Being fascinated by Australia's rich dinosaur history we travelled back inland to the small country town of Winton to view the famous fossils of Banjo and Matilda and the dinosaur footprints at nearby Lark Quarry.
The Australian Age of Dinosaurs musuem was fascinating. Situated on a sheep farm 20 kms from Winton the site covers a large mesa formation or Jump-Up. The mesa is a natural flat-top plateau 7 km long, 2 km wide, and rising 75 metres above the surrounding plain. The museum is located on top of the mesa, a wilderness area surrounded by steep cliffs, massive boulders and deep gorges.
It is home to the world's largest collection of Australian dinosaur fossils, including some of our most famous such as Australovenator (Banjo) and Diamantinasaurus (Matilda). It's also the site of Australia's largest fossil preparation laboratory.
The dinosaur bones are from rocks found in the Winton Formation, a geological layer 102-98 million years old. Since excavations began, several types of dinosaurs have been found, including plant-eating ankylosaurs and ornithopods, plus the serrated teeth of carnivorous theropod dinosaurs.
In 2009, three new species of dinosaur were formally scientifically named from Winton:
* Australovenator wintonensis , Australia's most complete meat-eating dinosaur. (Banjo)
* Diamantinasaurus matildae , a huge long-necked stocky plant-eating dinosaur. (Matilda)
* Wintonotitan wattsi , a long-necked gracile plant-eating dinosaur. (Clancy)
Australian Age of Dinosaurs, Winton, QUEENSLAND
The famous Australian poet Banjo Patterson who wrote Waltzing Matilda in Winton in 1885 was the inspiration for the nicknames given to the fossils found.
In a quirky twist of fate, Banjo (Australovenator) and Matilda (Diamantinasaurus) were both found buried together in what turns out to be a 98 million-year old billabong. Banjo Patterson's story of Waltzing Matilda describes the unfortunate end to a swagman who steals a jumbuck (sheep) but is chased by police and ends up leaping into and drowning in a billabong alongside his stolen sheep.
It is believed by some that plant eating Matilda was looking for a drink when she found herself stuck in mud and Banjo (being a carnivore) decided she was an easy target but found her unreceptive. It is thought she struck back at him with her huge tail and he also became stuck in the mud and they perished together.
Diamantinasaurus and Wintonotitan are the first new sauropods to be named in Australia in over 75 years, the most recent being Austrosaurus in 1933.
Sauropods (meaning lizard-footed) are large, four-legged, herbivorous dinosaurs and diamantinasaurus is the best preserved sauropod skeleton so far found in Australia.
This plant-eating, four-legged sauropod is a new type of titanosaur. Titanosaurs were the largest animals ever to walk the earth.
Matilda was a solid and robust animal, probably akin to a gigantic hippopotamus and is estimated to be approximately 15 to 16 metres long, 2.5 metres high at the hip and weighed approximately 15 to 20 tonnes. She is estimated to have lived 100-98 million years ago in the Mid-Cretaceous (Latest Albian) period.
This is what Matilda would have looked like.
A carnivorous theropod, Banjo is the most complete meat-eating dinosaur skeleton yet found in Australia. He is estimated to have lived 100-98 million years ago in the Mid-Cretaceous (Latest Albian) period.
Australovenator is considered as Australia's answer to Velociraptor for its speed, razor-sharp teeth and three large slashing claws on each hand. At approximately 5 metres long, 1.5 metres high at the hip and weighing 500 kg, Australovenator was many times bigger than Velociraptor.
Theropods (meaning beast-footed) are mainly, but not exclusively, carnivorous bipedal (two-footed) dinosaurs. Unlike other theropods like T Rex that have small arms, Australovenator's arms were a primary weapon with the three large slashing claws on each hand.
Banjo can be classified as an allosauroid therapod, sharing many features with primitive allosaurs. It is most closely related to the Japanese Fukiraptor and Neovenator from the Isle of Wight, England.
The discovery of Australovenator has helped solve a 28-year mystery surrounding an ankle bone found in Victoria which was controversially classified as a dwarf Allosaurus. Now that Australia's most complete carnivorous dinosaur skeleton has been found, it can be confirmed that the 1981 bone belonged to the lineage that led to Australovenator.
And Banjo was pretty fearsome too!
Lark Quarry, near Opalton, QUEENSLAND
Around 95 million years ago, a large herd of around 150 small two legged dinosaurs gathered on the banks of a forest lake to drink. The herd was stalked by a large Theropod - four tonnes of sharp-clawed, meat-eating dinosaur. The herd panicked, stampeding across the muddy flats to escape the Theropod's hungry jaws. A record of those few terrifying minutes is cast in more than 3300 fossilised footprints. The footprints tell us about a cooler, wetter world, when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
Palaeontologists from the Queensland Museum and the University of Queensland excavated Lark Quarry during 1976-77 (the quarry was named after Malcolm Lark, a volunteer who removed a lot of the overlying rock). Altogether they removed more than 60 tonnes of rock, uncovering about 210 square metres of the layer with the fossils. A sheltering roof was built over the site but did not stop the gradual damage caused by exposure to the weather so in 2002 the Conservation Building was constructed to protect the main collection of footprints by stabilising temperature and humidity fluctuations, stopping water running over the footprints and keeping people and wildlife off the footprints.
It was very difficult to photograph the footprints so I hope they at least resemble what they're supposed to!
Opalton (down the road 100 kms or so) is a remote outpost for Opal Mining with no general store or supplies but a campsite where showers can be purchased for $2. We did the Winton, Lark Quarry, Opalton Loop of 300 kms and would not recommend it to people travelling with young children. There was nothing there! Aside from this welcome...
And this Outpost Store which is open sometimes I assume.
And a monument to the harsh unforgiving land... reminding people to carry water as a young man died here.