Around Winton

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My plan for today had been to visit Lark Quarry to see the dinosaur stampede and take a look around Winton. We managed to squeeze in a little more than that.

I had calculated that a 9:00 am departure would get us to Lark Quarry in good time for the tour we had booked at 11:00 am. We did not hurry ourselves this morning but were ready not long after 8:00 am. Rather than sit and wait while catching up on news and social media we decided to see if we might visit, or at least check out for a later visit, Bladensburg NP to add to Majella’s collection. The turn off was on the road south to Jundah which we had to take for Lark Quarry so if the visit proved impracticable we would simply arrive a bit earlier for our tour.

We found the turn off to Bladensburg NP easily enough, just a few km south of Winton. The road in was gravel but seemed to be in fair shape so we set off. A few km in we came to a fork and took the road toward the old homestead. That seemed to go on for a while with no indication of distance and I began to be a bit concerned lest we use too much time and be late to Lark Quarry.

Not long after I asked Majella, who was navigating, if she could find any indication of the distance, we spotted a group of buildings. They were the old homestead which serves as the information centre and some outbuildings. The roads going on from that point were signed as requiring high clearance 4WD so not an option for us. We spent some time to see the displays in the old homestead before driving back the way we had come and resuming our southward journey with no time lost from our original schedule.

The road ran over flat dry country dotted with scrub and limited grass. It was punctuated by frequent floodways and occasional bends. It was sealed but narrow in parts. That went on for almost 50 km around which point we reached a low range of hills signed as the Jump Up. The road wound up the hill to a plateau where much of the country was similar though spinifex become more common as we went. 

What did change was the road which became gravel soon after we reached the top of the hills. A little way on we saw a sign promising an ‘overtaking opportunity’ 5 km ahead. That opportunity was a couple of km of decently wide sealed road. Then the gravel began and went on for about 10 km. Around the midpoint we passed signs for both directions announcing an ‘overtaking opportunity’ in 5 km. The alternating pattern of 10 km of gravel broken by a couple of km of sealed road repeated all the way to the Lark Quarry turnoff. 

The gravel road was badly corrugated much of the way and punctuated by cattle grids. There was a vehicle some way ahead of us and we hung back to avoid the worst of the dust but a few km short of Lark Quarry it slowed down for some reason and we had to pull back to get out of its dust.

We arrived at Lark Quarry in time to make and drink coffee before walking up to reception to checkin and wait for our tour. The car park was full and there was a good crowd of people waiting. Most had booked but one couple who had turned up without booking were lucky to get the last two spots in the group tour.

Our tour began with a video and short presentation to provide some background. Lark Quarry has never been a working quarry but was named so because of the amount of rock moved to reveal the tracks and for Malcolm Lark who volunteered on the site and did much of the work. It is the only site in the world with evidence of a dinosaur stampede. Researchers looking at the tracks have concluded that a large therapod, possibly similar to Banjo that we saw yesterday, pursued prey on a mudflat by a body of water. The smaller animals were actually running toward the predator because that was the only option to get away from the shore and back to the relative safety of the forest. There are numerous well preserved tracks despite some mishaps over the years and a body of rock that is thought to cover more tracks has been preserved to show the layering and as a reserve of tracks should those uncovered be damaged.

After our tour was finished we took some time to walk the short (600 m) spinifex circuit that begins at the back of the building. There was a short sidetrack to a lookout with views over the building and out to the valley. The rugged red hills were covered with clumps of spinifex and stunted trees. With the blue sky above it was an impressive landscape.

We hurried back to the van, hoping to be away quickly enough to avoid driving in dust on the way back to the sealed road. There were a couple of vehicles ahead of us but far enough not to be a problem and they turned off on the road to Cork, leaving us a clear run all the way back to Winton.

We thought we might have lunch at one of the pubs and a light dinner but were waylaid as we parked and began to walk to the pub. A woman pulled up and pointed us to the bowls club where there was a function for breast cancer with music and food. The only food at lunch time was sausage sizzle so we bought and ate those. Majella went to buy tickets in the raffle but they were already drawing it so she missed out. We had no need of a meat tray which was up next so we drifted away quietly.

We spent a couple of hours in the Waltzing Matilda Centre. The original building burned down in 2015 and the new one is an impressive structure with multiple galleries. The cafeteria was closed but being used for a children’s sip and paint event. We spent time in the various galleries with Banjo Patterson and Matilda memorabilia and displays about life in the outback. 

Back at the van we looked for other things to see or do in Winton and found the Willie Mar heritage site just up the street. Willie Mar was a Chinese market gardener and seller of fruit and vegetables who operated in Winton from 1923. His son who shared the same name, took over in the 1950s and operated until the site was destroyed in the 2000 flood. The signs at the site which is being gradually restored by volunteers told a sad story of lonely men persevering under difficult circumstances.

When we got back to the park the manager hailed us to say that he had forgotten what site we were on and had let somebody else set up there. He showed us to another site across the path from the first and nearer to the amenities. There was no problem with that so we set up and relaxed for a while.

A little before 6:00 pm we drove back into town, intending to eat at one of the other hotels. Tattersalls was full up and we wondered if that was a sign of quality or just that it was across the road from the other caravan park. The Australian was still advertising lunch and breakfast menus with no sign of dinner so we went back to the North Gregory where I had steak and Majella had fish and chips.

Back at camp we parked and then went off to enjoy another hour of Gregory North with his comedy and bush poetry. He was very entertaining with a different show from last night though he finished with the same multicultural rendition of The Man from Snowy River.