The Age of Dinosaurs, Winton

The Age of Dinosaurs in about 25 ks out of Winton. The road takes you to the top of a ‘Jump-Up.’ I had never heard of the expression ‘Jump-Up’ in terms of a hill before. We were informed the road up the hill was unsuitable for vans and it was recommended caravans be unhitched and left at the bottom of the hill. As we weren’t taking our van with us we didn’t think about it until we got there. The road up to the Jump-up was steep and windy. Rain had carved grooves into the road making it a bumpy ride. I wouldn’t have liked to take our van on it but when we got to the top there were vans there. (There is always someone one who thinks the rules don’t apply to him.)

We arrived at the administration building and were greeted by a large statue of a dinosaur just to get you in the mood. We had researched the ticket prices and decided the best value for money was to go for a Dinosaur Trail ticket. It would let us go into the dinosaur museums in Richmond and Hughenden as well at the Age of Dinosaur museum at Winton and the Dinosaur Stampede.

We purchased our tickets and were told the museum is divided into 3 different areas. For the first part we had a 10-minute walk (or we could have taken the car) to the workshop, were we would be taken on a tour of the building. The walk was scenic as it weaved its way thought the bush and close to the edge of the jump-up.

The area around Winton was once an inland sea that became a wetland surrounded by forest. Theropods, Sauropods and Ornithopods called the area home.

Interesting Facts:

Winton can lay claim to the most complete Theropod in Australia.

Sauropod, (meaning lizard foot), Theropod, (meaning beast footed), Ornithopod, (meaning bird feet) all come from Greek words.

Evidence suggests the rivers that flowed across the area about 98 million years ago were about the size of the present day Amazon or Mississippi Rivers as they are today.

Where did all that water go? The inland sea started to dry up, leaving behind rivers and wetlands, this was about 98 to 95 millions years ago. Throw in some sediment layers and some volcanoes activity, some global drying and cooling with some plants and animals and we have the land we have today.

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The story of the dinosaur in Winton started in 1999 when David Elliott found a large bone while out mustering his sheep. What David had found was a thighbone belonging to the largest Australian dinosaur.   In 2006 the Britton Family donated 4200 acres of Jump-up country to the Australian Age of Dinosaurs. The museum now sits on this land. The lab, which we were about to see, was started in 2009.

A leg stands at the door to the lab. Wow, I looked up and up. The leg stands over 4 meters high. It did give you a great idea just how tall the dinosaur would have been.

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We were greeted by out tour guide. We were in a small group of eight. He was very enthusiastic and his favourite word was ‘fascinating.’ The first part of the tour was looking at some photos placed on a sidewall of two shipping containers. They told the story of the discovery of the bones and the history of the digs.

A petrified branch from a tree lay under the photos with a sign saying it was 95 million years old. I asked how long it was and the young man didn’t know as no one had asked that question to him before. We worked it out as the branch was siting beside two shipping containers. The single branch was just on 40 feet long. Fascinating. I didn’t think to ask how tall the tree would have to be to hold the branch.

The next section of out tour was the protective plaster jackets of the bones. They only dig once a year for 3 weeks and they find enough bones to last them about 18 months. Just as the Eromanga museum does, ‘The Age of Dinosaurs’ charges people to help them dig for bones. It is one of the biggest fundraisers they have. We were told there are still mountains of bones out there just waiting to be found. Our tour guide didn’t think he would see the end of it. “Fascinating” he told me “they pay us to work” mm not something I would be paying for. Yes they are always looking for volunteers to help them if you are interested. As for the dig you will need to get in early, as they are always full.

Bones aren’t the only things they are finding in the digs. They have found plant matter and sea life as well. When you stop and think about it, there is a feeling of unrealism about looking at all the things on display. It is hard to imagine the items are about 95 million years old and where we were standing was once a sea.

We then move into the working area of the building.   Our tour guide showed us some comparisons with the different bones. Using cow bones did give us all a great understanding of the size of dinosaurs.

Also like Eromanga you get to talk to the people working on the bones. We also leant how the bones all go together. It is not often they find full bones and they have to play jigsaws to put everything back together again.

We walked back to the admin building to grab some lunch, as it was a gift shop come cafe. By this time it was just after one and they had run out of most things. They said they could throw something in the pie warmer for us but it would take about half an hour. Great we only had 10 minutes before the second part of our tour. That was ok we were told they would keep it for us.

For the second bit we were lead into a small theatre. There was a short film then the young lady talked about the bones. She was almost as enthusiastic as our first tour guide and her catch cry was ‘it is so interesting,’ and it was. We were introduced to Banjo. He is the most complete carnivorous dinosaur ever discovered in Australia. Most of our dinosaurs are gigantic, plant eating sauropods. So far all the dinosaur bones that have been found have belonged to new varieties. It is nice to know we were just as unique with our animals 95 million years ago as we are now.

When we came out of the theatre room our lunch was waiting for us. We had 5 minutes to woof it down. Then it was a short bus ride to the third spot where we could walk with the dinosaurs. Our third tour guide for the day told us this area is still a work in progress.

To start, there is an area that has been made to look like the muddy area of a riverbank. Most of the fossils in the museum have been found preserved in the sedimentary rock that has formed around billabongs or watercourses. The most common dinosaur found has been the larger sauropods. Other animals would have eaten the sauropods that died in the mud and their bones scattered or trampled hindering them in the mud for us to find. The main sauropod found in the area has been named Matilda. She is a diamantinasaurus with a small head; a long neck and long tail with a bulky body weighed about 20 tonnes. She wouldn’t have had many enemies because of her size but if she was attacked she would have used her tail to defend herself with.

We walked past an area where they are trying to grow some Cycad palms. The idea is the make the walk look more like how the land would have looked 95 million years ago. You will be able to walk through the garden when it is completed. This was the bit they are still working on so we only got to look at it from the walkway.

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We saw a small family of pterosaurs on a small cliff. The pterosaur was a small flying reptile and they lived all over the world. To find a skeleton of the flying reptiles is very rare. In Australia they have only been found in cretaceous rocks because of this not much is known of them. As the bones have been found in cretaceous rock it is thought they lived near the sea or made their home on the outskirts of lakes. They had small teeth ideal for grabbing small aquatic invertebrates or fish. The herons or spoonbills have similar habits to the pterosaur so they may be related somehow.

Just up from the pterosaur family was the museum version of what happened at the Dinosaur Stampede. The footprints at the stampede look like they were made by about 150 small dinosaurs, all running for their lives. Although it is impossible to really know what happened it does look interesting to see the museum interpretation.

After the stampede there is a Kunbarrasaurus Ieversi. He was found in 1989 between Hughenden and Richmond. One of the amazing things about this fellow is he was found almost complete. He was about 2.5 metres long and thought to be about 100 million years old. The Kunbarrasaurus Ieversi had an armour-plated skin, which preserved everything by shrink-wrapping around the body making him the most complete Mesozoic dinosaur ever found in Australia. He seems to be a land animal and before any other animals could make him their lunch, he was washed into the sea where he sank to the bottom and was covered with silt and preserved. The skin preserved everything so well they even found the contents of his gut. His last meal was of flowering plants and ferns. There were no stomach stones, (some animals will swallow stones to help digest their food) which would suggest that Kunbarrasaurus had a horny beak and cheek teeth. I did wonder after if the Kunbarrasaurus was related to the turtle. I should have asked.

The Age of Dinosaurs museum was very impressive. It will be interesting how it will all look when it is finished.

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