Cool creatures – the fossils of Victoria’s Cretaceous rift valley


Pat: We’ve been in Australia for a very long time; we’ve been here for more than 30 years. Tom and I met at the university, University California Berkeley, and we made the decision to come here because we thought the chances of doing innovative work and finding new things were much greater here than the were in the US.

Tom: So two cousins by the name of Tim Flannery and John Long went down to where the first dinosaur bone had been found in Victoria in 1903, 75 years later. And John, almost as soon as he got on the beach, found a single bone and that led Tim to keep coming back for six months and he found about 30 bones. And then I realised that on the coast of Victoria was an opportunity to find these older mammals and birds that we we’re looking for because these were the time of dinosaurs.

Pat: But it meant walking the whole coast from Inverloch all the way out beyond Cape Otway, and it was Tom’s decision to go into the Otways, we had found this material to the east of Melbourne.

Tom: And we found Dinosaur Cove but it was a place I didn’t want to dig. But unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your point of view, the Friends of the Museum were formed at that time and they wanted to go on a dinosaur dig and they kept twisting my arm. And so we went there.

In February 1984 we had 70 volunteers aged 7 to 77 and we dug for 16 of the maddest days of my life. And at the end of it we had dug an area about the area of two telephone booths underground and out of it came 80 bones. So I said to myself ‘we can do this’, and so for the next 10 years we did. I had always hoped to find mammals though, and not dinosaurs, and it turned out we had actually found a mammal there. But it was about four years after we finished that this specimen was actually recognised to be a mammal.

The reason I was so excited about this jaw, first was that it was a mammal at all. The second thing that got me even more excited is when I finally had the rock removed from it and realised that it might be somehow related to us. In other words it’s a mammal we call a ‘eutherian’. So those two things really got me excited about this specimen.

Pat: Anyway after 27 years Tom finally had his jaw but I was still very, very unhappy that I didn’t have any bird material. However some other things showed up; one of them is the little dinosaurs. And this little skull of Leaellynasaura amicagraphica, Tom was delighted to find this — even though it wasn’t a mammal it was ok. And Tom, when we first broke this open, he was so tired that day that the block actually broke open.

It was a big block. It was broken open in the field and there was – we never would have actually seen the top of its brain, the impression left by the brain on the inside, if it hadn’t broken along those because we would not have had the courage to actually take the bone off the top. But Tom was so tired that day he says ‘ah yeah, it’s a skull’ and that was about it. But as Lesley prepared it and got further and further down we learned a lot about this group of dinosaurs.

About this Video

Pat Vickers-Rich, Monash University and Tom Rich, Museum Victoria, and describe highlights of their work.
Length: 03:09