Heading into Winton we were pretty keen to get into some wide open spaces – National Parks – and not in a van park for a bit. Cue Bladensburg National Park, agreed by the whole family as one of our favourite spots so far.
Bladensburg used to be a cattle station, declared a National Park as recently as 1984. It conserves 84,900ha of Mitchel Grass and Channel country in western Queensland, and boasts creeks, jump-ups, gorges and significant indigenous and pastoral heritage. Of the three days we were there, we saw one other family (who we had a lovely afternoon/evening with) and a couple. So we were essentially alone with the roos, little hoppy things and all the insects!
We set up camp at Bough Shed waterhole beside Surprise Creek, a beautifully shady section of the riparian zone where there was water in the rapidly drying creek. Along the bank there were already big logs set up as long seats around campfire spaces, which we took as a good omen. We’d been looking forward to ‘proper camping’ with a fire, wide open spaces and no people; we found it at Bladensburg!
We spent the first evening chatting with the other family stopping over for just one night; walking along the section of creek bed that was drying up, where under your feet was thick and gooey with clay and silky mud. We watched the sun sink into the outback, the soft pink rising behind it. And we grew to really love these outback sunsets, and can see how they become part of you when you are part of the landscape. They open up the night for the creatures that climb out of the cracked dry land; the ones we looked for but never caught a glimpse of! But the campfire warmed our souls as we drifted off to sleep….
Scrammy Drive was on our agenda for the next day. It’s a 40km round trip around the park. The paper guide tells stories about the country, the station and the people. The track heads through scrub, up the jump up to Scrammy Gorge, where we picknicked, rockhopped, hid and marvelled at the fall aways. Then onto the lookout where big skies stretch across the sand country.
We packed the van up and headed into Winton, which is rather close by. It was internet time, and work. But Winton is such a lovely outback town that we enjoyed the caravan park almost as much as Bladensburg! Oh, except for the stinky bore water. Mia now measures all water by how it compares to the stinky Winton bore water! And yep, it did stink. You’d stink too if you’d been trapped underground for millions of years!
We explored The Age of Dinosaurs museum and research shed, and hung out in Winton for the next few days. We’d been there on our way up to Cape York 5 years previous, so it was fantastic to see The Age of Dinosaurs complex having undergone such a massive upgrade! Mia is determined she’ll be a palaeontologist, and she was keen to listen at every talk and tour. It was fun to see digitally enhanced versions of these enormous reptiles, and hear stories of discoveries and how they think these species lived and died. We felt as though we’d almost gotten to know Banjo (Australovenator wintonensis – the southern hunter) and Matilda (Diamantinosaurus matildae – a huge sauropod) found locally by farmer David Elliott in 2005.
Other highlights in Winton were the musical fence and the famous North Gregory Hotel, a fabulous retro pub. The tourist information centre in Winton is also home to the Waltzing Matilda Centre, which sadly burned down only about a month after we visited. It was such an important drawcard for the town, connecting travellers with the outback and Banjo Paterson. We were motivated by the centre to go visit Combo Waterhole, the place that apparently inspired AB Paterson to pen Waltzing Matilda. The very idea conjures romantic visions of shady banks of a clear billabong. However, in reality, the harsh country side struck again. A delightfully hot walk to an equally as hot and windy picnic area in the bog of the brown creek made us realise once again the conditions that awaited the bushmen on the trail. But we did sing and waltz on the banks of the waterhole. It was rather dehydratingly lovely!
Northward we went.