Fire destroys Winton’s Waltzing Matilda Centre

By AAP and Naomi Russo 18 June 2015
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Fire consumes pieces of history related to the writing of Banjo Paterson’s Waltzing Matilda and the birth of Qantas

THE WALTZING MATILDA CENTRE and its historic contents was lost to fire early this morning in the western Queensland town of Winton.

The Centre went up in flames just before 2am. Firefighters battled the blaze for more than four hours, but the centre was completely gutted.

The source of the fire is still a mystery, and there were no injuries.

Artefacts from Banjo Paterson, Qantas and more

The museum was home to a number of historic items, among them the contents of a cottage lived in by Christina Macpherson, who is said to have helped Banjo Paterson put together his most famous ballad, Waltzing Matilda.

Local legend tells of a night in 1895 where Christina played the tune to the visiting balladeer while he set his famous words to it.

Winton is also the birthplace of Qantas, and this history was also detailed in the museum. After its first few years Qantas moved 160km south-east to Longreach, which was more central to the operational area, and fortunatly the bulk of its historical artifacts reside there. 

About 19 people worked at the Waltzing Matilda Centre and, says Susan Eliott, who worked at the centre. Locals are expected to be impacted by the blaze.

Out the front of the Watzing Matilda Centre a week before the fire. (Credit: Chrissie Goldrick/Australian Geographic)

Plans to rebuild the centre

“It was such a huge thing for the town … that’s why people came here,” says Susan.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if some of us have to leave the town for work.” 

Peter Stockham from the Australian hotel in Winton said most of all, “locals are disappointed about losing our history”, adding “there’s a lot of stuff we can’t get back, photos and historical things”.

Max Jurd of the iconic Winton Hotel repeated the sentiment, telling Australian Geographic “it was a real shock…we’ll never be able to replace it”.

The small community of about 950 is, however, already showing signs of rallying together to rebuild the centre as quickly as possible.

A vacant shop in the township has already reportedly been secured to house the Visitor Information Centre that was lost in the fire.

Centre ambassador Dick Smith and founder of Australian Geographic had also donated a specially constructed jukebox to the centre, which allowed visitors and locals to record their personal takes on Paterson’s poems. It was also lost.