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Published: August 20th 2014
Barry Being Attacked by Banjo
This life-sized bronze sculpture of Banjo, the Australovenator wintonensis, stands outside the "Age of Dinosaurs" Museum. Banjo is one of their best finds.
We picked up Nancy at around 10am and set off to the Australian “Age of Dinosaurs” situated on the Jump Up about 25km out of Winton. A jump up is the local name for an escarpment with a flat table-like top, or mesa. There are quite a few in this area. They are the remains of the forest floor that has eroded away around them, leaving the rocky areas behind. It was quite a steep climb and mostly on dirt, at 10%, for a short while and they recommended people leave their vans in a lower car park. Ours is safe in Winton so no worries there, and the ute had no trouble in 4wd.
We were met at the entrance by “Banjo” – a wonderful life-sized bronze, coloured sculpture of the dinosaur, an Australovenator wintonensis – a large raptor which is one of the major finds at the site and is named after Banjo Paterson (a local celebrity as it is believed he wrote “Waltzing Matilda” near here). He looked suitably ferocious with his big teeth and huge claws!
Inside we were told there were two tours to do, one to the Laboratory, where they are processing
The Laboratory Storage Area
Behind us on the racks are huge "parcels" of dinosaur fossils that have been dug up and then wrapped in plaster of Paris to preserve them while they await their turn to be processed. Some of the fossils were date 2009 so they have to wait a long time!
the fossil finds, and one to a Fossil Display area. The first was the Lab Tour starting at 11am, with just enough time to walk there along the path overlooking the plain below. We were met by Ben, a young man who had just finished High School and was in his Gap Year. He had been interested in fossils since he found an excellent specimen of a fossilised sea urchin, said by Queensland Museum to be the second best one in Australia at the time. He had been coming on digs and getting involved ever since.
Ben showed us a series of photo boards that explained the process of recovering the fossils at the dig. At this site it is not done the usual way – they use a machine like a road digger to remove the top layer and expose the fossil layer. This is not the normal way of digging out fossils. They usually use trowels. The owner of the land, David Elliott, first discovered parts of a large leg bone of a dinosaur when working his land (it is now named Elliott). It had come to the surface and he’d picked up the bits and taken
Processing the Dinosaur Bones
Volunteers and people who have paid to do a short course on how to process the bones, use medium and fine drills to gently cut away the rock from the fossils. They work alongside the experts on this labour intensive and time consuming task. No wonder they have enough fossils for for 30 more years of processing!
them home to put together. Things got busy and he forgot about it for a year then decided to tell the Queensland University about his find. They sent out a team that spent 3 weeks digging with trowels and found nothing. They went away and said that maybe more pieces could come to the surface in the future.
David knew his land and was convinced that they had been looking much too high in the soil so, some time later when he wasn’t too busy, he got his tractor and put a bucket on the front. He scraped the top layer of black soil off and after a few days, saw, in the silt layer below, a large end of a femur, intact, which had been exposed. He stopped digging and told the Uni what he’d done. They were amazed at his find and organised another dig. This time, they used his method of scraping off first and then starting the delicate digging once at the right level. Fossil digs in Australia were never the same again!
Once the fossils are found, the earth or rock around them is undermined so they can wrap the whole
Matilda, a Diamantinasaurus, is a very large sauropod, (a plant eating animal). You can see her thigh bone on the right at the back alongside a bull's thigh bone, next to Emily's knee. to show the contrast.
thing carefully and cover it in Plaster of Paris to preserve it until it can be processed. The bundle is labelled and carefully taken back to the Lab where it is stored on shelves awaiting its turn. We saw a large rack of shelves with the white bundles sitting on them looking like big eggs, and labelled with names like “Pelvic Girdle, Dicksie site 2011”; “Mary Site: One BIG Dinosaur! 6 x pelvic and limb elements - 2014”; “ Matilda Site – lots of bone fragments”; or my favourite “Matilda Site – It’s a mystery!!!”.
