Winton – the Dinosaur Capital of Australia

The Australian Age of Dinosaurs Natural History Museum (24km from Winton) is a non-profit organisation that has accumulated the largest collection of Australian dinosaur fossils in the world. The museum is divided into three sections – a Reception/Cafe area and Collections Room in the main building, and a separate Fossil Preparation laboratory around 500 metres away. Both buildings are located on a ‘Jump Up’ which is a raised hill overlooking the plains of outback Queensland.

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The Australian Age of Dinosaurs Natural History Museum – with ‘Banjo’ out the front.

The Collections Room houses the growing collection of dinosaur fossil specimens, and also in this room, museum staff run hourly guided tours each day (this is quite unusual as most museum collection rooms are hidden away from the public).  On display is Australia’s most complete sauropod dinosaur (named Matilda) and the most complete theropod dinosaur (named Banjo).

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In the Collections Room, the dinosaur bones are on show to the public.
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It’s astonishing to see Matilda’s foot almost complete – and to think she was live 95 million years ago.

Here in the Collections Room, they also showed this fascinating BHP-sponsored documentary about the dinosaurs in the area.

The Museum organises a number of dinosaur digs each year, which are open to the paying members of the public ($3,700 per adult for a week including food and board).  Each dig recovers a huge amount of fossils that are detailed and wrapped in wet newspaper and plaster and shelved for future processing. They currently have at least 10 years of bones ready for processing.

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Paying volunteers have retrieved these bones and carefully marked them for future processing.

There are a number of volunteers in the Fossil Preparation laboratory facility that grind and chisel the rock away from the dinosaur fossils and put together them together like a giant 90 million year old jigsaw puzzle.  Members of the public can become Technicians after a 10 days fossil preparation course and become a volunteer in the laboratory.

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Steve had just completed his technicians course, and this was his second day on the job.
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Here he is showing the kids how to tell the difference between the hardened rock and the dinosaur bone.
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Also on display are incredible fossils that prove that outback Queensland was at one stage part of the ocean.
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These ferns suggest that the landscape around Winton was very different 95 million years ago.

Inspired by the all the dinosaurs, Azzy could not help herself – drawing ‘Ollow the pain in the spinosaurus‘.

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Sisters are so annoying!

The Dinosaur Stampede

The second key dinosaur attraction in Winton is the Dinosaur Stampede National Monument at Lark Quarry Conservation Park, around 110km from Winton.  This building reportedly houses the site of the world’s only known dinosaur stampede with fossilised footprints that are reported to be around 90 million years old. The prints are from an estimated 180 chicken-sized two-legged dinosaurs being chased by a 6 metre-long meat-eating theropod dinosaur.

We were lucky to get to this facility as the roads were only opened on the day of our visit after heavy rain in the area.

The footprints were discovered in the 1960’s and over the next 20 years, the removal of more than 60 tonnes of rock uncovered over 3,300 dinosaur footprints. The site has had a varied history of preservation, from being open to the elements for 10 years, covered in black plastic with hay bales weighing down the plastic (which then caught on fire), and shelters being built to stop people removing footprints with crowbars and taking unauthorised plaster of paris moulds from the footprints. All in all, the preservation history of this site is interesting as it has been handled so badly by academics along the way. The current building was completed in 2002 and was included in the Australian National Heritage List on 20 July 2004, for values of rarity and research.

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The Dinosaur Stampede National Monument.
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An artist’s impression of the scene, just prior to the stampede taking place. Back then, Winton would have been where Victoria is now – and experienced a much cooler, wetter climate. Scientists know this because of the fern fossils found in the area.
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Inside the climate-controlled building, the footprints are being preserved and tourists are given a guided tour from the platform above.
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This is thought to be the footprint of the single carnivorous dinosaur at the scene of the stampede.
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The raised rocks in the middle of the room are being kept as a ‘control’ as they know that the footprints continue underneath. This site is unique because of the way that nature preserved the stampede shortly after it happened.

Winton – the home of Banjo Patterson 

Before the dinosaur fossils were found, Winton already had a strong link to Australian history, as it was the home of Banjo Patterson. The song ‘Waltzing Matilda’ was written in the North Gregory Hotel and is thought to have been about the Combo Waterhole north of town. It’s also known for its opal mining and there is an area known as Opaltown just south of Winton where you can camp the night and meet the locals who are actively hunting for opals today.