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Home > Travelogues > 2009 Travelogues Index > Eromanga Sea - Boulia

Imagine holding something 100 million years old – how young do you think you’d feel?  Our introduction to the dinosaur and marine reptile fossil belt of Queensland was an awesome feeling.  What an experience in Boulia, a small and welcoming town in outbackWestern Queensland. 

We were surprised to see hardly any cattle on the plentiful grass plains which remained from the drought breaking January floods. On enquiring, we were told that because of the run of bad years, the banks would not lend the graziers any more money to re-stock once they at last had a good season. 

But before I can tell you all about the marine fossil experience, we have to get to Boulia.  Leaving Mount Isa heading south on the Diamentina Developmental Road which links Mount Isa to Charleville, we initially passed through scenic spinifex clad red-orange hills.  We passed through the small Aboriginal settlement of Dajarra which is roughly half way between Mount Isa and Boulia.  Darjarra was once was once the largest railhead cattle trucking depot in the world.  Drovers would bring cattle from as far away as Western Australia to put them on the train at Dajarra. Then road trains took over from the railway. 

Boulia is alongside the Burke River, which rises to the north from near Duchess and enters the Georgina River some fifty kilometres south of Boulia and makes its way towards Lake Eyre.  The river was named in memory of Robert O'Hara Burke of the Burke and Wills expedition.  The river was now just pools and it was hard to imagine that earlier in the year the river was flooded and Boulia isolated, following seven drought years.  Flooding in January 2009 

Boulia is the gateway to the west as the Donohue Highway into the Northern Territory and the Plenty Highway leaves not far to the north of the town, forming part of The Outback Way crossing Australia east to west.  The road to the south continues to Birdsville, and to the east to Winton.  We were in the heart of the Queensland outback and at the start of our ‘age of dinosaurs’ adventure. 

Visit the Stonehouse Museum and the treasures in the Fossil Display behind the house.  Stonehouse was built in 1888 as the home for storekeeper James Edward Jones and is now furnished in the period and open to walk through, together with outdoor machinery and a shed of collectables.  We were privileged to be welcomed by Dinosaur Dick Suter # when we visited the Fossil Display shed at Stonehouse Museum.  All the fossils in this display were found and excavated within the Boulia Shire, mainly by Richard and John Suter. Read a summary of the different marine creatures from this era here.

Where other museums often have replicas of skeletal finds, at Boulia, you are looking at the real thing, and if you are lucky, talking to the highly entertaining local who uncovered many of the fossils; Dick Suter, otherwise known as Dinosaur Dick.  Together with his brother John, Dick uncovered many of the fossils on display, including an as yet unnamed species.  Marine fossils date back 100 million years and some Nautiloids are dated at between 450 and 500 million year old.  Nautiloids today are little different to these early fossils. 

Much of what is now western Queensland was once part of a huge sea known as the Eromanga Sea, which through several stages millions of years apart, proved to be an ideal medium for preserving the ancient fossils we are now privileged to see being uncovered in our lifetime.  Fossil formation in these ancient inland seas was dependent on a chemical stream coating the bones.  Others just rotted away. 

The last inland sea during the late Albian period, about 98 million years ago is depicted here taken from information at the fossil display at the Stonehouse museum in Boulia.  Boulia fossils are principally marine fossils, many of which pre-dated land based dinosaurs.  This area encompassed parts of New South Wales, South Australia and the Northern Territory.  The larger seas of the late Apian era between 116 and 112 million years ago had a spur extending from South Australia right through Western Australia all the way to the coast at Broome. 

Boulia has something else special; the story of the Min Min Light.  We went to the Min Min Centre for the highly recommended Min Min Encounter.  A theatre consists of a series of rooms you visit progressively during the 45 minute experience where characters tell their stories of seeing the mysterious Min Min Light, which is displayed with high tech wizardry.  This very clever and complex theatre which envelops the visitors into the story culminates with sitting in the last room in which the seating area rotates a full circle while visual displays of all types of lights onlookers have seen are screened before you.  Min Min Encounter

Read the story behind the mystery, first hand accounts of sightings, and scientific possible explanations of this phenomenon. The Min Min Light story

 

Over the third weekend in July, the population of the small town grows from around 250 people to over 3,000 for the festival weekend of the Boulia Camel Races.  We had missed the event by a month, but not been keen on the crowds that come to events, we were enjoying a quiet and friendly Boulia. 

A pair of brolgas are often seen in the main street. Here they are being watched by a pelican in the pool by the Burke River Bridge

We continued east towards Winton.  

Most of the fossils found in the Boulia district are marine invertebrates or large marine reptiles.  The reason is that about 100 million years ago during the Early Cretaceous Period, the Boulia district was part of a shallow inland sea. 

 

About 450 million years ago, Boulia was beneath a deeper ocean which covered most of the eastern half of what is now Australia. 

 

Mass extinctions of most species occurred world wide approximately 65 million years ago, including most of the marine reptiles as well as dinosaurs. 

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Boulia – The heart of the outback, a centre for marine fossils and home to the mysterious Min Min Lights. 

This display includes a bone fragment from the paddle of a Kronosaur and marked in red on the paddle diagram.  The Kronosaur, a large and short necked Pliosaur which grew up to eleven metres in length, was largest of the marine reptiles which hunted in the shallow Eromanga Sea grew .  For this creature, the dolphin shaped Ichthyosaur and the long necked Plesiosaur were in addition to the smaller ammonites and nautiloids just another meal. 
Part of what is believed to be the oldest Australian fossil of a bird has been discovered at Hamilton River near the Hamilton Hotel in the Boulia Shire.
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From newspaper clippings on display at Boulia
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Ichthyosaurs were dolphin-like marine reptiles.  They breathed air and were therefore forced to surface regularly.  They gave birth to live young.  Ichthyosaurs have been known to grow up to 7.5 metres in length.  They ate fish, ammonites and belemnites.  Ichthyosaurs had huge eyeballs which suggests that they had good eyesight. 

Follow our further travels through this fascinating land of the Eromanga Sea as we head towards Winton, sightsee in Winton and visitLark Quarry.

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# We were indeed privileged to meet and talk with the entertaining and fascinating Dinosaur Dick Suter in 2009.  Dick Suter passed away in 2013.  See a little of Dick's story on "Bush legend Dinosaur Dick Dies".