We are travelling on the Matilda Highway, through Matilda County,in Matilda, our old van. This outback highway is a well maintained bitumen ribbon stretching endlessly to the horizon through the vast plains of silver-gold Mitchell grass. Cattle are dotted across the plains with the occasional stunted gum tree. The sun beats down from a cloudless blue sky and road-trains pulling 3-4 trailers filled with cattle for the market, roar by in both directions. These are the drovers of the present day. The aroma of their cargo envelopes us as they zoom past, splattering Matilda as we chug along in their wake.
The modern-day explorer in 4 WD pulling a caravan also passes us, they fuel the income of the new trade in the outback of tourism.
Tourism in this area is based on a song: “Waltzing Matilda”.
I wonder how many of my blogging friends and readers have heard of this song. It is known world wide as the unofficial anthem of Australia.
It is the story of the swagman who drowned in the bill-a-bong when confronted by the troopers. Banjoe Patterson, the prolific poet and lawyer composed it in 1895 when he was staying at Winton. He based it on the shearers strike and stories he had heard in the district. Winton now has the “Matilda Centre“, the only museum in the world devoted to a song, it also tells and shows pictures of lives of the pioneers and settlers of that time. It is an interesting museum with interactive displays and dioramas showing the Billabong with the swagman and troopers creating the atmosphere around the waterhole.
The song was first performed at the North Gregory Hotel in 1895. The hotel has been rebuilt over the years due to fire, but is still a thriving old pub. We went for an evening’s entertainment to hear and join in with Helen in a sing-a-long of favourite old tunes from the 1950’s and 60’s. Then she told us the story of Waltzing Matilda and sang the original version followed by the modern more up-beat version. For a gold coin donation it was a good night out. Then of course we finished the night off with a roast dinner in the Hotel dining room. The dining room was full with most of the patrons being grey nomads….
Roast lamb dinner, $10 special at the North Gregory Hotel.