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THE CANBERRA TIMES Saturday, June 26, 2010

Explore the Kronosaurus Korner in Australia’s fossil capital RICHMOND By James Shrimpton

Richmond may be 500km inland from Townsville, but the sea has much to do with its ancient history – the vast inland sea that for long periods between 97.5 million and 120 million years ago covered much of central and northwestern Queensland. Today, the countryside surrounding Richmond (population about 800) abounds in what have been called some of the world’s finest fossils of marine creatures, large and small, from the Cretaceous period. On the Flinders River and 216m above sea level, Richmond is also a leg of the triangular Australian Dinosaur Trail, linking it with Hughenden to the east and Winton to the south.

The trail’s Richmond link is in a downtown building called Kronosaurus Korner, developed by local identity Rob Ievers after he suggested to Richmond Shire Council that it buy a former cinema on the main street and turn it into a fossil museum. A statue of a huge snarling kronosaurus stands outside, seemingly daring visitors to enter. A kronosaurus was a large pliosaur, a marine reptile measuring 10m to 12m long with a skull of up to 3.5m; propelled through the water by four powerful flippers. The most remarkable exhibit at the Korner is the 4.25m-long Richmond Pliosaur discovered by Rob Ievers and his brother Ian in 1989. They noticed what appeared to be a fossilised bone poking out from a creek bank on their cattle and sheep property between Richmond and

Hughenden, named Marathon Station. On closer inspection, it was the end of a snout – with teeth in it. On digging 1.5m into the bank, they later unearthed a head and vertebrae. The Richmond Pliosaur has been described as Australia’s premier vertebrate fossil and also one of the world’s best fossilised skeletons of its type. Kronosaurus Korner contains more than 500 fossils of various kinds, and a laboratory where they are prepared for exhibition by a paleontologist and volunteers using dental drills, pneumatic hammers and chemical processes. Richmond’s role as Australia’s fossil capital is celebrated every second autumn by the Richmond Fossil Festival. While Kronosaurus Korner is the centrepiece, the festival offers other activities including fossicking for relics at four specific

sites (maps provided), a rodeo, camel racing, moonrock throwing, tours of the town and nearby bushland, plus visits to Queensland’s only sandalwood factory and fishing in the Flinders River. Fossickers are allowed to take home their finds unless they are deemed ‘‘significant’’, in which case they may be added to the Korner’s collection. Moonrocks are the local name for rounded limestone boulders found in the area, and the competition is like a cross between shot-putting and discus throwing. The men throw moonrocks weighing 26kg, while the women’s weigh 17kg. In Lions Park on Goldring Street, Richmond’s main thoroughfare, is a stack of seven moonrocks of ever-decreasing size, a monument opened by then Queensland premier Joh BjelkePetersen in 1976 to mark the bitumen

IF YOU GO Kronosaurus Korner is open daily (between 8am and 4pm from June 1, 2010) except for Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Good Friday – also, sensibly, at reduced hours on Melbourne Cup day. Admission charges are $10 for adults, concession $8 and children $6. Details: visit www.kronosauruskorner.com.au or www.www.fossilfestival.com.au or call 1300 576 665.

sealing of the Flinders Highway from Townsville. ■ The writer visited Richmond courtesy of Tourism Queensland. AAP

BIG BITE: The snarling kronosaurus outside the fossil museum in Richmond.

Turning back time in PNG THE WAHGI VALLEY

THE REAL DEAL

IF YOU GO

By Roderick Eime

Trans Niugini Tours (www.pngtours.com) offer an extensive range of tours and excursions throughout Papua New Guinea. Call: +675 542 1438 or email: servicepngtours.com. Pacific Blue offer flights from Sydney to Port Moresby (connecting via Brisbane) with fares starting from $319 per person, one way on the net. Direct flights are also available from Brisbane on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays from $239 per person, one way on the net. Visit: www.flypacificblue.com. Both Air Niugini and Airlines of PNG fly daily to Mount Hagen. Best time to visit: Mount Hagen Show is a cultural feast staged every August. First Contact is available on DVD from Arundel Films.

