You wouldn’t guess it but there’s only one site in the world that shows evidence of a dinosaur stampede. And it just happens to be in our Aussie backyard of Winton, in Outback Queensland.
In October 2016 a new species, Savannasaurus Elliottorum, was officially named, the fossilised skeleton of this 18-metre-long dinosaur discovered by Winton grazier, David Elliott, on his property while mustering sheep.
It wasn’t the first time Elliott had stumbled upon dinosaur bones: that happened back in 1999, and his family went on to establish the Australian Age of Dinosaurs museum on their property, which now boasts the largest collection of Australian dinosaur fossils in the world.
This non-profit museum is a great visit for those who are self-proclaimed dino-geeks or those who just love all things history.
The History of Winton and the Dinosaurs
Originally based in a sheep station in Belmont, owners Judy and David Elliot started up the museum in October 2002. During September 2006, the owners of the Mt Landsborough Station near Winton, Peter and Carol Britton, donated their 1,400 hectares (called ‘Jump-Up’ country) for the Australian Age of Dinosaurs to relocate there. Fast forward to 2009, and the Elliot family were moving the museum to Winton.
In the late 1970s, scientists found fossils and footprints in the surrounding areas in Lark Quarry, believing that millions of years ago, there was a stampede of over 150 two-legged dinosaurs. During this time Lark Quarry was excavated and became an Environmental Park. You can only see it from afar due to the safety of preserving this magnificent piece of land.
In 2005, David Elliot, yet again found another dinosaur site on his property in Belmont and dug up 17 pallets of fossil bones. Giving the dinosaur the nickname of Wade, it was a tribute to the Australian Paleontologist Dr Mary Wade who passed away during the dig. Later in the year, there was a discovery of another site on Elderslie Station (close to Winton) leading to a series of digs that resulted in the recovery of two dinosaur skeletons preserved together. The theropod was nicknamed Banjo (after Andrew Barto ‘Banjo’ Paterson) and the sauropod was nicknamed Matilda (relating to Banjo Paterson’s iconic poem, Waltzing Matilda).
What you can see and do in the Museum
Thousands of footprints at Lark Quarry Conservation Park tell of a day, 95 million years ago, when a herd of small dinosaurs were chased by a meat-eating theropod, creating a stampede. Winton looked a little different back then, covered in rainforests and swamps on the edge of an inland sea, and this part of Queensland’s west has proved Australia’s richest source of dinosaur fossils – and big dinosaurs in particular.
The museum runs across three different facilities, the Fossil Preparation Laboratory, Collection Room and Dinosaur Canyon. In these areas of the museum, you can find dinosaur fossils from three periods, Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous. Found throughout the majority of the country, bones have been discovered in the regions of NSW, QLD, SA, VIC, and WA.
Those who are employed at the museum go on special digs for fossils, so their collection has been increasing since they opened in Belmont. You too can opt to go on a Dig-a-Dino experience. The entire tour takes up seven days, but you’ll only be digging for five or six of them. Included in the price ($3,500 for new diggers), you’ll get accommodation, all meals and pre-dinner drinks. You’ll also get to take an excursion to the museum’s laboratory, where you’ll see how fossils are studied.
If you’re looking to help but don’t have enough time to spend a whole week digging, the Prep-a-Dino experience is worth the short journey. The preparation will last for two days, starting at $169 per person for a twin package. Be guided through the laboratory, learning how to find dinosaurs, dig and clean away the rock that they’re entombed in. Hop onboard to the shuttle bus tour to Dinosaur Canyon and witness Australia’s prehistoric landscape. You have to have a steady hand for this type of work because you’re essentially putting pieces of a dinosaur puzzle together.
Otherwise, for those one day only visitors, the museum has a tonne of activities and exhibitions for you to see. In the Collection Room, check out some of the first discoveries in QLD and learn about the story of Banjo, Matilda and Wade. Once you’ve gone through these exhibits, make your way down to the Dinosaur Canyon in the shuttle bus. You’ll witness the original Dinosaur Stampede in Lark Quarry, known to be world’s only known record of a stampede. Also on display are life-size dinosaur exhibits, the death in Billabong exhibit and so many more.
Once you’re feeling a little hungry, make your way down to the Cretaceous Cafe. Order up a delicious chunky meat pie and maybe a sweet killer python lolly for a classic Aussie lunch.
What else can you do in Winton?
Waltzing Matilda Centre
The Waltzing Matilda Centre has a great historical display about the area of Winton as well as lots of information on the famous Banjo Paterson. Head through the Main Exhibition as you experience the background and story of the iconic song through interactive displays. Check out the Chorregon Railway, a BB 18 1/4 class steam locomotive display that stands right outside. And stop into the Tuckerbox Cafe for some refuelling.
Bladensburg National Park
Almost 20 kilometres south-west of Winton lies Bladensburg National Park. Filled with flat-topped plateaus, and an epic scenic view to grassland plains and rivers, red gums and rocky scrap, this is the perfect place to have a picnic. You could even camp here if you are enamoured with the views, and the twinkling night sky is even better. If you walk over to Scrammy Lookout, you’ll find low trees that are perfect for shade from the blistering outback sun.
Address: Lot 1 Dinosaur Drive, Winton, QLD, 4735
Contact Number: (07) 4657 0078
If you’re thinking of heading out to Winton in the outback, then you’ve got got a great trip ahead of you. For Brisbane dwellers, hop down to the airport and catch a flight into Longreach Aiport. This will take a couple of hours, and once you’ve landed head down the road, where a Spirit of Outback* RailBus will pick you up and take you the 2 hours up to Winton. Along the way, you’ll see the true Aussie outback, full of kangaroos, dusty roads and empty skies.
But honestly, you can’t go wrong with a great outback road trip. If you don’t feel like driving the almost 15 hours up there (or 7 hours from Townsville), then daily coach services head into Winton right from Brisbane Coach Terminal. Sit back, make that Australian country playlist and put it on repeat.
*Please note: The Spirit of Outback bus only comes twice a week. Make sure you coincide your trip with the flight schedule and land earlier in case.