Dinosaurs in Australia

Australian dinosaur discoveries

Very few dinosaur fossils have been found in Australia, yet Australia has many rocks of the right age to contain dinosaurs. Why have so few been found?

Australia is mostly a low, flat land, with few mountains, deep river valleys, canyons or other geological features that expose rocks that may contain dinosaur fossils. Most of Australia's vast plains are very ancient, and any exposed fossils in these areas are likely to have been destroyed by weathering.

Australia’s dinosaurs state by state

Queensland

The vast majority of Australia’s dinosaur bones come from north-central Queensland, found in Early Cretaceous rocks formed about 140 million years ago (mya). But even though this is the richest Australian dinosaur region, finds are still rare, and fewer than 10 skeletons are known, some of them rather incomplete. These include the iguanodont Muttaburrasaurus and the ankylosaur Minmi. Both are somewhat atypical of their groups and suggest that Australian dinosaurs, when better known, may turn out to be rather different from their contemporaries elsewhere in the world. Queensland has also produced two very incomplete sauropod skeletons: Rhoetosaurus brownei, from the Middle Jurassic (170 mya), and Austrosaurus mckillopi from the earliest Late Cretaceous (90 mya).

New South Wales and South Australia

The opal fields of Lightning Ridge in New South Wales have produced virtually all of Australia’s opalised dinosaur bones. These are from marine sediments of early Cretaceous age. In South Australia, the Andamooka opal field has produced a single bone of a small theropod called Kakuru. Much more common than dinosaurs in the Australian opal fields are the bones of marine reptiles, particularly plesiosaurs. Whereas the opalised dinosaur remains are all single bones, a few nearly complete opalised skeletons of marine reptiles have been found at Andamooka and Coober Pedy in South Australia and White Cliffs in New South Wales.

Photo of an opalised femur of a hypsilophodontid dinosaur from Lightning Ridge

The quintessential Australian Dinosaur, an opalised femur or thigh bone of a hypsilophodontid dinosaur from Lightning Ridge
Photographer: John Broomfield / Source: Museum Victoria

Victoria

In Victoria, a large number of isolated bones (but only two partial skeletons, both hypsilophodontids) have been found in a few small coastal outcrops. For a decade, bones were mostly found at a site called Dinosaur Cove near Cape Otway. At this locality it was necessary to blast tunnels underground to reach the fossils. The site was considered exhausted at the end of 1994. Work is now underway at another site 300 km to the east of Dinosaur Cove called Flat Rocks, near Inverloch. Flat Rocks is about 10 million years older than Dinosaur Cove. The most common dinosaurs found at these locations are hypsilophodontids, but theropods, ornithomimiosaurs, protoceratopsians, and ankylosaurs have also been found.

Western Australia

From the vast area of Western Australia, only six dinosaur bones have been discovered in three different marine formations ranging in age from the Middle Jurassic (170 mya) to the Late Cretaceous (90 mya). One of the oldest is a partial bone of a theropod named Ozraptor. Systematic searching for fossil marine reptiles continues in Western Australia, and may eventually yield an occasional dinosaur bone or even a skeleton.

Dinosaur footprints

Given the scarcity of fossil bones of dinosaurs in Australia, it is fortunate that dinosaur trackways or footprints are relatively common and greatly add to our knowledge of Early Cretaceous and Middle Jurassic dinosaurs in Australia. Palaeontologists at the University of Queensland are going to great lengths to develop techniques to collect and analyse trackway information. Much of this collecting involves getting access to trackways on the roofs of coal mines, which can only be reached using elaborate scaffolding.

Map of Australia showing where dinosaur fossils have been found

Map of Australia showing locations at which dinosaur fossils have been found
Source: The Dinosaur Society

Further Reading

Norman, D. 1985. The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Dinosaurs. Salamander Books Limited, London.

M. J., Norell, M., McKenna, M. C. and Clark, J. 2004. Fossils of the Flaming Cliffs. Pp. 56-63 in Scientific American Special Edition: Dinosaurs and other monsters Vickers-Rich, P. Monaghan, J. M., Baird, R. F. and Rich, T. H. 1991. Vertebrate Palaeontology of Australasia. Pioneer Design Studio, Novacek.

Vickers-Rich, P. and Rich, T. H. 1993. Australia’s polar dinosaurs. Scientific American July 1993: 50–55.

Vickers-Rich, P. and Rich, T. 2004. Dinosaurs of the Antarctic. Pp. 40-47 in Scientific American Special Edition: Dinosaurs and other monsters.

Vickers-Rich, P., Rich, T. H., Rich, L. S. and Rich, T. 1997. Australian Dinosaurs. Kangaroo Press, Sydney.

Comments (30)

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brandon 6 August, 2009 09:46
hi tghis is cool
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shanka 20 August, 2009 10:20
this ia a great site!
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beck 24 August, 2009 16:00
i like bananas to :)
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matthew 10 May, 2010 17:52
cheese is better than monkey bones
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Dale Boulton 28 May, 2010 09:39
Where can we go view bones and fossils in Australia, we're in NSW, my son is keen to see some for real after watching so many doccos
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Discovery Centre 28 May, 2010 16:09

Hi Dale, consider contacting your local branch of the Field Naturalists Society, they should be able to provide your son with information and guidance about how and where to search for fossils.  They may also provide group excursions that he can take part in.

