The progress from then has been extraordinary. Patricia and Tom, along with other scientists and volunteer enthusiasts, have pulled many dinosaur bones out of the ground and rocks in the Inverloch region, and also at Dinosaur Cove at Cape Otway. Victoria’s dinosaurs have been unearthed, examined and identified – from that femur, which turned out to be from a bi-pedal herbivore with scissor-like teeth (imagine your classic long-tail, long-neck dinosaur running on two legs) to stubby, horned, four-legged armoured creatures.
Then there are bones believed to be from a close relative of the Australovenator, which gets anybody’s heart beating because that’s one of the big dinosaurs, and a lookalike of the infamous Tyrannosaurus rex, except that Victoria’s version may have had feathers. The problem is that, because the Australovenator was at the top of the food chain, there weren’t as many carcasses left lying about, half eaten, to ooze into lakes or mud and eventually become fossilised, whereas lots of smaller herbivore bones have been found.
In fact, Patricia and her team are investigating whether Victoria may have had one of the world’s most diverse array of small ornithopod herbivore dinosaurs, with a surprisingly hardy ability to survive in the daunting local conditions, including such unique features as large eyes for the gloomy light. There is always so much more to find out.
Right now, Patricia is excited because she is trying to raise money and negotiate with VicRoads to conduct a dig in a former frozen lake at Koonwarra, a site where the South Gippsland Highway is about to be widened. This lake has already produced an unexpectedly giant prehistoric flea (see below), fossilised fish and dinosaur feathers. The feathers are especially significant because they give Patricia and her colleagues, such as Dr Steve Poropat, an insight into how dinosaurs survived in that very cold, dark, sub-Antarctic version of Victoria.
“Feathers were originally evolved for insulation,” Patricia explains. “It was only later, as birds evolved, that they developed feathers for lift and aerodynamics.”
Feather discoveries are also exciting, for those of us non-science types planning to go to the Melbourne Museum or the RACV Inverloch Resort’s display to gaze at the Vickers-Rich family’s many finds, because fossilised feathers can carry pigments that confirm the colour of the down covering that dinosaur. When you watch Jurassic Park or other dinosaur-based media, often it’s pure best-guess as to what the skin or colour of the various beasts might have been. Feathers narrow that down. The search continues.