A day out at one of Australia’s oldest fossil sites
Recently, having re-discovered my passion for natural history, I was scrolling through the annals of Google researching the most famous fossil sites from around the world. The Hell Creek formation, the Morrison formation, the La Brea Tar Pits and many more.
I scrolled for hours reading and watching videos all about these places. They are all on my bucket list to visit one day.
However, with international travel being on hold most likely for the next few years, I thought I could start by exploring Australia’s fossil sites. And what better way to start than in my own home town? So I Googled ‘fossil sites near Canberra’ and the first result was Woolshed Creek.
Situated under a small bridge below the busy Fairbairn Avenue, most commute past this site without realising what hidden treasures they are missing. The Woolshed Creek fossil site was discovered in the mid-1840s, with the significance of the site not understood until geologist and clergyman Reverend William Branwhite Clarke sent fossil samples to the University of Cambridge in 1845.
Later study of the fossils found that the formation was of the Silurian age (around 420 million years ago), and at the time these were the oldest fossils discovered in Australia. The rocks themselves are mudstone. The abundance of fossils at the site tells us that the deposited mud was on top of a warm shallow sea.
Yes, Canberra was originally underwater millions of years ago. Volcanic activity in the area led to the seabed to be covered in volcanic ash, resulting in the fossils you can see today.
The fossils mainly comprise brachiopods, which look like shells but were actually living creatures. These animals were once abundant in oceans millions of years ago but are now relatively scarce today.
The site is unique as most of the marine life found in the rocks are preserved. Sometimes fossils disintegrate after millions of years of erosion leaving only impressions in the rock, but here they are on full display. Below are some of the fossils that I managed to find.
This is a must for any Canberran interested in natural history. Understanding the past of your home town makes you appreciate the landscape around you. I certainly now have a newfound respect of the land we live on.
If you aren’t into natural history this may not excite you at first. But once you are there and see the fossils for yourself, you cannot help but search for more. This is what happened to my brother. Just being at the site can spark an interest in fossils and natural history.
What you’re missing!
The Woolshed Creek fossil site is definitely one of Canberra’s natural wonders (from my perspective anyway). It may not look like much from a distance, but up close it gives you a glimpse into what prehistoric Canberra was like 400 million years into the past.
If you’re a fossil nerd like me, then I highly recommend going down to have a visit. It makes a good family trip to inspire young fossil hunters as well. Located down Hopkins Drive from Duntroon, it is only a small walk down a path with information signs along the way.
I highly recommend taking the time to visit as it is one of Canberra’s hidden gems, or in this case, fossils.