Dinosaur enthusiasts team up to search for fossils on the opal fields of Lightning Ridge.

Story By Mandy McKeesick

In a hot tin shed on a blazing white opal field, dreams are being realised. Sandra Downs, mother of five, farmer and university student, has travelled nearly 900 kilometres from Goulburn to attend the Lightning Ridge Dinosaur and Fossil Dig in northern New South Wales, temporarily leaving family behind to indulge her passion. Another 20 enthusiasts from across the country join her, covering a wide spectrum of ages, from teenagers to the retired, and professions as diverse as botany to fund management.
Although dinosaur digs have regularly been conducted at Winton, Qld, this is the first time a dig of this nature has been held at Lightning Ridge, giving members of the public a unique chance to work alongside world-leading palaeontologists and contribute to what is fast becoming the frontier of dinosaur knowledge in Australia. Leading the dig is Dr Phil Bell, from the University of New England in Armidale, who has chased the dinosaur tale from Canada to Mongolia. “Lightning Ridge is beyond my wildest dream,” he says. “There are more dinosaur fossils here than anywhere in Australia and we have the potential to double our known species numbers.” That the fossils are often preserved in muted opal potch or extravagant precious opal only adds to the attraction.
Joining Phil are palaeontologists Jenni Brammall and Dr Elizabeth Smith. Jenni is manager of the Australian Opal Centre, which is conducting the dig, and she lives and breathes all things opal. “Nowhere else in the world has opalised fossils; this is such an incredible place to be,” she says.

This story excerpt is from Issue #100

Outback Magazine: Apr/May 2015