from these photos, the semi-occasional roadhouses are among the few highlights of driving across the Outback.  There were guys in the bar here drinking beer – at 10 o'clock in the morning.

Above right:  This sign used to say "460 km," but these days it's "only" 260 km to the next gas station.


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Above left:  The grassy plains here reminded me of Kansas.

Above center:  Entering Queensland...

Above right:  ... where the highway quickly deteriorated.  It's no fun to meet a Road Train on a single lane of blacktop.


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Above left:  One of the millions of termite mounds in northern Queensland.

Above center:  "Beautiful" downtown Mt. Isa, a mining town with about 25,000 people in the middle of nowhere.  The smokestack is from the lead smelter and, at one time, was the tallest smokestack in the world.  Lovely town.

Above right:  A memorial to Burke and Wills, the "Lewis and Clark" of Australia.  They passed through this remote area in 1861... and died shortly afterwards.  I was hoping to have a better fate.


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Above left:  The Walkabout Creek Hotel, made famous in "Crocodile Dundee."

Above right:  Cheers, mate.  Here's the inside.  Note the photos of Paul Hogan on the top.


Waltzing Matilda:  Exposed

About an hour later, I pulled off the highway and, following the signs, drove about six miles down a deserted dirt road and pulled into an empty dusty parking lot for the Combo Waterhole.  That name probably doesn’t ring any bells, but the Combo Waterhole is the billabong made famous in the song, “Waltzing Matilda."


A.B. "Banjo" Paterson

(1864 - 1941)

     Andrew Barton Paterson was born on a sheep station in the Outback of New South Wales.  His parents sent "Barty," as he was known, to Sydney when he was young to get an education.  Afterwards, he joined a law firm in Sydney as a lowly clerk but worked his way up, and by the time he was 22, he was a solicitor for the law firm of Street & Paterson.

     Andrew vicariously escaped the drudgery of his desk job in Sydney by writing stories for local publications about his beloved Outback, using a pen name of "The Banjo," referring to his father's racehorse.  His first famous poem, "Clancy of the Overflow," was published in 1889 and paid tribute to a man who lived an unfettered life in the bush: 

And I somehow rather fancy that I'd like to change with Clancy,

Like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go,

While he faced the round eternal of the cashbook and the journal,

But I doubt he'd suit the office, Clancy, of the Overflow.

    A year later, Banjo penned a poem about a cowboy's life in Victoria called, "The Man From Snowy River."  In 1895, while visiting the bush in Queensland, he co-wrote the song "Waltzing Matilda" with Christine McPherson, a woman he had become romantically involved with.  It never made him rich, though, because Paterson sold the rights to "Waltzing Matilda" in 1903 for just five pounds.  Paterson returned to Sydney, married, served in World War I, retired in 1930, and died in 1941. 

     Paterson remains one of Australia's greatest literary talents and, through his poems and stories, chronicled life in the Outback better than perhaps any other writer.  He is an inspiration to writers like me, whose pathetic attempts to adequately describe the mythical Outback greatly pale in comparison.



Above left:  Banjo Paterson.

Above right:  Banjo (right) camping in the bush.


If you’ve been following my website, you know that “Waltzing Matilda” is one of my favorite songs.  Indeed, learning that song in the First Grade planted the seed for my eventual trip to Australia, although I never figured out what a Matilda was or how exactly one waltzes with it.  During the next 24 hours, I learned the story behind the song, so here goes:


Back in 1895, a poet from New South Wales named Banjo Paterson visited Queensland for the first time and came out to this waterhole one afternoon with his fiancé, Sarah Riley, and Sarah’s father, a local rancher.  Yes, it’s that same Banjo Paterson (how many could there be?) who wrote the poem, “The Man From Snowy River,” whose path I crossed a month earlier near Canberra. 


Banjo heard a lot of stories that afternoon while picnicking next to the Combo waterhole with the Rileys and shortly afterwards wrote the words to “Waltzing Matilda,” which was loosely based on some of these stories, including a sheep-shearer who committed suicide during the ill-fated sheep-shearer's strike in the 1890s, and another man who'd recently drowned at a nearby waterhole. 


Over the next few weeks, Banjo wrote the words to the song while Christine McPherson, a good friend of Sarah’s who was also visiting the Rileys' ranch (or "station"), wrote the tune.  Apparently, Sarah didn’t take kindly to her fiancé Banjo working so closely with Christine on the song, so she split up with poor Banjo a short time later and called the wedding off.  No one's sure exactly what happened, but Sarah refused to speak to her friend Christine ever again and shortly afterwards, Christine's brother ran Banjo off the station.


In case you were wondering, as I was, the term “Waltzing the Matilda” means being on the road and carrying a swag (a bedroll), as many traveling sheep-shearers did back in those days.  If you recall, the song is about a jolly swagman who stops at a billabong and, while he’s waiting for his billy to boil, spots a jumbuck and stuffs it in his tucker-bag.  




Translating that into English, it’s about a transient worker who visits a pond and, while he's making some tea, spots a sheep, which he stuffs into his food bag (he apparently had a very large food bag).  Soon afterwards, troopers arrive to arrest the jolly swagman, but vowing never to be taken alive (and probably not so jolly anymore), he jumps into the billabong and drowns.  According to the song, if you visit the billabong today, you can still hear the swagman’s ghost singing “Waltzing Matilda.” 


