Australian museums and Outback fossickers can thank the events of 100 million years ago for their fossil treasures and high-quality opals.
Near perfect conditions for the creation of these “particularly beautiful” relics were created in prehistoric times when Australia’s red centre was flooded by an inland ocean called the Eromanga Sea, says Flinders University research fellow Dr Danielle Clode.
This was one of the interesting facts “unearthed” by Dr Clode in her latest book Prehistoric Marine: Life in Australia’s Inland Sea (Museum Victoria, RRP $24.95).
“The reason why Australia has significantly more opals than anywhere else in the world is because of the specific sedimentary activity of this vast, shallow sea,” Dr Clode says.
“These prehistoric conditions and ocean’s gradual retreat saw large-scale opalisation of a wide array of prehistoric marine life, including giant reptiles and other creatures swimming and roaming the shoreline, skies and shallow sea water.
“They yield a rich and enduring understanding of life in those prehistoric times which palaeontologists can now piece into a colourful picture of Australia’s Eromanga Sea during the Cretaceous period.”
The new illustrated book gives an accessible introduction to some of the amazing fauna, geology and fossils found in central Australia, says Dr Clode, acknowledging the advice provided by Flinders University Strategic Professor in Palaeontology John Long.
Fossilised remains of plesiosaurs, ichthyosaurs, pterosaurs and ammonites have since become major fossil finds in opal-mining districts of South Australia and New South Wales, while western Queensland and Western Australia is known for its dinosaur and marine fossils.
Dr Clode will give a public lecture at the SA Museum on 14 October, as part of the new SA Museum Opal Exhibition which opens on 25 September. A “Virgin” belemnite (cephalopod-like blade) and fossilised ammonite form part of the extensive SA Museum opal collection.
The focus on prehistoric marine animals in Dr Clode’s latest book follows a theme of her six other publications.
Brought up by boatbuilder parents and living on a boat originally based in Port Lincoln saw her cover Australia’s coast from east to west.
Her first book Killers in Eden has just been reprinted by the Museum of Victoria, recounts the history of killer whaling off the South Coast of NSW.
And her current project is an adventure on the high seas, an historical novel about the first French expedition to land on the West Coast of Australia – almost coinciding with the British landing on the East Coast in 1770.
The other titles include Prehistoric Giants: Megafauna of Australia (Museum Victoria), A Future in Flames (Melbourne University Press), A Continent of Curiosities (Cambridge University Press) and As If For A Thousand Years (Victorian Environmental Assessment Council).
Dr Clode spoke to Conversations with Richard Fidler on ABC Radio this week about her books.