Did you know that Australia used to be a lush forest full of dinosaurs? We had all sorts of prehistoric creatures roaming the land, from big lumbering vegetarians to fast and ferocious predators. The best place to learn about Australia’s dinosaur history is on the Dinosaur Trail in Queensland, and there is one particular location that will not only show you what life was like during the Australian Age of Dinosaurs, but how those dinosaurs live on today through their fossilised remains.
The Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum is located 24km southeast of Winton, on a large flat-top mesa that overlooks the surrounding landscape. It was founded in 1999 by a local sheep and cattle farmer named David Elliot, and since then, David and his family have been recognised by the Australian Geographic Society as Australian Conservationists of the Year, and David was Queensland’s Local Hero in 2003 and a finalist in the 2010 Australian of the Year Award!
The museum’s humble beginnings as a workshop in a farm shed developed over 12 years to include the laboratory and reception centre, complete with a café and special holo-type room to store and display the fossils. It is now the most productive fossil preparation facility in the southern hemisphere and has the world’s largest collection of Australian dinosaur fossils.
The museum is focused on Australia’s evolutionary history, as well as the discovery, conservation and research of Australia’s dinosaurs, all while being a major tourist attraction on Australia’s dinosaur trail.
The fossils found in the area are from about 98 million years ago and most of them are sauropods – big, lumbering vegetarians. Of the dinosaurs that have been found, there are two main characters that reveal a little about life 100 million years ago when the area was a moist forest.
Matilda was a sauropod – Diamantinasaurus Matildae to be exact – and she got stuck in the mud, literally. Along came Banjo, a predatory Australovenator Wintonesis, who thought Matilda would be an easy meal. Matilda fought back, Banjo fell beside her and after Matilda died of exhaustion, starvation or exposure, they were fossilised together.
Matilda was discovered first in 2005 and the Museum currently has around 30% of her skeleton. If she were alive today, she’d be about 18m long, approximately 20 tonnes. Banjo was discovered in 2006 and so far, about 40% of his skeleton has been found. He is a raptor-like dinosaur about 5m long with big feet for walking on muddy terrain, strong arms with large claws and serrated teeth. So far, he is the largest known predatory animal ever discovered in Australia.
The Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum is actually a not-for-profit, volunteer driven, science and education initiative. If you are interested in volunteering and getting involved, there are two programs on offer to the public.
- Prep-a-Dino allows people to work in the laboratory removing rock from fossils with pneumatic scribes and air chisels.
- Dig-A-Dino involves being on the actual dig site, helping other dinosaur enthusiasts, professionals and palaeontologists unearth fossils. The palaeontologists choose a dig site after a grazier finds some surface material (bone) and notifies them. They go out to assess with a bit of hand digging – if what they see has potential, then they bring the excavators in. Digs happen once a year for three weeks and you’ll need to book two years in advance to be one of the 12 or 13 volunteers they accept.
You can also become a member of the Australian Age of Dinosaurs society by subscribing to their AAOD Journal, a fantastic documentation of Australian paleontological history. A great library addition for any keen dinosaur fanatics.
The Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum is open daily from 8:30am to 5pm. The turn off to the site is 13km SE of Winton, and another 11km along the gravel road. There is a café onsite that has great views the surrounding area and offers snacks and refreshments.
Tours of the Laboratory and Collection Room run hourly from 9am. The tour includes seeing their dinosaur fossil collection and animated recreations of Banjo and Matilda, as well as seeing the laboratory and meeting staff and volunteers that prepare the dinosaur bones.
For more information on prices, tour times and opening hours, or to get involved, contact the museum on 07 4657 0712, email email@example.com or go to their website: http://australianageofdinosaurs.com/