By Bev Malzard
“So who didn’t wipe their feet” 95 million years ago?
Australia is fertile ground for finding fossils. Many species of ‘saurs’ and other huge and fierce animals (on land and from the sea) roamed the land millions of years ago, and trying to wrap your head around the timeline while gazing upon a big, flat dinosaur footprint can spin you out.
Interest in the extinct creatures is not confined to nerdy school kids – adults are just as intrigued and curious as to their history – and the best way to quell the dinosaur desire is to go to the source and walk in the footprints (walk around please) of the fossils.
The best prehistoric sites around Australia can be explored in...
Lightning Ridge, NSW.
Broome, Geraldon and Giralia, Western Australia.
Coober Pedy and Andamooka, South Australia.
Otway Group (Dinosaur Cove) and Strzleki Group, Victoria.
Queensland cleans up on the collection on the Dinosaur Trail from Winton, Hughendon and Roma, plus Muttaburra, Minmi Crossing and Maxwelton.
As a general rule, if you measure the width of any print then multiply it by four, this will give you an idea of the height of the dinosaur to the top of its hip.
Winton, one of Australia's best spots to spot dinos
Base yourself in Winton, in the middle of Queensland – Matilda Country. The town has links to Banjo Paterson (he wrote you-know-what here); it’s the birthplace of Qantas – the first board meeting of Qantas was held in the Winton Club in 1921 – and long before anyone pulled a cold beer at the pub or cattle were driven through town or indigenous people looked to the stars – dinosaurs called this home.
South-west of Winton, a 110km drive through gullies, mesa (flat-topped hills) and crumbling escarpments to Larks Quarry, the only known dinosaur stampedes site.
Stand quietly and look at hundreds of tiny footmarks that touched the muddy earth 90 million years ago and feel the terror as they flee from whatever bloody big creature was pursuing them. The story is in the ancient ground that has preserved a prehistoric tale of action and horror. The Australian Age of Dinosaurs museum out this way offers tours through the Fossil Laboratory, Collection Room and Dinosaur Canyon, from 9am and run for 3 hours.
And for a more hands-on experience, the Australian Age of Dinosaurs conducts three week-long digs per year. There are also opportunities to learn how to prepare dinosaur fossils ready for scientific study and then display. To tour, dig or prep, please visit the the Australian Age of Dinosaurs website www.australianageofdinosaurs.com
Make tracks to Broome's dino tracks
Across the continent to Broome in Western Australia, close by Gantheaume Point is an excellent dinosaur tracking location.
Maybe 130 million years ago, give or take a few – there we go with the big numbers – during the late Cretaceous period, the landscape wasn’t as it is today, the Aussie landmass was moving away from Gondwana – the massive super continent that included Antarctica, India, South America and Africa. Too much information?
Long story short, dinosaur tracks along the Dampier Peninsula were made as the animals trudged though prehistoric river plains, left their mark and nature’s extraordinary powers of preservation kicked in and voila! Evidence of the creatures are there for the viewing.
Q. What do you call a dinosaur with an extensive vocabulary?
A. A thesaurus.
What makes Broome's dino tracks different
Broome is one of the few places in the world where there is a strong link between dinosaur tracks and Indigenous creation stories.
Broome is the only place in Australia that has sauropod tracks (very long necks, long tails, small heads and four thick pillar-like legs, notable that this group includes the largest animals ever to live on land).
The tracks are integral to a ‘song cycle’ that extends along the coast from Bunginygun (Swan Point), Cape Leveque) to Wabana (Cape Bossut, near La Grange) then inland to the south-east over a distance of almost 450km, tracing the journey of a Dreamtime creature known as Marala or ‘Emu Man’.
While on the road in Australia it’s wise to never assume that the spread of desert, rocky flats at the base of water-worn cliffs or plains of nothingness, hold no treasures – there’s more than gold in them that hills.
And to preserve our beautiful country, do as the dinosaurs did – leave only footprints behind.