BLADENSBURG NP and LARK QUARRY
These two destinations are close to Winton and both are must-visit places.
The Winton area has more than its fair share of history, spanning the 95-million-year-old dinosaur track remains at Lark Quarry, conflict with Aborigines, Banjo Patterson writing ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and the Shearers’ Strike dramas. During World War II, at nearby Carisbrook Station, a young Lyndon B Johnson made an emergency landing in a US Army Air Force B-17 bomber.
Bladensburg National Park is a former grazing property and is one of the best short-drive National Parks we’ve visited. You can camp there or stay at nearby Winton and drive the ‘Route of the River Gums’ in a softroader as a pleasant day trip.
Bladensburg National Park is very close to Winton and was once an 85,000-hectare grazing property that was gazetted as a National Park in 1994. The apparently flat terrain disguises a number of very interesting features and waterholes, so it’s home to a plethora of wildlife.
There’s an abundance of bird life around the several permanent billabongs on Surprise Creek and at Skull Hole. Bowerbirds and bustards aren’t very shy and are often easily seen. We also came across a flock of emus and surprised a mob of red kangaroos.
The Winton-Jundah Road runs south from the town and travels initially through shallow dry-channel country. The road passes close by the Long Waterhole and rodeo yards, across Mistake Creek and past the racecourse, where locals claim the term ‘Never Never’ was coined, in the title of the Never Never Jockey Club.
There’s an interesting side trip, just before the Park entrance, to a memorial erected in honour of the Shearers’ Strikes of 1891 and 1894. These events gave birth to the Australian Labor Party.
The next few kilometres of the Park take in flat Mitchell Grass plains, interspersed with large claypans. Among the claypans there’s a turnoff to Engine Hole, a large horseshoe-shaped waterhole, fringed with River Red Gums.
The country ‘jumps up’ after Engine Hole, in a series of little plateaus that leads to a viewing spot of the surrounding countryside, with the Vindex Range visible to the east.
Skull Hole is a surprising geological feature in this largely flat country. Even as you drive up to it there’s little to give its presence away, other than for some visible rocky outcrops. At Skull Hole the flat ground opens up into a 10-metre-deep gorge, with rock holes surrounded by huge, old River Red Gums.
In the late 1800s this was the site of a massacre of Aborigines by black troopers, following the murder of a teamster by the tribe.
Bough Shed camping and picnic area is few kilometres south-west of Skull Hole, on Surprise Creek and it’s an ideal spot for break or an overnight stay. The waterhole is flanked by a dense clump of River Red Gums and the whole area is well shaded. There’s a pit toilet and there are BBQ fireplaces, but no firewood supply or drinking water.
The Bladensburg National Park track runs south from the camping area, crossing the stony bottom of Surprise Creek, before intersecting with the Winton-Jundah Road.
Lark Quarry Conservation Park
Ninety-five million years ago, on the muddy shore of a lake, 110 kilometres south-west of today’s Queensland town of Winton, a life and death scene was played out. We know it for a fact, because the tell-tale footprints of the players were stamped on the mud and freakishly preserved under layers of protective ironstone and sedimentary rock.
The footprints show that a mixed herd of small dinosaurs (coelurosaurs and ornithopods) was surprised by a stalking theropod – similar to, but smaller than tyrannosaurus – which scattered them and caught one of their number.
Some of the prints were discovered by local grazing station manager, Glen Seymour, in the late 1960s and the ancient lakeside site was subsequently excavated by the Queensland Museum in 1971. In 1976-77 the excavations were extended to the present site.
Because the exposed ancient lake surface was very soft it was initially protected by straw bales, but part of the ‘protective’ covering caught fire and the blackened clay is clearly visible.
The footprints were then covered by a metal roofed structure and visitors were welcome to view the only known record of a dinosaur stampede in the world. We first visited Lark Quarry during this self-admission era and the footprints were in very good condition.
However, things went wrong once more.
Some idiots thought it would be a good idea to dig up parts of the ancient surface and take the fragile pieces home with them, while another clown tried to make plaster casts of some theropod footprints, damaging them irreparably in the process.
It was obviously time to make the site more secure and in 2002 a radically different type of structure was erected around the dinosaur footprints, at a cost of $2.5 million.
The concept of isolated, compacted earth walls and a temperature-regulating roof was embraced, to maintain as near a constant temperature as possible. Surely now the site would be safe.
We should have known better. Some did, of course, muttering that the free-standing, rammed earth walls needed tying off to the outer, metal-framed structure, but what would humble bricklayers know?
A mere two months after the official opening the north wall collapsed onto the site, damaging the footprints and wrecking the walkway. Had the collapse happened during one of the escorted tours of the site the death and injury toll could have been disastrous. The site was closed for months, while repairs were made.
Little wonder the scientific community has little interest in further excavations at Lark Quarry: there seems no point in exposing more tiny-brain dinosaur site evidence until the great homo sapiens has worked out how to protect the findings.
It’s well worth visiting Lark Quarry today, but the footprints, along with Australia’s conservation reputation, have faded since the 1980s.
Inspection is now by escorted tour and the times are 10am, noon and 2pm daily. More information is available from the Winton Visitors Centre, 1300 665 115, or email@example.com. A 20-minute walk around the conservation site is also well worth the effort.
There is an information centre, toilets and picnic facilities, but no camping at Lark Quarry.
The best map for Bladensburg National Park is the one that’s printed in the ‘Route of the River Gums’ brochure that’s available free of charge from the Visitor Information Centre in Winton, (07) 4657 1886 or www.matildacentre.com.au. Bladensburg National Park has signposted kilometre points throughout, making navigation easy.
The most comfortable time of the year to visit Bladensburg National Park and Lark Quarry is during the cooler months, between April and September. Summer temperatures are debilitatingly hot and that’s also the time it’s most likely to rain, making tracks impassable.
Camping and permits
There are no day-use charges for visiting Bladensburg National Park, but there is a self-registration camping charge. There are several sites suitable for caravans or camper trailers.
Winton Visitor Information Centre
1300 665 115
Lark Quarry Conservation Park 1300 665 115www.dinosaurtrackways.com.au
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