Many millions of years ago Australia was part of a large landmass called Gondwana. South America, India, Africa, Madagascar, New Zealand and Antarctica were also part of it and dinosaurs had free range. As the supercontinent broke apart because of plate tectonics, Australia’s dinosaurs became isolated and evolved differently from their counterparts in other areas of the world. As a result, unique and diverse Aussie dinosaur species existed during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.
Dinosaurs lived 250 to 65 million years ago. During their time, Australia had an inland sea that covered most of Queensland, the top half of South Australia and part of New South Wales. Most fossils today are found on the far east side of the country.
Dinosaurs in Queensland
There’s evidence of a dinosaur stampede near the town of Winton. It’s the only known one anywhere in the world. The footprints suggest around 150 dinosaurs were grazing near a river when they were confronted by a large predator, something similar to a Tyrannosaurs rex. In the confusion the dinosaurs fled in every direction—leaving their tracks in mud that hardened into rock over time. More than 3,000 individual footprints have been catalogued. The site greatly interests specialists and is a popular tourist attraction.
In 1924, fossil remains of a Rhoetosaurus were found on a cattle station near Roma. They were discovered by Arthur Browne and he contacted the Queensland Museum. The specimens turned out to be pieces of one of the biggest and intact sauropods (dinosaurs with four legs, a long neck and tail) ever identified. It’s been estimated that the Rhoetosaurus was around 15 metres tall, weighed nine tonnes and could walk a distance of up to 30 kilometres a day. The dinosaur was named in honour of Arthur: Rhoetosaurus brownei. A second team returned to the site in 1976 and unearthed more.
Around 60% of a dinosaur skeleton was discovered close to the small town of Muttaburra in 1963. The Muttaburrasaurus, as it was eventually classified, had an unusual extension on its head. Scientists believe it was part of an air sac system that helped the dinosaur produce sounds. When the public became aware of the Muttaburrasaurus, parts of the skeleton were taken as souvenirs. Palaeontologist Alan Bartholomai worked with local law officials to retrieve them. A couple of other Muttaburrasaurus fossils have been found in other regions in Queensland.
In 2005 in Winton, Sandra Muir stumbled upon an unusual looking bone and quickly got the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum involved. The dinosaur was nicked named “Matilda”, after the Banjo Patterson song, and turned out to be a Diamantinasaurus. The herbivore was thought to be similar to a hippo in build. It could have been up to 16 metres long and as heavy as 20 tonnes. Though on the small side, the Diamantinasaurus was part of a dinosaur group called Titanosaurus. They were the largest animals to ever walk the Earth.
The Diamantinasaurus was excavated between 2006–2010 and a second dinosaur, an Australovenator, was found along side. This baffled palaeontologists as it’s extremely rare for herbivores and carnivores to be together at the same dig site. The skeleton was affectionately called “Banjo”, also in honour of Banjo Patterson. The Australovenator was a fast predator and some believe it could’ve been part of the T-rex family tree.
Dinosaurs in Victoria
It’s been estimated that 85% of all Victorian dinosaur fossils have been found in or around Dinosaur Cove, which is part of the Otway Ranges. A handful of specimens were found in the area in the early 1900s but no serious investigations were carried out until the late 1970s. Palaeontologists have to abseil down a steep cliff to reach the site. It’s believed Dinosaur Cove was once a stream that became buried under rock. It became exposed again when the Otway Ranges first formed.
In 1987, parts of a Leaellynasaura were uncovered on a dig at Dinosaur Cove. The dinosaur had large eye sockets suggesting it might have been nocturnal. The Leaellynasaura had a short stature and it could’ve travelled in herds. It was most likely an Australian and Arctic species. Project leaders Tom Rich and Patricia Vickers-Rich named the dinosaur after their daughter, Leaellyn.
Dinosaurs in Other States
There are many dinosaurs that have been discovered all over the country. A lot have been unearthed in Western Australia as well as some scattered specimens in South Australia. Lightning Ridge in New South Wales is a notable example because the bones there are fossilised in opal.
New dinosaurs are being found all the time. Even as recently as 2015, a volunteer on Melbourne Museum’s annual dinosaur dig came across bones of an Elaphrosaur. Australia is in the midst of a discovery boom.
Photo Credit: The Dinosaur Database (https://dinosaurpictures.org/Australovenator-pictures)
Australian Age of Dinosaurs (https://www.australianageofdinosaurs.com/)
Australian Dinosaurs (https://australian.museum/learn/dinosaurs/australian-dinosaurs/)
Australia’s Amazing Dinosaurs by Australian Geographic (Book)
Dinosaur Cove: How it All Began (https://rbh49.com/DD/registered/sitearchive/DINOSAUR%20COVE.pdf)
Elaphrosaur: Rare Dinosaur Identified in Australia (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-52712005)
Prehistoric Australia for Kids (https://www.nma.gov.au/learn/kspace/prehistoric-australia-110-million-years-ago/kids)
What is a Dinosaur? (https://australian.museum/learn/dinosaurs/fact-sheets/what-is-a-dinosaur/)
Where to Find Dinosaur Footprints Around Australia (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-09-08/dinosaur-tracks-around-australia/7820524