About 100 million years ago the Eromanga Sea covered a part of Australia as depicted on the map in shade.
Many species of reptilian dinosaurs were evident in that period and lie buried in the sea mud now turned to stone. Palaeontology in Western Queensland has been active since the early 1800’s. During the 1960’s Lark Quarry Dinosaur Stampede was discovered and excavated in the late 1970’s. Today the Dinosaur stampede, as it is known, is housed within a building and has a high visitation by tourists to the region. The Eromanga Seabed is the resting place for a variety of Dinosaur skeletons and every year new discoveries are made.
The Story of Elliot
Elliot was discovered by David Elliot on his station near Winton in 1999. David Elliott is a sheep and cattle farmer with a passion for conserving Australian natural history. For the last decade he has devoted himself fulltime to the founding and developing the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History, a non-profit organization, that finds, prepares and presents Australia’s prehistory to the world. David has revolutionised the way dinosaur fossils are found and collected from the field, and developed new innovative fossil preparation techniques for unprecedented productivity. What once took decades of work is now done by the museum in a matter of months. In 2006, David outfitted a full-scale fossil preparation facility in a shed on his property and has now accumulated the world’s largest and most significant collection of Australian dinosaur fossils. From these efforts three new dinosaur species were discovered. David is currently building a world-class natural history museum outside of Winton. David’s unwavering commitment to the Museum has increased tourism to the Winton area and attracted significant support from volunteers, the community and the government.
Elliot is a sauropod dinosaur. Sauropods were gigantic four-legged plant-eaters, characterised by long necks and tails, pillar-like legs, and disproportionately small heads. Even the smallest sauropods, which were about 8 m long and weighed almost 10 tonnes, were larger than most other dinosaurs. Some of the larger sauropods, such as Argentinosaurusor Paralititan, are thought to have exceeded 30 m in length and weighed as much as 80–90 tonnes, making them the largest animals to have ever walked the Earth. At present it is unclear exactly what type of sauropod Elliot is. All the previous sauropod fossils found in the Winton Formation are thought to belong to a type of dinosaur named Austrosaurus. The first specimen of Austrosaurus was discovered on ‘Clutha’ Station, 60 km north-west of Maxwelton in the late 1920’s. This specimen comprised portions of at least nine enormous vertebrae, embedded in several large blocks of pale grey mudstone. Five additional specimens of Austrosaurus were collected from three different localities around Winton in the late 1950’s and early ‘70’s.
The only other sauropod fossils of comparable age known from Australia are isolated teeth from Lightning Ridge, an isolated tail vertebra from the Geraldton region of Western Australia, and part of a neck vertebra from Hughenden, a couple of hundred kilometres north-west of Winton. The Hughenden neck vertebra is thought to belong to a Brachiosaurus-like animal, initially estimated to have been around 20 m long.
The length of his thighbone indicates that Elliot was somewhere between 16 and 21 metres long, 3.5-4 metres high at the rump and weighed approximately 22-28 tonnes (equivalent to five African elephants!). We’ve known for more than a decade that Australia was home to sauropods as large as Elliot, but until now there have been no bones to prove it. Elliot’s bones were found in 98–95- million-year-old rocks from the Lower Cretaceous Winton Formation. This rock unit blankets large areas of central- western Queensland, and consists of sedimentary rocks such as sandstone, siltstone and clay-stone. The sediments that make up these rocks represent the remnants of the riverplains that surrounded the inland sea 98–95 million years ago. Great meandering rivers, forest pools and swamps, creeks, lakes and coastal estuaries all left behind a different type of sediment. In some areas, the Winton Formationis over 400 metres thick. To bring with them such a huge amount of sediment the rivers that flowed across these plains must have been comparable in size to the present day Amazon and Mississippi. As more and more sediment was brought in the margins of the inland sea slowly contracted. By around 95 million years ago, the job was complete and the inland sea would never be seen again. (Some text and sketch of Elliot reproduced with permission from Australian Age of Dinosaurs Magazine)
Winton in the winter months is a hive of activity with hundreds of visitors passing through every day and many stay for three days or more. There are two caravan parks and a free camping area behind one of the pubs. Then there is Long Waterhole on the Western River for those who are totally self-sufficient.
We camped there with an average of about 20 other camps but far enough apart so as not to disturb one another. Firewood was scarce but I went for a drive on the town common and found some every afternoon. We did a tour of Australian Age of Dinosaurs research facility up on a flat top Mesa just 25 kilometres from Winton and it was a most enjoyable experience. We were amazed that people actually pay to be able to work on removing fossil bones from their stone encasement. We visited the heritage listed Corfield and Fitzmaurice building where more replicas of dinosaurs are to be seen and especially those which caused the stampede at Lark Quarry.
Other places of note in Winton are the QANTAS Airfield, The Heritage Truck museum and the Musical Fence. Then there is Arno’s Wall and of course the Waltzing Matilda Centre. The annual Winton Show was on while we were there and so we went along for some fun and entertainment.
Leaving Winton we headed southeast along the road to Longreach before turning northeast towards the small town of Muttaburra where a replica of the famous Muttaburrasaurus can be seen. Muttaburrasaurus is known from one partial skeleton found at Muttaburra, Queensland, Australia. Muttaburrasaurus was a large four-legged herbivore that was capable of rearing onto two legs. Like Iguanodon it had a pronounced claw on the thumb while the three middle fingers were joined together into a hoof-like pad. Its jaws were very powerful and equipped with shearing teeth which were probably an adaptation for eating tough vegetation such as cycads. These were common in this part of Australia at the time. Muttaburrasaurus also had an enlarged hollow upward-bulging muzzle, that might have been used to produce distinctive calls or for display purposes. However, as no fossilised nasal tissue has been found, this remains conjectural.
