This information sheet is intended to help those who want to go fossil collecting.
Before you start, be aware of safety issues. Road and rail cuttings are dangerous places and therefore particular care must be taken. Cliffs are often visited by fossil collectors because of the fossil deposits exposed in the cliff face, but tragic accidents and fatalities have occurred due to falls and cliff collapses. Stay clear of unstable cliffs and seek local advice if you are unsure.
Where to go
Here are a few places to start hunting for fossils in Victoria. But first, always be sure you have permission to be on the land you are searching, and to remove fossils if you find them. This includes national parks, state forests, road reserves, and other public land. Many land owners will be happy to allow access as long as they know what you are doing beforehand. Far more problems arise when land owners unexpectedly ‘discover’ a fossil hunter on their land.
Late Cainozoic sites (less than 10 million years old). When partially dried out, the floors of many of the lakes in the Western District of Victoria have produced fossil marsupials, birds and freshwater molluscs. Coastal exposures around Torquay and further east around Lakes Entrance yield large quantities and a variety of fossil marine organisms, such as echinoids, gastropods and bivalves. Some of the better known locales of this age close to Melbourne are coastal cliffs on the eastern side of Port Phillip Bay, but collecting in these locations is not advisable as it can be extremely dangerous, and fatalities have occurred due to cliff collapses. Exposures along the Murray River have also yielded a significant number of both animal and plant fossils.
Early Cretaceous (100–120 million years old). Road cuttings in the Otway and Strezlecki Ranges have yielded numerous plant fossils. Dinosaur bones of the same age occur on the shore platforms of those areas but are extremely difficult to find because they are both very rare and their appearance is quite similar to that of the far more abundant bands of coal in the same rocks.
Middle Palaeozoic (300–440 million years). Limestone quarries at Buchan and Lilydale are particularly good sources of marine shells and occasional fish bones. Areas of exposed rock between Woodstock and Wandong are also worth examining. Some of the oldest land plants anywhere on Earth are to be found in grey siltstones around Yea, on the Yarra Track, and Coopers Creek on the Thompson River.
Early Palaeozoic black shales (550–440 million years). Victoria is noted for its graptolite sequence. Graptolites (literally ‘pencil markings on rocks’) look just like what their name implies. They are the remains of colonial organisms, many of which drifted widely in the oceans of the day so that the same species are often found in places as wide apart as western North America, southern South America and Victoria. Places to look are in river gullies around Monegeeta, south of Lancefield, Knowsley East, a wide area east of a line 5 km west of Wedderburn, south through Bealiba and Maryborough to Ballarat East, and around Bendigo. Quarries where black shales and slates are exposed, such as the one at Bullengarook, are worth checking as well.
Macdonald, J. R., Macdonald, M. L., Vickers-Rich, P., Rich, L. S. V. and Rich, T. H. 1997. The Fossil Collector’s Guide. Kangaroo Press, NSW.