Sunday, 17 July 2011

Day 5: Longreach to Winton

Not a long trip in real terms, only about 177 Km, but it ended up being a full day.
I made an earlyish start and headed west. This is flat country, beef grazing, sheep and not much else. The road is called the Landsborough Highway. As with all of the roads that I have travelled on there is a fair amount of carnage, lots of dead kangaroos and the occasional wild pig. Crows, Hawks and other carrion birds feed on the dead carcasses and cause a hazard as you drive by. They leave it until the last minute to fly off and potentially can hit the car and windscreen. Some of the carcasses stink and the smell gets into the car.
At one stage a huge bird, I have no idea what it is/was, took off and then wheeled back over my car. It flew so low that I ducked as it went over the roof, hitting that would have been quite a show stopper.
On the outskirts of Winton there is the “Age of Dinosaurs” exhibition. Fossilized remains of dinosaurs have been found in this area for many years, however it is fairly recently that this has reached the attention of the general public and scientific world. Most people have heard about the extinct Diprotodon but not many have heard that around the Winton area fossilised remains have been found of previously unknown species of dinosaur.
Anyway I passed the turnoff to this exhibition at 8:45 and the sign said that a tour was held at 9am. I reached the site, which is a short drive down a dirt road with 2 minutes to spare. I cannot say that the tour is a world beater but getting firsthand knowledge of new dinosaur discoveries before they hit the scientific journals is fairly impressive. This exhibition is fairly rough and ready at the moment but with a planned extension and a new centre being built in a few years this will be a massive experience.
After that tour I made it into Winton proper and was planning on heading out to Lark Quarry to see the Dinosaur Trackways. A brief explanation of this is probably required. Around 65 Million years ago 2 groups of small dinosaurs walked around the edge of a lake, they left footprints in the mud on the edge of the lake. A larger dinosaur commonly described as a Tyrannosaurus (not T-Rex) hunted the smaller dinosaurs and caused them to stampede. By a huge coincidence the tracks were preserved in the clay and were discovered about 40 years ago, however it was not until more recently that their true significance was understood. This is the only recorded incidence of a dinosaur hunt, chase and stampede in the world.
I turned down the road but a huge sign said 4 wheel drive only. This was a blow, so I turned around and headed to the Tourist Information Office. There I was told that the road was actually open for 2 wd. Technically I have an all-wheel drive, but not sure how the authorities view that. The Subaru Forester can certainly go places that 2 wd would struggle.
By this stage I had insufficient time to get there (a journey of about 110 Km) in time for the midday tour. Therefore I had an early lunch and a more leisurely drive there. The road was unsealed for a lot of the way and a bit boggy in some places due to recent rains. The local terrain was small Mesa’s and Buttes, or “jump ups” in the local slang. At one stage a group of Emu’s blocked the road and I slowed down to allow them to clear out. Naturally they decided to take flight and ran down the road in front of me. A large 4WD chose that time to overtake me. Rather than giving the Emu’s some room it tried to ram them, in a few seconds they would have diverted to one side or another. I was incensed but due to dust I could not get the vehicles registration number. Fortunately he missed the Emu’s.
I did get to the Walkways and looking at the display is a little bit awe inspiring. It takes a while to start understanding the patterns. You can see footprints, and determine the larger and smaller ones. But then you start to see detail, the Tyrannosaurus, changes course, the assumption is that it is following its prey. The rock is mounded up where the force of the feet hit the soft mud and forced it up. You can also determine the smaller footprints and then skid marks where they have panicked and turned into full flight. The researchers have spent years on this, we had less than an hour.
And this is when a trip to the Age of Dinosaurs and a regular reading on New Scientist comes in. Because it is shortly to be announced that it was not a Tyrannosaurus but a new species called (something like) Australoventurus Wintonius that was doing the chasing. Stay Tuned.
By the time I had done this it was too late to continue driving so I returned to Winton and overnighted there. I stayed at the Northern George Hotel. This was really sad. It is a grand old hotel falling into disrepair. Only a handful of customers were in the bar. I had to go elsewhere for a meal.
I spoke later with the lady who managed and owned the hotel. She told me a story of woe, her husband has Alzheimer’s and needs care. A succession of chefs have run the food service into the ground and the most recent one was arrested with no explanation and hope of returning. I could see with my own eyes how run down the hotel was and how lightly patronised. I felt sorry for her. I think that I was the only guest in a hotel of multiple rooms.
The Bludger is not fossilised yet.

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