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Todd Lynch 7 June, 2010 15:04
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max 10 August, 2010 14:05
i love dinosaurs
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barry 11 August, 2010 15:31
i like dinosaures
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tia 16 October, 2010 14:38
dinosaurs are amazing and awesome. it would be soo cool if they were still alive!
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mik 19 January, 2014 20:04
I no we wish
yourmum 18 October, 2010 14:41
i like bananas two :P
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Chloe 18 November, 2010 12:21
Thnx that was helpful!!
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Nikki 6 March, 2011 14:14
will you be able to tell me the geologic processes which have lead to the formation of fossils at dinosaur cove? like was there a flood plain ?
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Isabella Marielaluz Del Castillo 9 March, 2011 08:55
I would love to have seen a dinosour alive today in the present!!!!They were such amazing creatures;)
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Discovery Centre 9 March, 2011 17:07

Hi Nikki - Evidence suggests that the environment around the Dinosaur Cove region was a floodplain crisscrossed with streams an channels in a wide rift valley, with ferny forested margins nearby. The streams were in grey mud and sand, sediment that was previously volcanic rock that had been eroded and transported and was deposited as sediment in the great rift valley. In these fast-flowing streambeds, tumbling amongst this sediment were leaves, twigs, bits of gravel and very occasionally animal bones that had washed down into the valley and been rapidly covered in more grey volcanic sand and mud. As this region was close to the South Pole during this time (over 110 million years ago), it is likely that there was some seasonality to the flow in these streams; perhaps the flow of the streams was greater during the warmer months as higher altitude snows melted and flowed into the lowland areas, or there may have been monsoonal conditions – this is still the subject of some discussion and research.

Although this is a fairly lengthy description of our understanding of the conditions at Dinosaur Cove, it is only a summary of some of the basic ideas of what we think the environment was like. You can learn more about the evidence of some of Victoria’s ancient environments in the Melbourne Museum exhibition ‘600 million years’ and its accompanying website here: http://museumvictoria.com.au/melbournemuseum/discoverycentre/600-million-years/  

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Tara 10 March, 2011 01:08
What amazing info - I can't believe you answer these questions like this! This is a great site, I looove that you answer all the random questions!!!
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Katey 21 April, 2011 15:50
I wonder who would win - chrizard or T rex
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Tianna 5 September, 2011 10:51
Hi there um im doind an assignment and i need some usefull information and pictures on dinosaur cove. Do any of you have an idea where i might find some?
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Discovery Centre 19 September, 2011 14:53
Hi Tianna - You can find an interesting essay describing some firsthand experienes of our Senior Curator of Palaeontology at Dinosaur Cove here: http://museumvictoria.com.au/history/dinosaur.html. More information can be found on this website, however please keep in mind that this is not published by Museum Victoria: http://home.alphalink.com.au/~dannj/sites.htm#dinocove
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steph 11 November, 2011 11:07
hi im doing an assignment and i need to know what full dinosaur fossils have been found in australia?
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Discovery Centre 14 November, 2011 12:45

Hi Steph - there have been no 100% complete dinosaur skeletons found in Australia. ‘Complete’ skeletons from dinosaurs are actually very rare, and Australia’s dinosaur skeletons tend to be quite fragmentary.  Three of the more complete dinosaur skeletons that are known from Australia are Minmi, an armoured ankylosaurid dinosaur, Muttaburrasaurus, a large plant-eating ornithopod dinosaur similar to Iguanodonts, and Australovenator, a large carnivorous theropod dinosaur similar to Allosaurs. All these dinosaurs are of Cretaceous age and lived in what is now Central Queensland.

You can learn more about Minmi at http://australianmuseum.net.au/Minmi-paravertebra, Muttaburrasaurus at http://australianmuseum.net.au/Muttaburrasaurus-langdoni  and Australovenator at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2703565/?tool=pmcentrez

Hope this helps

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Tayyy 15 January, 2012 16:52
hey , im doing an essay on fossils - the envlutionary record in rocks but i have no idea where to start ! do u have any websites that would maybe be able to help be with this ?
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Sandra McAlpine 31 May, 2012 19:41
very informative.
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Bec 14 January, 2013 23:07
does anyone know where i can find any kind of fossils in south east nsw, eurobodalla shire area and surrounding areas.Thanks.
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Erina 19 March, 2013 12:52
Who owns dinosaur bones when they are found?
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Discovery Centre 22 March, 2013 11:03
Hi Erina, the short answer is that is all depends where they are found!  Check out this Australian Museum website for some useful information.
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Roger 27 September, 2013 23:31
I'm not sure the Answer to Erina was covered off. I went to the Australian Museum website link but it was extremely vague and focused on NSW. So, as an example, would own the bones if permission by a land owner was given to dig in South Australia? Would a correctly worded agreement signed between the land owner and the digger allow for their ownership and not the state?
Gary Drinnan 28 December, 2013 17:58
I have wondered for a while why there are not a lot of dinosaur skeletons found in Australia considering the age of the continent, weathering is personably one reason but also the Great Dividing range which would of been Volcanic May have kept Dinosaurs isolated to the I lands, also you have forgot to mention Wellington Caves NSW which have fossils of the Dinosaur era
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Prahaladh 19 April, 2014 11:06
How come no dinosaur fossils have been found in the Northern Territory and Tasmania?
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