Here’s a property with a very unique, 106 million-year-old feature.
3365 Great Ocean Road, Glenaire, Victoria is a picturesque 290-acre holding on one of Australia’s premiere tourist routes. It features about 70 acres of cleared land, is bordered by national park on three sides and was once home to plesiosaurs, prehistoric crocodiles and several species of dinosaur.
For $1.25 million, you could walk the same earth… with a geological formation or two laid on top of it.
But head down the cliffs to the beach a short stroll away and you’ll see layers of rock from the Cretaceous period exposed and possibly, maybe, real dinosaurs prints embedded for eternity in the boulders that have crashed down onto the sand. Like these:
Greg Denney, who was born and raised on the property, came back to it in his mid-20s to find a corner of it inhabited by excited dinosaur academics. For 10 years, between 1984 and 1994, “Dinosaur Cove” gained worldwide fame following the discovery of an ancient bone by a young Tim Flannery and his mate Mike Archer.
It’s quite a story
It wasn’t the first dinosaur bone found in Australia. A Megalosaurus claw was found in 1903 at Cape Paterson on the other side of Melbourne, 50km east down the coast from Phillip Island.
But 80 years later, Flannery, then in his early 20s, visited the site with his geologist cousin, John Long. Long almost immediately found a bone stuck in a pebble.
Flannery got the bug. He spent six months revisiting the site and oversaw the collection of 30 bones, defying experts who had believed the original claw find was a fluke as Australia was a part of the polar circle 110 million years ago. And the polar circles were too cold for dinosaurs, right?
Flannery pushed on. His professor mentor, Tom Rich, consulted a geological map of Victoria and noted similar rocks west of Cape Otway, and after a year of scarce results, the pair entered an unnamed cove in December, 1980 with another student, Mike Archer.
And it was the students who beat their professor to the paydirt. Here’s how Dr Rich, at the time head of paleontology at the Melbourne Museum, tells it:
I was about 15 metres away working parallel to them near the water’s edge. They were talking to one another and, just after the thought went through my mind that they could not possibly find anything because they were so engrossed in their conversation, a whoop went up and they were down on their hands and knees. Although seeming hopelessly distracted, one of them had spotted a fragment of bone in a way that, with almost a sixth sense, excellent fossil finders can.
“It was not immediately apparent how important the discovery was,” Flannery told Business Insider. “All I knew was that after a month of walking the Otway coast, we’d finally found a place with a fair density of fossil bones.”
They found another dozen fragments within four metres and that night, Dr Rich scribbled the name “Dinosaur Cove” in his notebook. But no further finds and the inaccessibility of the site meant it would be three years before anyone returned.
When they did, it was Rich and a host of museum volunteers who’d nagged him, saying they’d brave the conditions at Dinosaur Cove if it meant they might find Australian dinosaurs.
It was Greg Denney’s father who gave them permission to camp on his land above the cove for a season. They didn’t leave for 10 years and the fossils they found were from the Cretaceous period, 106 million years ago, which was headlined by superstars Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops.
In that time, they established that not only did dinosaurs, plesiosaurs and pterosaurs exist in polar conditions, they included the earliest little brother of T Rex, and dinosaurs, which could see in near-dark condition and were either warm-blooded or migratory.
A flying fox ran a 90m ride to the shore platform below the cliff. For years, volunteers used shower facilities at the local school’s sports gym after long days hauling heavy equipment down the goat track to the site.
Explosives were used for excavation. Some 30kg of rock was excavated for every 1kg of rock containing fossils. It was the first time anywhere in the world that a full-on mining operation was used to dig for fossils.
The team often came down in mornings to see all their gear and work washed away by an overnight storm surge. The full story and pics from that epic dig can be read here at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs.
Now, a part of it is for sale
With such a rich heritage, it’s little wonder Denney would like to see the farm in the hands of someone who understands its place in history.
Denney says he still has the cables for the original flying fox and a few signs which marked the site at the time.
The property has been listed with the current agent since April for $1.25 million. It’s still surrounded on three sides by the same native bush, now national park, which bounded it when Denney’s father selected it from the Crown back in the 1930s.
Denney’s ultimate vision for the property would be for the new owners to set up a permanent home for an exhibit Dr Rich and his professor wife Pat built showcasing the finds and stories from the time they spent at Dinosaur Cove.
Nearly three million people travel past the site on the Great Ocean Road every year and nearly half are families.
Dinosaurs, Denney says, never get old. He and his wife even borrowed the exhibit for a test run out of a large shed at Apollo Bay a couple of years ago. In just five months, nearly 10,000 people came through the doors “with very little advertising and no lead time”, he said.
Although he wasn’t part of the 10-year excavation, Flannery has fond memories of the place and would “be delighted to see the farm … in the hands of someone who’d preserve its legacy”.
Oh, and one more thing. Denney’s still finding dinosaurs at Dinosaur Cove.
He’s not a paleontologist. But he loves hanging out with them when they visit his farm, and has learnt enough to know which rocks to turn over. Here he is demonstrating his style during a walk with Dr Rich, and American paleontologist Tony Martin and his wife Ruth:
“Tony found them first, he saw them at the base of a cliff,” Denney says. “He said ‘just have a look’ and he wanted me to actually point out all the tracks I could see as a non-trained paleontologist and I pretty much picked out all the tracks he could see.”
Denney looked around for similar rocks.
“(Dr Rich) had his coat sitting on a rock earlier and had shifted it and I thought the strata looked similar,” he says. “So we rolled it over and found the same tracks on the other side. We quadrupled the amount of tracks found on the coast in one day.”
You can read the story about that day here, at Martin’s blog.
And if you’re interested in buying a piece of 106 million-year-old history, here’s the listing – and happy hunting.
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