Few attractions can accurately be classified ‘unique’, but one that deserves that word is the offbeat Aussie attraction Lark Hill Quarry. An hour from the rural town of Winton, deep in the Outback of Australia's Queensland state, the site is well off the tourist trail.
Far from just a bunch of stones, the inland Queensland attraction has an amazing claim to fame. It served as the stage for the world’s only recorded dinosaur stampede, which unfolded some 95 million years ago.
Hence the surreally named Dinosaur Stampede National Monument, which features some 3300 dinosaur tracks set in solidified sandy sediment.
Buried by centuries of sand and mud, the tracks came to light in the 1960s when, while rummaging for opals, local station manager Glen Seymour found what he thought was just fossilized bird tracks. Only after scientists visited the area in 1971 did a far more intriguing story emerge.
The theory of the dino stampede recounts an extraordinary episode in the primal life of a swaggering predator.
Meet the Tyrannosauropus. Apparently up to 10 metres long and equipped with 50-centimetre feet, the Tyrannosauropus was a cousin of one of the most fearsome predators ever to prowl the planet – Tyrannosaurus Rex.
One day at Lark Hill, a Tyrannosauropus came on some 150 weedy two-legged dinosaurs – Coelurosaurs – sipping from a lake. Cue panic. The potential prey stampeded back where they came from – a spit jutting into a lake in those humid pre-mammal days when lush rainforest swamped Australia.
The traces carved out by the stampede look straight from a cartoon. The Tyrannosauropus’ giant fossilised tracks go in a straight line until he spots the dinosaurs on the lake’s edge.
Then chaos. All the fleeing dinosaur tracks are heading the same way, some skidding across the old mudflat, presumably in terror.
Preserving the terror tracks for the benefit of cultured gawkers has been tricky. According to one blogger, a shelter erected over the tracks was adopted by various marsupials that gladly moved in, contributing to the footprints’ erosion.
Then a replacement structure partially collapsed. In a predatory loop, designer blamed the architect, who blamed the builder, who reckoned the designer was responsible.
Now, the tracks are safely housed in a shrine-like climate-controlled, solar-powered building. The pattern the footprints make is one of Australia’s most captivating sights.
According to the Australian government’s heritage department, the footprints ‘informed’ the stampede scenes in Steven Spielberg's 1993 blockbuster Jurassic Park and the BBC's prize-winning 1999 series Walking with Dinosaurs.
Still, hardly anyone has heard of the random mosaic from a watery past. So, although it bogged down those two-legged dinosaurs, Dinosaur Stampede National Monument is far from a tourist trap. You must see the monument for the frame-by-frame drama and sense of history coming back to bite you. Unique.
Meet the Muttaburrasaurus?
Research by palaeontologists at Queensland University challenges the Tyrranosauropus theory. They say the large tracks belong to a vegetarian: the Muttaburrasaurus. At eight meters tall, this gentle giant would still have been a terrifying sight to the chicken-sized Coelurosaurs.
The Dinosaur Stampede National Monument stands 110km south-west of Winton in Lark Quarry Conservation Park. The area has produced a number of dinosaur fossils and is where the famous Aussie bush ballad 'Waltzing Matilda' by Banjo Patterson was penned.