The Land Before Time

In a small corner of Queensland’s vast outback, you will pass through lands once inhabited by dinosaurs, but as Monica McInnes discovered, dinosaur hunting isn’t just for the kids.

Imagine mustering sheep across the cracked black soil of western Queensland and stumbling across a dinosaur bone that’s been pushed to the surface from the water beneath. What would you do?

Keeping the find for your close family and friends is not what cattle and sheep farmer, David Elliott chose back in 1999 when he discovered the first of hundreds of dinosaur bones on his property. It would have been a lawful choice too since Queensland Law states any dinosaur bones found on private property belong to the landowner.

Instead, Mr Elliott enlisted the help of Queensland Museum to help uncover hundreds of bones – too many for the museum to keep up with. Enter Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum, just outside the small country town of Winton, some 1,300kms north west of the state’s capital.

In just seven years, the homage to Australia’s dinosaurs has captured the minds of thousands of tourists, paleontologists, and an army of volunteers who return year after year to help find and prepare the fossils for show in its on-site 23-degree Celsius climate controlled gallery.

After enjoying the views from the Cretaceous Café across the plains below, our tour group is called and we stroll to the Fossil Preparation Laboratory. It’s here volunteers help ‘prep-a-dino’ ready for exhibition. Lining one wall of the laboratory are rows of massive plaster casts ready for volunteers to carefully chip at to reveal its prehistoric contents. Most of the plaster casts here contain various bones of ‘Matilda’. She’s a sauropod, which are dinosaurs with a long tail and neck, small head, and four large pillar-like legs. Prior to ‘cleaning-up’ Matilda, bones of a therapod, a type of pipedal dinosaur, named ‘Banjo’ were also processed in the laboratory. Banjo was actually discovered in the same dig site as Matilda, which led to the hypothesis of Matilda, the larger plant eating dinosaur, becoming stuck in a muddy billabong when the smaller but opportunistic carnivore Banjo came to feast. But Matilda used her mighty tail to stave off her attacker only to perish together and be discovered centuries later.

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