A most extraordinary day in the preparation laboratory

by Joanne Wilkinson, Senior Fossil Preparator and Conservator

As a fossil preparator and conservator, my days are spent in a laboratory using tools and glues to preserve fossil bones. I am often the first to see detailed features and shapes of bones that have spent many millions of years under the earth. A day in the lab is always filled with wonder but what happened on May 21st 2004 was quite extraordinary.

Hendra Preparation Lab. Image: Jo Wilkinson

I had received a call from Robyn and Stuart Mackenzie, landowners of Plevna Downs, a remote property near Eromanga, South West Queensland. They said they had something to show me.

Jo’s diary entry. Image Jo Wilkinson

I had visited the Mackenzie’s property six years earlier with three palaeontologists, Ralph Molnar, Paul Sereno and John Marco. We were on an expedition looking at the sediments of the Winton Formation in South West Queensland and we knew they were the right age to preserve dinosaurs. Mysteriously, no dinosaur bones had ever been found in the area and we were curious to explore why.

So six years later I was keen to see what the Mackenzie’s had to show me. And you can imagine the excitement when I saw the unmistakable colour, lustre and features of dinosaur bone. In their hands was the very first dinosaur bone from SW Queensland. It had been found by their son Sandy, whilst mustering on Plevna Downs. There was much excitement when they realised their weird object was in fact part of an ancient dinosaur.

Coincidentally, Queensland Museum was also a-buzz with dinosaur excitement. The official opening of a magnificent Chinese Dinosaur Exhibition was underway. Original Chinese dinosaur bones were on display in a spectacular exhibition at South Bank. All my colleagues were at the opening event and I had waited back in the lab to meet the Mackenzie’s.

Within minutes the Mackenzie’s and I were off to the Chinese Dinosaur Exhibition with an extra special object to show Queensland Museum Palaeontologists, Alex Cook and Dr Scott Hocknull. They were suitably impressed and simply said, “go and find more”. That is exactly what the Mackenzie’s did and within 2 months they had located 4 more dinosaur sites and a wonderful journey of discovery had begun.

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