National Dinosaur Day is a time to celebrate Australian Dinosaurs is celebrated on 7 May every year. This special day is a time to recognize and appreciate these incredible prehistoric creatures that roamed the Earth millions of years ago.
The first known dinosaur fossil was discovered in England in the early 1800s. Since then, hundreds of species have been identified all over the world, including Australia. The study of dinosaurs has provided us with invaluable insights into the evolution of life on our planet.
Queensland, in particular, boasts some of Australia’s most significant dinosaur discoveries. The Dinosaur Trail and Winton is the gateway to the prehistoric past. I visited the world-renowned Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum last year, you can see ongoing fossil discoveries and even participate in dinosaur digs. One of the most remarkable dinosaur fossil discoveries in the areas is “Banjo,” Australia’s most complete carnivorous dinosaur.
Whether you are a lifelong dinosaur enthusiast or just starting to learn about these amazing creatures, today is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate their place in history and learn more about the science behind their existence. With new discoveries and advancements in technology, the study of dinosaurs continues to fascinate and inspire people of all ages. So why not join in the fun and celebrate? You never know what you might learn!
I have spent the last 3 weeks exploring fossil sites across NSW and Queensland. 20 days on the road with my family travelling almost 5000km across some amazing parts of Australia. This trip has been on my bucket list for a while.
Much of the journey took us over the Great Artesian Basin. The waters of the Great Artesian Basin are held in a sandstone layer laid down by continental erosion of higher ground during the Triassic, Jurassic, and early Cretaceous periods. During this time much of inland Australia was covered by the Eromanga Sea and a layer of marine sedimentary rock formed a confining layer, trapping water in the sandstone aquifer. The eastern edge of the basin was uplifted when the Great Dividing Range formed.
Our first stop was Lightning Ridge to see opalised fossils, the famous black opal and relax in hot springs fed by the Great Artesian Basin.
We went to the famous Bottle House full of rocks, fossils and curios, went underground to explore an opal mine and went fossicking. The best way to wind down after a big day fossil hunting is to soak in the hot springs. The artesian water flowing from the bore maintains a temperature of around 41.5C and the water flows at 9 litres per second.
From Lightning Ridge we made our way into central Queensland and up to Winton. Winton is a great town with lot of things to do, but we were there for the Dinosaurs.
Winton is also famous for poet Banjo Patterson and his characters are the inspiration for the nicknames given to many of the dinosaurs found around Winton. Banjo (Australovenator) and Matilda (Diamantinasaurus) were both found buried together in what turns out to be a 98 million-year old billabong.
The dinosaur bones are from rocks found in the Winton Formation, a geological layer 102-98 million years old. Since excavations began many types of dinosaurs have been found, including plant-eating ankylosaurs and ornithopods, plus the serrated teeth of carnivorous theropod dinosaurs.
Three famous species of dinosaur have been formally scientifically named from Winton:
From Winton we travelled through a beautiful part of Australia, very green from recent rains. The journey between Winton and Bedourie was truly spectacular and we were happy to find more hot springs on arrival in Bedourie.
Our next destination was to Eromanga to see more Dinosaur fossils and Megafauna fossils from Eulo. The Dinosaur fossils are found 2 metres below the current day surface and the Megafauna fossils like Diprotodon are being found in layers 1 metre below the surface.
From Eromanga we turned south and made our long way back home to Sydney.
We didn’t stop at Wellington Caves on this trip, but is is definitely worth a visit. Fossil vertebrates have been collected at the caves since the 1830’s. The fossil deposits contain bones from mammals, including bats, rodents and monotremes and from reptiles and birds. The age range of the fossils is from the late Pliocene to late Pleistocene approximately 3.5 million – 40,000 years ago.
It was an amazing journey , but I’m already planning my next trip through Lake Mungo to Naracoorte Caves and then the Finders Ranges to see the Ediacaran fossils.
Megafauna are large animal that roamed to world over 100,000 years ago. In Australia we have fossil evidence of these fascinating animals and one of the places where you can find these fossils is Wellington Caves in central west NSW.
The caves at Wellington are located in an outcrop of Early Devonian limestone, which is about 400 million years old. That limestone is part of the Garra Formation. Caves are great places to find fossils
Fossil vertebrates have been collected since 1830 from Wellington Caves. The list of includes 58 species; 30 species that are extinct throughout Australia and 12 species that are no longer found in Wellington region. The fossil deposits also contains bones from reptiles, birds, bats, rodents and monotremes. The age range of the fossils is from the late Pliocene to late Pleistocene approximately 3.5 million – 40,000 years ago. Evidence indicates that the fossils were deposited in the caves over three distinct periods.
The massive Diprotodon optatum was the largest marsupial known and the first fossil mammal named in Australia by Richard Owen 1838. Diprotodon is one of the most well known of the Australian megafauna and it was widespread across Australia becoming extinct about 25,000 years ago.
Thylacoleo carnifex, the Marsupial Lion is the largest carnivorous Australian mammal known. It may have hunted other Pleistocene megafauna like the giant Diprotodon.
Megalaniaprisca is the largest terrestrial lizard known to have existed and was named by Richard Owen in 1859. Megalania was up to 5 metres long and would have been a top predator eating large mammals, other reptiles and birds.
Wonambi naracoortensis is a five to six metre long snake and was an ambush predator.
At the end of the last ice age the climate in Australia changed to warm-dry. This resulted in surface water drying up and becoming scarce. Most inland lakes became completely dry or dry in the warmer seasons. This saw the end of the age of the Megafauna and many species became extinct.
Some large grazing animals like Diprotodon moved to eastern Australia where there still was permanent water and better vegetation. Ultimately these animals also became extinct.
Come and visit Wellington Caves to see some great replicas and models of these amazing animals.
I finally made it to the Age of Fishes Museum at Canowindra to see the 360 million year old Devonian Fish fossils. Visiting this site has been on my bucket list for years and I was very excited to explore the museum and visit the fossil site.
The story of the discovery of the 360 million year old Canowindra fish fossils has been with me since my first day as an Australian Museum volunteer over 20 years ago. I remember seeing this slab of rock mounted on the wall and being told an amazing story of how it was found. I have been fascinated ever since and used to touch the slab every time I walked pass and tell the story to visitors. 20 years on I still tell the story to students during my fossil programs.
It all began with the chance discovery in 1955 when a Fred Fewings a bulldozer driver turns over a rock. Fred thought it looked interesting and instead of letting it be ground up into road base, he pushed it to the side of the road. This is lucky for us because local Bill Simpson recognised the slabs significance and informs the Australian Museum.
Step back in time and imagine what it was like 360 million years ago. In the Devonian the inland rivers and lakes of Australia were full of fish, but they were not like fish of today.
The fossils at Canowindra were formed when a pond on the supercontinent of Gondwana dried up and thousands of fish died in a single place. They were covered with silt and buried for millions of years, waiting to be discovered by Fred the bulldozer driver.
In 1993 Dr Alex Ritchie from the Australian Museum organised a rediscovery of this incredible the site and found 4,000 fish specimens across eight fish species.
Watch the video below of Sir David Attenborough’s visit to the Museum.
NSW State fossil
Mandageria fairfaxi was a large, air-breathing lobe-finned fish that grew up to 1.7 metres long. It had powerful jaws lined with many large fangs, making it the top predator among the eight genera of fish known from the Devonian fauna at the Canowindra site. In 2015 Mandageria fairfaxi became the NSW state fossil.