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Home > Travelogues > 2009 Travelogues Index > Eromanga Sea > Winton

Winton - we follow the Dinosaur Trail with next stop at Winton; home of the Waltzing Matilda story and a town at the heart of the commencement of Australia Aviation.

Winton was once known as Pelican Pool, and the pond together with model pelicans in the centre of the wide main street is a reminder of this past. 

Our stay in Winton commenced with a visit to the Matilda Centre, where the story of the writing of the much loved Australian ballad Waltzing Matilda is told, but there is also so many more things to see and do at this Centre. 


A devastating fire has burnt down the Matilda Centre, tasking with is valuable original materials and artefacts. See the full impact of the loss here

18th June 2015

An art gallery within the centre was exhibiting works from Albert Namatjira and his school of art, which including paintings by some of his family as well as other Arrente artists.  While many of the paintings were in the Namatjira traditional style, a few modern style paintings did not compare with those of the classic Namatjira style of art. 

The Waltzing Matilda journey starts with a visit to the Billabong Theatrette, where the ghost from the billabong tells the story from his side, with his hat spinning eerily over the dark still waters of the billabong.  Characters from the story are illuminated as their roles in the events are talked about.  


The Waltzing Matilda Story


While there are several theories on the full story of events surrounding the writing of the song Waltzing Matilda, I put it that this is a likely scenario. 


At Christmastime in 1894 poet Andrew Barton (Banjo) Paterson was visiting Dagworth Station near Winton as was his fiancée of around eight years, Sarah Riley.  Also visiting her family who managed the station was Sarah’s long term friend Christina MacPherson.  Both ladies had been friends since their schooldays in Melbourne, and both had family connections on stations in the Winton area.  Christina played the auto harp (zither), and played from memory a tune she had heard at the Warrnambool Races in Victoria.  Paterson was impressed and wanted to write a song to the tune. The tune she recalled is believed to be the Scottish marching song "Bonnie Wood of Craigielea"


During the next few weeks, Paterson worked rather closely with Christina to perfect the tune, words and complete the song Waltzing Matilda.  The resulting dalliance was quite a scandal at the time. 


You have to ask, did the chorus “come a-Waltzing Matilda” have a double meaning directed towards the young lady Christina? 


In shame and humiliation Sarah felt forced to leave and went to live in London. They say Christina never got over her affection for Paterson.   Neither woman ever married.  Banjo Paterson married Alice Walker in 1903. 


The words were probably inspired by the violent events surrounding a shearers' strike during which time the shearing shed on the Macpherson family's station, Dagworth, was burnt to the ground.  Union shearer Samuel Hoffmeister's body was found by a nearby billabong the following day.  He had been shot, and a hurried inquest or a cover up concluded he had committed suicide.  His body was found by grazier Bob MacPherson (Christina’s brother) in the company of three troopers. The waterhole is believed to be Combo Waterhole 132 kilometres north west of Winton and once part of Dagworth Station. 


The song was first performed at the North Gregory Hotel in 6 April 1895 at a banquet for the Premier of Queensland.  Later it was used as an advertising jingle for Billy Tea, with the wording slightly altered from “Oh there once was a swagman camped in the billabongs” to “Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong”, and from the dark “Drowning himself by the coolibah tree” to the jovial “You'll never take me alive, said he”.   There are several variations of wording in different renditions of the song. 


A large display of machinery, tools and collectible memorabilia take up several display sheds.  These are well set out in contrast to many other museums of similar era collectibles.  Many of these reminded us of things we had seen in our grandparent’s or even our own parent’s homes and farms. 

The Qantilda room outlines the history of Winton including about those who served in the various wars.  Then take the opportunity to rest your legs by sitting and watching a video narrated by Hudson Fysh on the origin of the Qantas airline.  The Winton chapter of QANTAS begins when the Birth of QANTAS was announced on November 16th, 1920 in Winton with the initial registration of the company – Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Ltd. Subsequently, the first Board Meeting was held at the Winton Club on February 10th, 1921. The initial board meeting of the newly formed company was held at the Winton Club on 10 February 1921.  Later in 1921, the Winton Shire Council became the first local authority in Australia to support Commercial Aviation after subsidising by half the cost of establishing a landing field in Winton, to the sum of £20. The first Qantas commercial flight took place on 2 November 1922.  The headquarters of Qantas was relocated to Longreach
In 1924 DH50 aircraft were built at Longreach.



On 23rd February 1921, Winton Shire resolved “to make a grant to QANTAS Ltd of half the amount expended in making a landing ground for planes up to 20 pounds.”


Unveiled by James Strong, Chief Executive, QANTAS Airways Ltd 21st November 1920


Erected by Winton Shire Council and QANTAS Airways Limited and Winton’s WORC crew.


Signage at the site of the first Qantas airfield at Winton


WORC = Work Outreach Camp


Read more about Qantas history -


The Qantas story


Establishing Qantas

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From shearing sheds of the past
T Model Ford 
Stirrups and bits 
Photography equipment
Hospital instruments
A Furphy water wagon 
A variety of fence droppers 
Fossil wood lines the displays
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Waltzing Matilda
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The first recorded version of Waltzing Matilda has been accredited to John Collinson, recorded in 1926.  Read about how the Answer to Waltzing Matilda mystery found in Broome, Western Australia and listen to Collinson's lively rendition from this audio link