‘T

he white man came from there,’’ said the old village elder gesturing toward the end of the valley, ‘‘We’d never seen such a thing. We were scared, confused.’’ This scene played out time and time again as the Leahy brothers and their caravan of trackers and porters made their way to the unexplored inland in search of gold. There were hints of gold lying in and around Papua New Guinea as far back as the mid-19th century and each new find was accompanied by a flurry of activity, but it wasn’t until 1926 that large commercial quantities began to be excavated by modern machinery. Even then, it wasn’t enough and exhausted diggers soon returned to Australia to join the growing lines of jobless as the Great Depression took hold. Michael James ‘‘Mick’’ Leahy, born at Toowoomba in 1901, was no ordinary man, even among the hardy Australian bushmen of the time. Always rough and ready, ‘‘Masta Mick’’ as he would later be known, began a dynasty that persists to this day. In 1930, Leahy, along with fellow prospector, Michael Dwyer, began a series of prospecting trips into the interior beginning with the Ramu tributaries and culminating in the now famous discovery of the Wahgi Valley around today’s Mount Hagen. By this time Leahy’s brothers, James and Daniel, were well entrenched in the business, following him everywhere. ‘‘They say Mick had the gold fever,’’ recalled Dan during the making of the 1983 Academy Award-nominated documentary First Contact. ‘‘Well, we all had it.’’ Sure, they found gold and lots of it, but Mick was also interested in documenting the discovery of the million or so previously unknown inhabitants of these vast, fertile valleys. His explorations grew more audacious and, after a few violent encounters, he learned to travel well-armed and provisioned. He also took cameras. ‘‘When the white man thought our leader was going to attack, he shot him,’’ recalls the same villager as he recounts that event to the film-makers. ‘‘The only reason we killed was to defend ourselves and all our carriers,’’ Dan says in defence of their actions. ‘‘If we hadn’t they’d have killed the lot of us.’’ The documentary, made by Sydney film-makers Bob Connolly and Robin Anderson, is a fascinating recounting of the heady days of prospecting and discovery in the wild highlands of PNG. Hours of Leahy’s 16mm film were recovered and restored and then the crew returned to the Wahgi Valley and found surviving members of his expeditions and villagers who remember their first confrontations with these strange white ghosts. Today visitors to Mount Hagen and the surrounding valleys will meet people who, just two generations ago, were completely unknown to the outside world. While comparisons to the Leahy

SMOKIN’: A Kukulka Amps woman from Mount Hagen puffs away on a cigarette during a singsing (cultural festival) in the Southern Highlands.

brothers’ empire might be regarded as overly flattering, Newcastle entrepreneur Bob Bates has created his own minor dynasty with Trans Niugini Tours. For more than 45 years, the Bates family have lived and worked in PNG with their head office on the original site in Mount Hagen. Their network now extends beyond the initial modest 4WD safaris, to

aircraft charters, wilderness lodges and river cruises. Son Andrew handles the company’s marketing and travels back and forth from the family property near Newcastle. ‘‘Dad’s a bit shy really,’’ he notes with a wry grin and nods toward Bob ,who ducks out the back door. ‘‘But he’s got lots of stories to tell.’’ I’m sure! Bob is a regular around town and still drives an original