They conduct the digs for 3 weeks each year as a fund raiser. People pay about $3,000 to be involved. They then store the finds until they can process them. These digs are so productive that they have found enough material already that it will take 40 years to process it all. There are also 60 more known fossil sites that are waiting for exploration in Queensland. They just can’t keep up with it.
They are trying to prioritise the pieces for Matilda, a Diamantinasaurus (a Sauropod, something like a brontosaurus), and Banjo, so they can show them as complete skeletons (or as
Cracking Rocks All Along the Escarpment
Huge splits form in the rocks of the escarpment and eventually that section will fall off. This piece is almost free-standing at present.
close as possible) in the new Australian “Age of Dinosaurs” Museum that they are planning to build.
We then saw the Laboratory where a group of people, some volunteers, some paying learners and a couple of experts, were carefully drilling through the rock around the fossils to get to them. They use tools similar to dentist drills to get them out and it is a very slow, painstaking business. This is also something you can pay to learn and do, for $300.
Once we’d finished that tour we just had time to get back to the Reception Centre where the second tour was about to start. Emily, another youngster, took us into an auditorium where we were shown some of the bones they had from Matilda and from Banjo and shown a few short videos to explain how they fit into the skeleton. She also showed us some comparisons of other animal limbs so we could see how big they were. It was all fascinating.
By this time we were ready for our lunch, some toasted sandwiches and iced coffees, at the cafe there. A few birds came to visit while we were eating; one,
A Cashiers Flying Fox
Corfield and Fitzmaurice Store is now a local arts and crafts shop and a little museum. It still retains some of the furniture and equipment from the original store, like this Flying Fox. The money and purchasing information was put into the pot and sent up the wire to the cashier, who sat in her office and processed it, sending the receipt and any change back in the pot.
a Red-capped Robin, which Nancy was thrilled to see as she hadn’t seen one since leaving Western Australia.
We then walked out to the Lookout and marvelled at the way the massive rocks split and dropped off the escarpment and at how colourful the plains were.
Back in Winton, Nancy and I looked in a couple of Opal Shops, where I found some nice pieces of boulder opal with colour in them sitting in a tray of water out the front for you to sift through. I picked seven small pieces and asked how much, the old man who was the owner of the shop added them up and said $20 for the lot. I quickly agreed. As I was paying for them, his son came up and saw what I’d got – “You’ve got a good eye. There’s some nice pieces there”. He wanted to know where I got them from, so I told him. “The old man’s going blind” he muttered and rushed out to remove the trays from the front area. I guess he’s going to go through them and remove the good bits. Glad I got there first!
Then we visited
A Diorama of the Dinosaur Stampede
Corfield and Fitzmaurice Store also housed some items dedicated to the area, including this life-sized diorama of what they think had happened to form the dinosaur stampede footprints at Lark Quarry.
the Corfield and Fitzmaurice Store, now an outlet for the local artists and craft workers, and a small museum about the sheep, the Store itself and, definitely the best part, a life-sized diorama of the Dinosaur Stampede at Lark Quarry. The store still had one of the “Flying Foxes” previously used to carry pots of money from the counter to the office where the sale would be processed and the change returned the same way to the counter.
Back at the caravan park, I popped over to borrow Nancy’s iron and she showed me a couple of her paintings. She uses acrylic and is very good. One of them had a red escarpment just like the Age of Dinosaur site, although the sky was very different to what we’d seen. I joked that it just needed a dinosaur walking through to complete the picture.
I broke the bad news that we had decided not to go to Hughenden and Richmond, as originally planned, as Barry was worried about getting across to the West before the wet season. She seemed sorry we wouldn’t be sharing those places together, as were we. We’d enjoyed her company.
Nancy also lent me her Telstra WiFi link which she insisted she would never use up in the time allocated, so I was able to do a bit of my blog.
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