Canberra, land of the dinosaurs

The brilliant thing about living in Canberra is that there are so many things to do. The bad thing about living in Canberra is that the kids know that there are so many things to do.

Entrance sign to the National Dinosaur Museum.

Canberra’s National Dinosaur Museum has been on the kids’ wish list since we arrived.

Since we arrived, five weeks ago, mini-CBRbound and maxi-CBRbound have taken every opportunity to let us know that a visit to the National Dinosaur Museum was high on their wish list. So, mildly encouraged by vouchers offering free entry for children accompanied by an adult, we finally gave in and headed back in time a few million years.

Thankfully, prehistory has a car park and is air-conditioned these days, and our vouchers were waved away on account of it being ‘kids get in free’ day anyway.

The beady eye of a T-Rex.

Outside the museum is a collection of all too lifelike dinosaur models.

We arrived just in time for one of the regular guided tours of the museum. Now, I’m usually one to spurn these – in my experience, they shuffle round at a snail’s pace and anyway, you end up at the back not being able to see or hear what’s being explained, but the tour leader, Mitchell, seemed enthusiastic so we tagged along.

I can’t vouch for the other tour guides, but Mitchell was outstanding. Despite obviously fighting a cold, he enthused and elaborated about the dinosaurs, their amazing diversity and the likely cause of their demise. He also hung around for a full 20 minutes after the tour ended to take questions from wide-eyed children and adults alike.

Here’s what I learnt – that Australia is woefully under-explored when it comes to fossils, and that we know relatively little about the ancient monsters that once roamed the outback, and that, at the time of the dinosaurs, Australia was still joined to Asia by a land bridge, and had yet to break away to become the island continent we know today.

Oh, and I got an answer to the question I’ve always wondered about: how come, when I was at school, all the dinosaurs were green, and now they’re gloriously colourful? It turns out that recently discovered fossilised dinosaur feathers contained tiny fragments of pigment, which tell us that Jurassic Park was something of a black and white movie compared to what we know now.

“Oh,” added Mitchell, “and we now reckon that T-Rex was probably feathered, too.”

The boys were spellbound. So much so, that when they found Mitchell taking a break downstairs, they started asking lots more questions and, gentleman that he is, he answered them all and took them off to show them a model of a giant sloth.

Two children building a dinosaur skeleton.

In the museum’s activity centre, kids can build a dinosaur skeleton from a box full of bone-shaped jigsaw pieces.

The museum has most of its exhibits on the upper floor of a building the size of a large detached house. Downstairs, there’s an activity centre, a few more exhibits which look at geology and human evolution, plus the mandatory shop. If you join a guided tour and then complete the museum quiz (there’s a different one for kids and adults), it’s about a two-hour experience, but allow another half an hour for the kids to enjoy the outdoor collection of dinosaur models.

After the museum, it’s just a few hundred metres to the Adore Tea teashop, where we satisfied the primal appetite we’d built up with a nice cream tea and a pile of pancakes for the boys. The perfect end to a roaring good day out.

Both the National Dinosaur Museum and Adore Tea can be found in Gold Creek Village, which I learnt has neither a creek, nor any gold but is, in fact, named after a racehorse.

6 thoughts on “Canberra, land of the dinosaurs

  1. Steve says:

    What a coincidence, yesterday I read in the paper of a visitor to a museum asking the curator how old the dinosaur skeleton was. 10 million years, three months and two days he replied. Wow! how can you be so accurate? Well it was 10 million years old when I started here and that was three months two days ago.

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  2. I am a lifelong/born and bred Canberran – and I had no idea that Gold Creek was named after a horse!!! There ya go!

    Glad you all had such a grand time out at the Museum.

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  3. Must say I didn’t know it was named after a horse either … but my excuse is that I’m a southsider! However, I’m venturing over that way in about 12 hours time when my Jane Austen group will be lunching at the Green Herring (to jointly celebrate Xmas and Jane’s birthday.)

    Sounds like you enjoyed the Museum. We only went there once, about twenty years ago and it wasn’t very exciting. Sounds like they’ve worked on it since then. Like you I tend to avoid tours too, but they can be good if you have a great leader. Interesting about the lack of exploration of our fossils. I wonder why? Size of the land? It does seem to me that I’ve heard more about Australian megafauna in the last couple of decades than I ever heard before. It’s been quite exciting to discover we had them too!

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    • Oh, last week, we had dinner at the wood-fired pizza place in front of the Green Herring. I hope you had fun, and a belated happy birthday to Jane. Wonderful books. The kids loved the dinosaurs and learnt a lot. Apparently, it’s a chicken and egg situation — not many fossils have been discovered in Australia, so it’s hard to get funding to go fossil hunting. Whereas in North and South America, they’ve found lots, so it’s easier to get funding for further digs, because they know where to dig. One big find here and the situation would change dramatically.

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      • Yes, we had a lovely time, thanks. That’s interesting. I thought there had been some big finds but, it sounds like, not THE big find.

        I look forward to hearing how you enjoy a southern hemisphere Xmas. It can be quite weird. But, I bet you will make it a good one.

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