Inverloch, 145 km southeast of Melbourne, is a popular tourist destination and fishing port on the Bunurong Coast, a 20-km stretch of sandy coves, rugged sandstone cliffs and striking rock formations forming a marine park along Bass Strait. The town is also famous internationally as the home of one of Australia’s richest fossil fields, a palaeontologist’s paradise.
It was near here, at Eagles Nest, in 1903 that geologist William Hamilton Ferguson made the first discovery of a dinosaur bone in Australia while tracing coal seams that thread the region. The ‘Cape Paterson Claw’, as it became known, was the first evidence that dinosaurs once inhabited Australia, in this case a carnivore. In 1978, university students and cousins John Long and Tim Flannery joined the hunt for dinosaurs at Eagles Nest and found as many as 30 fossils, including that of a small herbivorous ornithopod, which proved to be the catalyst for a broader scientific investigation of the region’s coast.
In 1991, a group of researchers from Monash University began prospecting at Flat Rocks, a rocky tidal platform on the outskirts of Inverloch. The day after a major storm, they came on site to find that intense wave activity had washed away sand to expose a ‘palaeostream channel’, the bed of an ancient river, in which they found about 30 small bone fragments about 120 million years old. The following year a 10-day excavation yielded more than 300 fossil bones from the rocky shoreline, establishing the site as one of the most productive of its kind in Australia.
Since 1994, researchers from the Monash University Science Centre and Museum Victoria have conducted ‘Dinosaur Dreaming’, an annual summer field trip to Flat Rocks, in which more than 10,000 specimens have been uncovered. These include fossils from at least 5 different groups of dinosaurs, as well as freshwater plesiosaurs, primitive turtles and fish dating back to a time when Australia was just breaking away from Gondwanaland.