‘Wonderful Winton: Exploring one of Australia’s treasured outback towns’

Feb 13, 2021
The Queensland town of Winton offers a quintessential outback experience. Source Tourism and Events Queensland

Even though I’ve lived in Queensland for many years, my exploration of the state has been almost exclusively on the coast, so an opportunity for a guided tour to Longreach and Winton was willingly accepted. I say willingly, but I did wonder what could keep me in the area for five days. What I should have wondered was how I was going to see everything on offer in only five days.

After meeting my hosts, Tourism and Events Queensland and their other guests at Brisbane airport, we boarded our flight to Longreach and on arrival transferred to four-wheel drive vehicles for the two-hour road trip to Winton, where we would spend two nights at the North Gregory Hotel. The North Gregory is a trip back in history, albeit updated with modern conveniences. My room opened onto a huge verandah, which reminded me of the accommodation available before the arrival of motels. A little trivia for you – the North Gregory was the location for the first live performance of the iconic Waltzing Matilda in 1895.

After a delicious meal in the hotel’s dining room, we headed to The Vision Splendid, the aptly named outback film festival in Winton. Yes, you read that correctly, there is a film festival in Winton. The next one is scheduled for June 25 to July 3, 2021, Covid-19 allowing. With 30 movies on offer the quality and variety is sure to please just about everyone.

Many of the films are shown in the Royal Open Air Theatre where the whole experience is enhanced by, as the name suggests, the absence of a roof. Sitting under the stars in deck chairs was a real nostalgia trip for this Boomer as I remembered the thrill of watching films under a humid summer sky in an outdoor theatre during the summer school holidays.

Winton Royal Outdoor Theatre
Whether you’re a film buff or just keen for something a little different, the open-air cinema is a must-do in Winton. Source: Maree Azzopardi

Gremlins prevented the screening of the official opening film, the highly acclaimed Slim and I. Nonetheless the show must go on and The Endless Road – Tommy Emmanuel, was a more than worthy substitute, having already won Best Music Documentary at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. Although I count myself a fan, there was much to learn about the man and much to enjoy about his music.

On Saturday morning, in the courtyard of the North Gregory Hotel, we were privileged to enjoy Breakfast with the Stars, which offered the opportunity to hear film industry professionals speak about the festival and the films. On Saturday afternoon, we saw a second festival film, H Is For Happiness, which is a delightful film guaranteed to steal a little of your heart. Based on the book by Barry Jonsberg My Life As An Alphabet this is a film for the whole family.

After breakfast, before seeing our second festival movie, we wandered across the road from our hotel to the Waltzing Matilda Centre and what an amazing place this is. Destroyed by a devastating fire in 2015, it has been rebuilt into a historical and digital technology wonder. I was engrossed by the displays of antique and vintage everyday items, by the voices of locals telling their story of growing up in Winton and the room dedicated to all things Waltzing Matilda. Photos cannot capture the beauty of the digital storytelling, but this is to whet your appetite.

Waltzing Matilda Centre
The Waltzing Matilda Centre offers a spectacular display of Australian history. Source: Karen O’Brien-Hall

But Winton is not all about built magic. The afternoon saw us boarding a four-wheel drive minibus to visit Rangelands Rifts and experience the beauty that is a desert sunset. Our guide, a local Savannah Guide, was very knowledgeable about both the flora and fauna on Rangelands and happily regaled us with stories about the area. Rangelands Station is a privately owned working cattle station, renowned for not only its spectacular sunsets but also for the rock erosion called Rifts.

Rangelands Rifts are a geological marvel and not to be missed. Source: Karen O’Brien-Hall

Wind and water erosion has worn down weak points in the rocks so that little cracks get bigger and deeper with time. Once the crack wears through the top harder rocks and into slightly softer lower rock, the erosion starts to look different and an hourglass shape is formed. Our party decided to explore these Rifts up close, but as some readers of this website may know, I have mobility problems. To walk the Rifts was out of the question, but kindly my party took my camera with them so I too could see this magnificent natural structure. I was able to walk around the plateau where we were parked and see the beginnings of erosion which will lead to more rifts in the future. To just to sit quietly with only the sound of the wind and be visited by an inquisitive wallaby, is something a city dweller like me rarely experiences. For anyone not up for a marathon any time soon, there is still plenty to do.

Rangeland Rifts
Sunset over the Rifts was an experience this author will never forget. Source: Tourism and Events Queensland

From our vantage point at the top of the Rifts, the sunsets are always special and on our visit, mother nature also turned on a huge storm light show. It was amazing to stay by our vehicle and watch the double phenomena of a desert sunset and a gathering storm.

All too soon we had to move on from Winton to Longreach. As I set about jotting down my recollections of two wonderful days, I was reminded of the poem Clancy of the Overflow by Banjo Patterson. You may know this iconic poem is written from the point of view of a city-dweller who once met the title character, a shearer and drover, and now envies the imagined pleasures of Clancy’s lifestyle, which he compares favourably to life in “the dusty, dirty city” and “the round eternal of the cashbook and the journal”. I felt like this city dweller:

“As the stock are slowly stringing, Clancy rides behind them singing,
For the drover’s life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.”

Have you ever been to Winton? Is it on your bucket list?

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