A sign at the start of the Prairie Road to the north out of Muttaburra stated 4×4 only, but the road turned out to be in reasonable condition and posed no trouble for the caravan. We found an old road-works quarry near Birricannia Station. This day we saw a Fox, a Bustard, some Emus, lots of Big Red Kangaroos including a large Old Man Kangaroo, sheep and cattle, horses and mules and some goats. A magnificent sunset once again graced the skies tonight. Some older Brahman poddys came to inspect our camp. Jeddah barked at them. I walked up to them with Jeddah close on my heels. When they ran away from me Jeddah got brave and ran after them but I called her back. She went back in her basket keeping a watchful eye while snoring loudly by the fireside. We called in to Kooroorinya Campground to view Kooroorinya Falls on Towerhill Creek. When running the falls would be a spectacular sight. Further along the prairie road we turned west on to what is known as the Eromanga Sea Byway which connects up with the Muttaburra/Hughenden Road.
Near Strathroy Station we stopped to fossick for fossils in a creek bed. As we were within sight of the station homestead it wasn’t long before the owner drove down in his Landcruiser to politely enquire what we were up to. We had a long chat while the engine was running. The bloke said that there were few fossils to be found in this part of the Eromanga Sea. He gave us some insight to the area and more information on the nature of the land. We turned north towards Hughenden soon after and as explained by the station owner, once we were at the Zara Station access road we were straddling the watershed between the Eyre Basin and the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Hughenden was a disappointing visit as we observed so many information signs starting with NO! We did however visit the Flinders Discovery Centre where a life size replica skeleton of a Muttaburrasaurus named ‘Hughie’ is housed. There are other fossil displays and a good light and sound show on Porcupine Gorge.
On leaving the building we discovered that the left rear tyre on the Nissan was flat. A rather awkward tyre change occurred as the road sloped. I was silly enough to be talked into putting some green slime into the flat tyre as it had had a tube fitted. This unfortunately did not work but we made it to the next town without further troubles. I saw a sign stating Old Richmond Road and decided to take that instead of the straight run bitumen to Richmond. The road led us to the Alderley Crossing of the Flinders River where we made camp for the night. I stopped a passing cocky to find out more about the roads but he told me that there was no access to the north and gave me an alternative route back to the Flinders Highway. Two vehicles passed by and then it was quiet for the night.
We made it into Richmond the next morning and the day was promising to be warmer. On the way out we saw some low cloud but by the time we got to the bitumen we had outrun it. The old Townsville Mt Isa road is pretty bumpy in places and in need of an upgrade although patches have been done here and there. Richmond presents itself as a sprawling town with extremely wide streets and studded with colourful Bougainvillea Shrubs. So wide that centre parking is provided for caravans. And everyone is friendly and welcoming. Kronosaurus Korner Museum, Information Centre and Bakery is a hive of activity.
At Richmond I had the tubes removed from the tyres and some patches fitted all. The tyre man said that the tyres seemed like Irish tyres and I had to agree. We will be up for new ones soon. Maybe they will last till we get to the coast. One tyre was still losing air. Did some shopping and paid bills and managed to get some cash from the Post Office agency. Jude bought some meat from the butcher. Jude also found out about a free camping area and we set camp up there, in a fenced in area, with a dump point, rubbish bin and water tap. You have to be totally self sufficient to camp here though. The free camp area is within 5 minute walking distance of town. We had a cuppa and a pie from the Bakery at the Info Centre and then spent over an hour in the Kronosaurus Korner Museum and thoroughly enjoyed it. It is the best display that we have seen so far.
Back at camp we mucked around doing things and set the pterodactyl tent up for toilet and showers. Put the solar shower out and had a hot one later on. Our solar panel kept the batteries topped up. Other campers arrived. Then it was time for downloading photos, videos and supper. Today the large grasshoppers flew by in their millions but somehow avoided the van until this evening where stragglers keep on flying into it. Hopefully they will be gone by tomorrow.
The following morning we were out and on the go by 8am and heading for the fossil fossicking sites. Once there we spent two and a half hours looking at stuff and finding some treasures.
We also saw a juvenile Jabiru Stork near the fossil sites. Then it was back to town to have our finds investigated by Kronosaurus Korner staff who asked us to come back in the morning to have the paleaontologist look at some of them. Then Jude did the washing while I went and scoured the local hardware shop for a new inlet water pipe for the van as the old one had split. I also bought some extra tyre plugs. We relaxed in the shade of the van after rigging up a washing line between the van and the wagon. Then we topped up the water tank and the containers in the truck. A little later I put another plug in the spare tyre which was leaking air. Swarms of grasshoppers came over but luckily high enough in the air to miss us. They were gone by sunset. We both had a very hot shower from the solar shower, which refreshed us to no end. I charged both the batteries with the solar panel..
The next morning we went to Kronosaurus Korner to have bits of fossils evaluated by the resident palaeontologist. Then it was out to the Fossil sites again to look for more stuff. On return to town we did some shopping, refuelled and came home for lunch. I went to the local library for internet access and cleared incoming mail from both email accounts. The afternoon was spent reading and snoozing. I finished reading my Min Min book. What a great read it was. One other motor home camper here tonite and running a generator but it is very quiet. The grasshoppers were around again today but they seem restricted to the town area. Saw three Brolgas this morning.. Tomorrow we tackle the Cattle Corridor Byway to Croydon and beyond.