The inaugural Winton Way Out West Fest was one of the biggest inland music festivals Queensland’s ever seen.
It was a celebration of Australia’s unofficial national anthem, Waltzing Matilda, and everything that’s great about Queensland’s outback.
From big skies to big stars, we took in the best of the west! We spent a week exploring Winton’s wild beauty, and the wild side of an outback festival (we’re talking quirky characters, passionate musicians and the excitement of a country race day).
Our trip into the heart of Queensland began at Brisbane’s Roma Street Station. Queensland Rail’s Spirit of the Outback departs for Longreach twice a week. Not long after you depart, the skyscrapers are replaced with tall trees and the stress of the city is left behind.
It’s a great way to take in the everchanging outback scenery, while you can sit back, make new friends, and enjoy some fabulous hospitality.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner in the Tuckerbox Restaurant are included in first class, along with a cosy sleeper cabin. Economy seats are also available for those on a budget.
Guests have the opportunity to stretch their legs at Barcaldine Station. It’s home to the famous Tree of Knowledge – the site of the 1891 Shearers’ Strike. They met underneath the original tree and their actions led to the birth of the Australian Labor Party.
That same shearers strike was also the inspiration for Banjo Paterson to pen Waltzing Matilda…that’s a story we traveled another 300km west to find out.
Waltzing Matilda is the song that lives in the heart of all Australians and it captures the spirit of life on the land. The much-loved bush-ballad is the nation’s unofficial anthem, and if a song could claim a home Winton would be it.
Winton sits about 2 hours north west of Longreach in Outback Queensland. The town has many ties to Waltzing Matilda. It was written by Banjo Paterson while he was holidaying at nearby Dagworth Station in 1895. And legend has it that Banjo’s first public performance of the song was at the North Gregory Hotel in the centre of town.
That history inspired Winton to open the first Museum in the world dedicated to a song. The Waltzing Matilda Centre first opened in 1998 and was a symbol of the community’s pride. But in June 2015, a devastating fire tore through the structure, crumbling the museum and hearts along with it.
It’s taken two and a half years of dedication from the community, and from the ashes a new centre has been reborn! The new centre proudly tells the story of Waltzing Matilda, the town of Winton, and the Outback region.
$23million has been spent on the new architectural masterpiece, and with that comes an exhibition space (the billabong installing is awe-inspiring), a gallery, fine eatery and some high-tech additions – like the GPS-tracked headsets that allow you to interact with the displays.
You can’t help but feel proud to be Australian when you visit…and the town itself is certainly glowing with pride and a has buzzing positive energy.
Many people grew up with Waltzing Matilda, and some people say the spirit of the song in in our blood. The legendary John Williamson (who also happens to be Cody Cook’s idol!) performed the song for the official opening. He credits the song’s longevity to the fact that there’s a lot of truth in banjo’s poem.
Banjo based his poem on stories of a fire which destroyed the Dagworth shearing shed during the great shearers’ strike. The song narrates the story of a wandering worker, or “swagman”, making a drink of billy tea at a bush camp and capturing a stray jumbuck (sheep) to eat. When the jumbuck’s owner, a squatter (wealthy landowner), and three mounted policemen pursue the swagman for theft and a suspect of the burnt shearing shed, he declares “You’ll never take me alive!” and drowns himself in a nearby billabong (watering hole)…“and his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong”.
It’s a song that celebrates where we’ve come from…as they say, Australia was built on the sheep’s back.
Interesting fact: The words “Waltzing Matilda” was slang for travelling on foot – “waltzing” around with a “matilda” or swag.
900 residents call the happy little town of Winton home – but that number exploded to more than 7,000 for Winton’s very first Way Out West Fest.
The festival is a celebration of the new Waltzing Matilda Centre and everything that’s great about Queensland’s outback. It was 4 days of country, pop, rock and blues – one of the biggest inland music and culture festivals the state has seen!
The line-up was huge! We’re talking Jessica Mauboy, John Williamson, Shepherd, US stars Kip Moore and Lee Brice, and Queenslanders Shepherd and Busby Marou.
As well as the main stage, every pub and club in Winton got into the spirit, with the whole town in party mode. Local funny-gals The Crack-up Sisters entertained the crowds and it really was a celebration of the Outback’s unique way of life.
What outback festival is worth its salt without a good old-fashioned country race meet? Winton put on a race day that drew the numbers – with fashions on the field a highlight (check out the video!). There’s something special about this little town, and it’s the friendly people and the characters that make it tick.
They’re an inspiring bunch out west. So it’s no surprise that this remote country and its characters are at the heart of so many songs. The festival is named after James Blundell’s classic – Way Out West. This is a man with red dirt in his veins. His love of the land runs deep and he has an inspiring way of describing the spirit of the outback (you’ll have to hear it from him in the video). After you hear his words, you’ll no doubt want to experience the big sky and some outback magic for yourself.
This is the land that time forgot. Where an ancient landscape meets an endless horizon. Winton (2 hours north west of Longreach) showcases the rugged, untouched beauty of the Queensland Outback. But it’s not just the spectacular scenery that lures visitors out here, it’s home to some lovely locals.
Vicki Jones runs Red Dirt Tours to show guests around her beautiful backyard. Her Rangelands Sunset Tour takes visitors to a working cattle station 20 minutes from Winton, where you can witness some spectacular geological formations. Vicki’s a trained Savannah Guide, which means she’s schooled-up on the geology, flora and fauna of Australia – aka she knows her stuff. It’s an incredible experience touring through the eroded rifts, and finishing with a spectacular sunset (and a beer or vino) atop the jumpup. The vast open plains and the colours painted across the sky is something truly magical. If you’ve never experienced an outback sunset, what are you waiting for?
Queensland Rail’s Spirit of the Outback
Departs Brisbane for Longreach twice a week
Winton’s Way Out West Fest
It’s Live! in Queensland Calendar of Events