Apologies: Our Aussie Road Trip

After posting my last blog, I received a request from a loyal reader who was disappointed I didn’t say more about the road trip itself. So, at the risk of seeming to mimic a travelogue, I will try to oblige her.

To recap: with travel to Japan no longer being an option, and interstate travel being altogether too difficult, I set out with my partner (Janet) on a traditional old-fashioned Aussie road trip around parts of Western and Northern Queensland. Janet had always wanted to visit the dinosaur country around Winton, Hughenden, and Richmond. So, on 11 Sept 2020, we set off. 9/11? Yes, a really auspicious date, wasn’t it just?

We didn’t encounter any terrorists. But we did encounter hordes of other tourists doing the same thing we were doing. We had had the foresight to book most of our trip in advance. We didn’t just rock up like we would once have done. It was a good thing we had done this extra planning.

So what did we get to see?

The country was as dry as a chip. That should change when the predicted rains come. The air was dry too. This made for an extremely congenial climate. We felt good.

The dinosaur exhibits were spectacular. They really brought things to life for us. In the lab just outside of Winton, we saw an enormous backbone, with vertebrae the size of anvils. It had only recently been excavated and needed to be cleaned of the thick black earth clinging to it. This was the backbone of an extremely large reptilian animal such as doesn’t roam the earth anymore. We are talking here about roughly 150 million years ago, the Cretaceous Period. The planet was a completely different place back then. Dinosaurs, not mammals, were the dominant group of animals.

About 110 km from Winton was evidence of a dinosaur stampede. Maybe this was the most impressive dinosaur exhibit of all we saw. Just don’t expect bones. Footprints are the go here. There are three types of footprints, including those of the massive predator who is presumed to have started the stampede. Nowhere on earth has a similar event been recorded.

Winton itself is a very pleasant country town offering more than just the dinosaur experience. Of the three pubs – classic outback Australian jobs – we liked the North Gregory best. On certain days of the week, at 4 p.m., a poet/historian by the name of Gregory North (!!) gives lectures there. I thought, ho hum, and was ready to be underwhelmed. But no. The historical anecdotes making up his repertoire were very interesting indeed, and his delivery was always entertaining. Don’t be like me who (initially) was prepared to dismiss him out of hand.

And then there is Arno’s wall. I won’t spoil the experience for you by attempting to describe it. Just see it.

Richmond had the next best dinosaur experience for us after Winton. On the banks of an inland sea back those scores of millions of years ago, Richmond – very much an inland town these days – boasts a hard to believe connection with enormous sea-going dinosaurs. The Kronosaurus is comparable in size to the blue whale of our own times, but is slim and determinedly carnivorous. Ammonites, with shells the size of truck tires, would have, in those prehistoric waters, been found swimming backwards, presumably unable to see where they were going but with an excellent view of where they’d been. The remains of many of these awesome critters are on display at a truly wonderful museum in the heart of the township.

DIY is possible just outside of Richmond. Aspiring fossickers are invited to scrabble around in the parched earth in search of their very own fossilized remains. Discoveries do happen. A seven-year-old girl, named Amber Wilson, recently uncovered the remains of an ichthyosaur, a larger version in some senses of the platypus we know today. ‘Wilson’ (the critter not the girl) is now on display at the Richmond Museum.

We didn’t do any fossicking. We were not aware until we arrived that this was a possibility for us. But we shall fossick next time. And there shall be a next time.

The dinosaur country was the highlight of our road trip. But, moving on, we were able to enjoy some scenic delights in places like Cobbold Gorge, the Undara lava tubes, and the Atherton Tablelands. In the beautiful Tablelands, we treated ourselves to three days of luxury in a rainforest retreat perched over the crater of one of the many extinct volcanoes found in this neck of the woods. This was really hard to take.

That’s all folks. I hope it doesn’t read too much like your common and garden travelogue. Never fear. Perhaps, in my future blogs, I’ll have something with a tad more substance for you to wrap your mind around. I was going to say ‘meatier’ but had second thoughts. Of carnivorous prehistoric critters.