Waltzing Matilda

Last brush with Banjo

Track through the Mitchell grass to the Combo waterhole

We had 6 very interesting days in Winton but it is now time to get on the road again. The road is heading north/west and the weather is warmer. Tonight I plan to stop at an old outback pub called “Blue Heeler”, another pub Banjo Patterson frequented, he certainly enjoyed outback life, his poems capture that outback spirit and the characters he met.

One more iconic place to visit is just before we reach “Blue Heeler”. 6 kilometres drive down a narrow dirt track takes us to the start of the 2 kilometre walk to the famous billabong featured in “Waltzing Matilda”. The track winds through lush stands of Mitchell grass across the braided channels of the Diamantina river. It was interesting to see the influence of the chinese again in this area where they had built stone overflows to hold back the river after heavy rain and create waterholes. These were built over 100 years ago, by hand, each stone put in place one at a time, and still working today creating waterholes for the stock.

Stone overflows on the Diamantina River

We crossed 4 of these overflows. It was a well-defined path and approx an hours walk past the coolibah trees. There are a lot of young saplings growing, a sign that it has been a good rainfall this past season. Also the lushness of the grass. The rain mainly falls in summer, winter is a dry season,a good year can be 400ml but all in a short time so it can be flood then dry for months so these overflows are very important.

Finally we reach the billabong, Combo waterhole. This is where the swagman drowned and not be taken by the troopers and put in prison. The water is clay coloured and though this is a favourite picnic and swimming spot for local people I would not like a dip in these muddy waters. We stood and listened but the ghost didn’t talk to us!!!!!

The billabong in the song Waltzing Matilda

Jack sitting under a coolibah tree at the billabong

Picnic party at the Combo waterhole 1800’s

An hours walk back to our Matilda patiently waiting in the car park and on to the “Blue Heeler”. The caravan park is behind the pub and rather dusty but the amenities are clean with good hot water. It is Sunday night, so time to have a Sunday night dinner in the pub. Amazingly the dining room is crowded. We find out why when we order the roast of the day. It is buffet style, help yourself to as much as you can eat. Truckies love this type of meal, so do we…..

Categories: australian travel, out back, photos, Pubs, travel, Waltzing Matilda | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Waltzing Matilda

Matilda Highway

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….

North Gregory Hotel

Sing-a-long with Helen

Roast lamb dinner, $10 special at the North Gregory Hotel.

Categories: australian travel, out back, photos, Pubs, travel, Waltzing Matilda, Winton | Tags: , , , , , | 10 Comments

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