NOEL MURPHY: Back to the future with fossils
August 7th, 2009
"Dinosaur burrows 110 million years old have been found at Knowledge Creek near Apollo Bay by Monash University scientists in the past two years. Three 25 million-year-old whale fossils have been found near Bells Beach in the past month. Museum Victoria personnel are poring over them.
A fossilised Oligenic era whale skull, janjucetus, was found near the suburb of the same name in the 1990s. The extraordinary cliff-face Cretaceous era hatchery of Dinosaur Cove, near Cape Otway and worked over by scientists in the 1970s and '80s, hosted the richest diversity of animal fossil samples ever found in Australia. Indeed, the latest Surf Coast findings are really just icing on the cake of Dinosaur Cove, which in world terms helped rewrite how scientists thought of dinosaurs.
Long ago the Otway coast, Dinosaur Cove was a menagerie, it's been recognised the world over as Jurassic Park-style nursery crawling with velociraptors, flying ptserosaurs, underwater plesiosaurs, oviraptors, primeval crocodiles, turtles, upright relatives of echidnas and platypus -- long before the megafauna versions that roamed the hinterland, leaving behind all manner of tracks and trails . . . but that's another story.
The people responsible for Dinosaur Cove were Monash's Patricia Vickers-Rich and husband Tom Rich, of Museum Victoria. One dinosaur found at the site, and named Leaellynasaurus, after the Rich's daughter, Leaellyn, now a Melbourne solicitor, is the Victorian official fossil emblem. Her brother Tim, had Timimus named after him -- that dinosaur was like an ostrich up to 2.5m tall. Of course 160 million years back is going back a ways and, naturally enough, findings at Dinosaur Cove have been a matter of debate among scientists as to what the discoveries really meant. Scientists have tangled with the Riches over the hypothesis of Australian dinosaurs roaming far and wide across ancient Gondwanaland -- the antediluvian super-continent that embraced Africa, South America and Antarctica.
Scientists such as Queensland palaeontologist Steven Salisbury, of Brisbane's University of Queensland, who doesn't agree with the Rich's theories about Dinosaur Cove and who has argued in recent years that Australia was dinosaur stamping ground in its own right."