Range Rover he bought new in the ’70s. Although I spend one night at the centrally located Highlander Hotel in downtown Mt Hagen, the remainder of my stay is at the superbly located Rondon Ridge, a new Bates family lodge overlooking the entire Wahgi Valley, or so it seems. Spacious and intriguingly

decorated with Highland and Sepik art, it is powered by its own hydroelectricity plant and the kitchen serves organic salads and vegetables gathered from the many local market gardens. The avocados are to die for. The Wahgi Valley is the domain of the Melpa people and their unique language is heard in the villages, markets and busy bus

stops around town. PNG has more than 800 unique languages, a legacy of its millennia of isolation and territorial nature of the many tribes. Even Leahy’s Papuan men had no way of communicating with the Melpa during their historic first encounters and everything was negotiated with sign and body language. ‘‘If we wanted a pig for dinner, we’d grunt ‘oink, oink’ like that,’’ said Toa, one of Mick’s ‘boys’, to the camera. ‘‘And we’d buy the pig with shells.’’ The Melpa had never seen shells and they instantly became currency and were negotiable for all manner of goods . . . and services. Joseph, my driver and guide, takes me on a series of jaunts throughout the region visiting villages, gardens, markets and points of interest like the Gatak River, where the Leahy brothers found much of their gold. ‘‘My father found a big nugget for Masta Mick,’’ recalls Joseph, pointing over to the river. Joseph’s dad was just a boy then, working for the Leahys. Villagers in traditional attire demonstrate their ancient methods of agriculture, planting and harvesting. We’re invited to try roasted sweet potato and it’s delightful. The Wahgi Valley is now recognised as one of the first areas of human farming, dating back 9000 years and the Kuk Swamp site is UNESCO World Heritage listed. The lodge also has a series of walking trails into the surrounding forest. Its secondary growth apparently regenerated after Australian loggers came through and cleared out all the oak and beech in the 1950s. Joseph shows me through the lodge’s orchid garden, protected by a moat from marauding pigs. It is their goal to collect every orchid that occurs in the valley, about 400, and they’re half way there now. Mount Hagen is a world away from the rest of PNG, with obvious genetic differences between the coastal inhabitants. A visit will help you understand the exhilaration experienced by Mick Leahy and his team who discovered both alluvial and cultural gold in the mistenshrouded peaks of the Wahgi. ■ The writer was a guest of PNG Tourism and Trans Niugini Tours. AAP

Southern Spirit’s ‘cruising’ itinerary on track for more TRAIN TRAVEL By James Shrimpton

A revised itinerary for Australia’s first ‘‘cruising train,’’ the Southern Spirit, has proved so popular that its 2011 season has been extended from its original two journeys scheduled from Adelaide to Brisbane and return next January and February. The first journey sold out hours after prerelease tickets went on sale, Great Southern Rail announced. Now an unstated number of Southern Spirit trips will be offered to preregistered travellers, with tickets to be on sale from July 1. Southern chief executive Tony Branxton-Smith said the company had been inundated by public

inquiries since the original Southern Spirit’s first two 14-day ‘‘cruises’’ earlier this year travelling from Alice Springs to Brisbane and back with a series of ‘‘shore excursions’’ to some of Australia’s top tourism icons. Under the new, shortened itinerary, the luxury train will twice travel a four-state route over six days and five nights through the Great Dividing Range and along the East Coast, from Adelaide to Brisbane and vice versa. Included are a number of whistlestop tours: in the Grampian Ranges in South Australia where the Great Divide starts; in Victoria to Melbourne, in Ned Kelly country around Glenrowan and to the Murray River; then in NSW to Dubbo and the Western Plains Zoo, the Hunter

IF YOU GO Tickets for an unstated number of Southern Spirit trips by Great Southern Rail will be offered to preregistered travellers from July 1. Fares range from $3300pp to $6600pp, depending on the point of departure and the level of service (platinum or gold class with separate sleeping and dining facilities). To preregister, call 132 147; visit www.greatsouthernrail.com.au or contact your travel agent. Valley and the coastal towns of Port Stephens, Port Macquarie and Byron Bay – and on to Brisbane. The itinerary has been meticulou-

sly planned so that the majority of train travel is during daylight, giving guests a full appreciation of this unique journey, said BranxtonSmith. In January this year, the Southern Spirit’s first season, the journey actually began at Uluru, passengers then travelling by coach to join the train at Alice Springs, then visits (with links again by coach and ferry) to Coober Pedy, Kangaroo Island, Phillip Island, Cootamundra and Parkes in NSW, a Sydney Harbour cruise, the Hunter Valley and Coffs Harbour. The cost of that package, which included all meals and wines with lunch and dinner, plus six nights at five-star hotels along the way, was $13,900pp; discounts were available

