Sunday, September 1, 2013

Yea, Victoria

Though not a museum I thought I would talk about my most recent natural history experience, a visit to the world famous Devonian/Silurian site at Yea, Victoria.

Recently the National Dinosaur Museum has completed its ‘Dinosaurs Down Under’ road show. Having won a grant to participate in Australia’s National Science Week, the NDM was to visit 10 rural locations in NSW and Victoria, set up an exhibit at each location and have an international speaker (in this case the Berlin based, Hungarian palaeontologist, Dr Marton Rabbi) give a lecture or two to the townsfolk, before packing up and moving on.
Dr Rabbi's talk at Shepparton, Victoria.

Over a two week period our little road show visited Cootamundra, West Wyalong, Griffith (where I was born), Hay, Deniliquin, Echuca, Shepparton, Wangaratta, Lakes Entrance and Eden. At Wangaratta it became clear that the truck we had could not make the 4 hour drive over the Great Alpine Road (as it was winter and snowing) so I had to drive the long way round. This trip, almost all the way down to Melbourne, had the bonus of passing near Yea.

The township was first surveyed in 1855 and was named after Colonel Lacy Walter Yea, a British officer killed in the Crimean War. Fossils of strange looking plants were discovered there in 1875, but the importance of these fossils was not recognised until just before the Second World War (1935) when Isabel Clifton Cookson- an Australian Palaeobotanist- first described the species.
One of the best specimens on display 
 at the National Dinosaur Museum
in Canberra

At the time they were thought to be as old as the Silurian, though it’s now recognised the original site only dates back to the Devonian. Other sites have been found nearby that do indeed date back to the first date, meaning the Yea fossils are still of great historical importance.

So what are these fossils and why was I so keen to get there? Well, amongst a few other things are amazing specimens of Baragwanathia, considered the world’s oldest vascular (leafy) plant. Though the species has since been found in Canada and China, the Yea specimens are by far the best and most numerous. They are considered lycopods, a group that has over 1,000 living species today (such as club mosses and quillworts). They would grow into the largest plants of their day (the tree-like Lepidodendron) before being replaced by true trees, flowers and grasses.

Clearly visible are the small, hair-like
structures considered to be the
world's 1st leaves.
At Yea’s information centre (located at the back of Marmalade’s CafĂ©- try the homemade jam slice, it’s delightful) you can get a small pamphlet about the site and a map on how to get there. To quote the pamphlet ‘It is believed that the Baragwanthia plant formed a scrubby covering across what was once a tidal flat for an ancient ocean around 400 million years ago according to the best geological dating’.

For myself I’d have to say this is one of the most accessible fossils sites I have ever heard of. You just drive outside of town a few minutes, down Limestone Road, drive a few hundred meters to the tip of the hill and there it is, right alongside the road.

I pulled the truck up and began to hunt about along the open cuts, carefully searching for any signs of ancient life. Here and there were clear impressions, though impressions of what I have no idea.

One looked like a worms burrow to me, though it could just as easily been a prehistoric sock.

 Every hill had a cutting you can search through, and I was there during winter so there was little danger of coming across any of the nastier, still living inhabitants of the region. This is an important point and if you are thinking of visiting the area listen carefully, BEWARE OF SNAKES. High grass, good trees, thick bushes all suggest the best basking place for a cold snake is the exact places where you can see the fossils- and in this part of the country there would be plenty of the scaly terrors- so once again BEWARE OF SNAKES.

To show you how dangerous the area could be, I was so fixated on seeing a fossil in the rocks that I never noticed the numerous wombat holes covering the opposite side of every hill, so one last time, BEWARE OF SNAKES!

My trip was a short one as I still had hours and hours to go to the next location for the dinosaur tour, but it was still a thrill to walk along an ancient sea shore, back when life first started taking over the planet.
Surely one of the world's more picturesque fossil sites


  1. Just visited the site yesterday with a small gang of kids. What a blast to go hunting for fossils and imagine we were on the bottom of the sea 400million years ago.

  2. it is amazing. hope you al had fun and kept an eye out for the wombats :)