A young life amid the old

FIND: Dr Patrick Smith shows a fossil of a rare dino-bird in front of an Elasmosaurus skeleton at Richmond's Kronosaurus Korner. Photo: Samantha Walton

FIND: Dr Patrick Smith shows a fossil of a rare dino-bird in front of an Elasmosaurus skeleton at Richmond's Kronosaurus Korner. Photo: Samantha Walton

Dr Patrick Smith, curator of Richmond’s Kronosaurus Korner museum, is a boyish-looking 27 who laughed when I began our interview by saying he was very young.

“That’s very true, it’s probably because I went straight from doing my undergraduate degree to doing a postgraduate...it’s because I love the field so much,” Dr Smith said.

There was no denying that, Dr Smith’s passion for palaeontology was obvious from his constant smile, his flowing hand gestures and his loving connection with his work.

It was a long journey for a student in the Blue Mountain fringes of Sydney to the dusty red rocks of north west Queensland.

FINDING ANCIENT NEMO: Dr Patrick Smith at work in the museum. Photo: Derek Barry

FINDING ANCIENT NEMO: Dr Patrick Smith at work in the museum. Photo: Derek Barry

“The rocks here are one million year old and we are sitting on a treasure trove of fossils,” he said.

 “It’s comparable to what you find in the west of the United States which has been known since the 1800s.”

Like in the American fields the fossil finds in North West Queensland are in a marine environment, and Dr Smith said the ancient inland sea which once flooded this region when it was part of Gondwana makes it ideal for preservation.

“With fossils on land such as dinosaurs, they have die in particular conditions such as lakes and billabongs but oceans are much better for preserving,” he said.

Many of those marine fossils are now in the superb Kronosaurus Korner museum which began after local finds of one hundred million year old world-class specimens in two nearby properties in 1989 and 1990.

“The Kronosaurus was found earlier in 1930 but they named the place after it because it was one of the largest and most ferocious creatures out here, a bit like Tyrannosaurus rex” Dr Smith said.

“The first specimen was found in the 1920s by Heber Longman, director of the Queensland Museum, and all he had was a piece of jaw but he realised it was something different and something ferocious so he named it after Kronos, the horrible god of Greek mythology that ate all his children.

“Even today we get people complain ‘why did you name it after this terrible creature’, and I say, ‘it wasn’t my decision, it was Heber Longman back in the twenties!’”

FLYING FOSSIL: Bone from the Nanantius eos, or dino bird, found recently at Richmond. Photo: supplied

FLYING FOSSIL: Bone from the Nanantius eos, or dino bird, found recently at Richmond. Photo: supplied

Finds are still being made regularly to add to an already impressive collection, most recently an elasmosaurus with confirmed stomach content, the only such find in Australia and a rare dino bird.

The ‘dino bird’ bones found last month likely represent a creature named Nanantius eos, which belonged to an extinct group known as enantiornithines.

“For me the fascination is that these animals used to roam our landscape,” Dr Smith said. “These are animals that used to call Australia home just like we call Australia home.”

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