After driving all that way out to the Combo waterhole, I was pretty disappointed not to see any jolly swagmen there.  In fact, no one was around except for a voracious mob of bushflies who eagerly greeted me.  Even though it was pretty darn hot and despite the swarm of bushflies, I had lunch here overlooking the billabong “under the shade of a coolibah tree,” just like in the song.  Although this place was a lot drier than I imagined it would be, I could almost see Banjo sitting here and listening to stories about the bush. 


To complete the experience, I took out my “Lazy Harry Sings 25 Australian Favorites” CD, popped it into my CD player, and listened to “Waltzing Matilda” sung in Harry’s nasally Australian accent – in fact, I played it about five times.  As I finished eating lunch, I turned off my CD player and, after all was silent once again, I listened closely.  During that moment, I thought I actually heard the swagman’s ghost singing “Waltzing Matilda.”  More likely, though, it was the drone of a hundred bushflies. 


Here's Lazy Harry singing Waltzing Matilda.

Requires a RealPlayerIf problems, see Help.


Waltzing Matilda  (By Banjo Paterson)

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong

Under the shade of a coolibah tree

He sang as he watched and waited 'till his billy boiled

"Who'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me?"


Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda

You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me.

He sang as he watched and waited 'till his billy boiled

"You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me."


Down came a jumbuck to drink at that billabong

Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee.

He laughed as he shoved that jumbuck in his tuckerbag

You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me.




Down came the squatter mounted on his thoroughbred

Up jumped the troopers, one, two, three.

Where's that jolly jumbuck you've got in your tuckerbag?

You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me.




The swagman he got up and he jumped into the billabong

You'll never catch me alive, said he.

His ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong

You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me.





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Above left:  The Combo waterhole, the inspiration for "Waltzing Matilda."  Those are real, live coolibah trees on the banks.

Above center:  I had lunch here under the shade of a coolibah tree.  Just me and a hundred bushflies.

Above right:  After popping a CD into the stereo here, I listened to "Waltzing Matilda" -- about 5 times, in fact.


The Amazing Little Town of Winton

To 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.


In 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.


The 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.


That 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.  Well, not yet, anyway.  But I digress…


I 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 floorboards.


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Above left:  Downtown Winton, a pleasant little town in the Outback.

Above center:  Sunset at the North Gregory Hotel, where "Waltzing Matilda" was first performed back in 1895.  

Above 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.


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Above left:  Inside Winton's "Waltzing Matilda Centre," the only museum in the world dedicated to a song.

Above 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."

Above right:  It's an interesting museum, but I probably learned more about Waltzing Matilda than I wanted to.


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Above 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 this wall.

Above center:  Qantas was founded here at the Winton Club in 1921.  Part of it is now a Chinese takeout restaurant.

Above 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!


Next News

March 25, 2002  (Port Douglas, Australia)



Previous News

March 13, 2002  (Alice Springs, Australia)

March 11, 2002  (Ayers Rock, Australia)

March 8, 2002  (Coober Pedy, Australia)

March 5, 2002  (Port Augusta, Australia)

March 1, 2002 -- Part 2  (Robe, Australia)

March 1, 2002 -- Part 1  (Robe, Australia)

February 18, 2002  (Bega, Australia)

February 7, 2002  (Auckland, New Zealand)

February 2, 2002 -- Part 2  (Taupo, New Zealand)

February 2, 2002 -- Part 1  (Taupo, New Zealand)

January 25, 2002  (Hokitika, New Zealand)

January 20, 2002  (Geraldine, New Zealand)

January 16, 2002  (Te Anau, New Zealand)

January 12, 2002 -- Part 2  (Dunedin, New Zealand)

January 12, 2002 -- Part 1  (Dunedin, New Zealand)

January 1, 2002 -- Part 2  (Christchurch, New Zealand)

January 1, 2002 -- Part 1  (Christchurch, New Zealand)

December 24, 2001  (Wellington, New Zealand)

December 20, 2001  (Auckland, New Zealand)

December 16, 2001  (Auckland, New Zealand)

December 14, 2001  (Aitutaki, Cook Islands)

December 10, 2001  (Rarotonga, Cook Islands)

December 3, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bellingham, Washington)

December 3, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bellingham, Washington)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 3  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 6, 2001  (Fort Lincoln State Park, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 15, 2001  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

August 30, 2001  (Webster, South Dakota)

August 18, 2001  (Watertown South Dakota)

August 17, 2001  (Walnut Grove, Minnesota)

August 14, 2001  (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

August 10, 2001 (Battle Creek, Michigan)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 2)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 1)

August 6, 2001  (Manlius, New York)

July 23, 2001  (Middleton, Massachusetts)

July 22, 2001  (Boston, Massachusetts)

July 20, 2001  (Pomfret, Connecticut)

July 18, 2001  (Denton, Maryland)

July 16, 2001  (Cumberland, Virginia)

July 14, 2001  (Roanoke, Virginia)

July 9, 2001  (Sevierville, Tennessee)

July 8, 2001  (Fontana Lake, North Carolina)

July 5, 2001  (Manchester, Tennessee)

June 30, 2001  (Hohenwald, Tennessee)

June 29, 2001  (Corinth, Mississippi)

June 27, 2001  (Natchez, Mississippi)

June 24, 2001  (Austin, Texas)

June 20, 2001  (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)

June 18, 2001  (Clay Canyon, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 2  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 1  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 14, 2001  (San Diego, California)

June 11, 2001  (San Jose, California)

June 2, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

May 19, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 30, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 19, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

April 5, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)


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