for early bookings. In the 2011 services, all nights will be spent aboard the train, and wines with meals will be extra. GSR said it had used customer feedback about the inaugural season to refine the service it will offer early next year. The new 2011 model will cost from $3300pp to $6600pp, depending on the point of departure and the level of service – up to 128 passengers can board in Adelaide or Melbourne. Forty berths are in the luxury platinum service, and 88 in the regular gold service; the two classes will have separate dining and lounge facilities. The first two scheduled 2011 journeys are January 29-February 3 ex-Adelaide and February 4 to 9 ex-Brisbane.

Further dates will be announced later after Great Southern Rail works out the necessary logistics. Meanwhile, Great Southern’s Indian Pacific this year is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its services between Sydney and Perth. It has launched new packages which allow travellers to combine the Indian Pacific trip with a tour of the West Australian wildflower regions. Travelling in gold service, guests save up to $400pp on the rail fare with wildflower packages of either northern or southern Western Australia or the central Perth area. Offers are valid for bookings made between now and August 31 for travel between September 1 and December 31. AAP

UNITED STATES Find out more about America’s break from Britain on Insight Vacations’ eight-day New England’s Spectacular Fall Foliage, which includes a walk along Boston’s iconic Freedom Trail, a red-brick walking trail which weaves around 16 nationally significant historic sites. Insight Vacations, eight-day New England’s Spectacular Fall Foliage is priced at $2599 per person, twin share, land only (single supplement option $999). Details: www.insightvacations.com.au

WOLLONGONG Choice is opening a brand new hotel in Wollongong in July – Quality Suites, Pioneer Sands. For a limited time the hotel is offering an opening offer of $5 per night. Go with your partner and that is $2.50 each! All you need to do is sign up (or already be a member of the Choice Privileges club). Choice has over 6000 hotels worldwide. Joining is free. Details: www.choicehotels.com.au

PORT MACQUARIE Save over 30 per cent off hotels and get alongside the buzz of the waterways when the Bodyboarding Championships, Australian Formula Powerboat Grand Prix and Australian Surf Festival come to Port Macquarie. Stay at the 4 star Flynns on Surf for $129 per night for a onebedroom apartment and receive a bonus $50 restaurant voucher and upgrade to a two-bedroom or three-bedroom apartment for $10 per room. Sundowner Breakwall Tourist Park is offering $126 per night for a deluxe two-bedroom Spa Bayside Cottage. Receive a bonus complimentary dinner at The Corner restaurant with every booking. Details: www.portmacquarieinfo.com.au

SOUTH AUSTRALIA Enjoy a short break in the wine capital of Australia – the Barossa Valley – and stay at the Stonewell Cottages in Tanunda with daily breakfasts, bottle of wine, late check-out, and a tasting plate of cheese, olives and chocolates matched with wine and port. Book the Wotif SA WineNot and pay from $255 per night for two people, a saving of 39 per cent. Available to book from June 18 and stay until September 9.

DEAL OF THE WEEK The triangle between Florence, Montecatini and Pisa in Italy is known as“Chocolate Valley”. A clutch of small chocolate factories here produce some of the purest chocolate in the world. The tradition only started in the 1980s and star names include Amedei, De Bondt and Cantinari. Escape Travel is offering a three-day indulgence package to the region, staying at the Hotel Calamidoro in Pisa, and priced at $1865 perperson, land only. As well as the accommodation, other inclusions are: a chocolate body massage, chocolate tastings, a visit to a chocolate factory, a traditional Tuscan dinner, transport by private car and sightseeing. Valid for sale and travel to December 31. Call 1300 799 783 for more details. Elisabeth King

Turning back time in PNG  

clipping from Canberra Times via AAP

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