Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Dinosaur tourism capital of the world?

Ellie Grounds, Tourists flock to paleo attractions in outback Queensland, with new discoveries added to dinosaur trail, ABC Western Qld, 14 May 2021

YouTube dino tourism TV story.

Pearl Langdon thought her husband Doug had gone mad when he came home on a hot afternoon in October 1963 with what he claimed was a dinosaur bone in his saddlebag.

“He showed me and said, ‘I’ve found a dinosaur’,” Mrs Langdon said.

“I said, ‘Have you got a touch of the sun?'”

Despite his wife’s scepticism, it turned out Mr Langdon was right.

The bones he discovered on the banks of the Thomson River near Muttaburra in central west Queensland were that of a herbivore that lived 100 million years ago, now called the Muttaburrasaurus langdoni.

It was the start of many dinosaur discoveries across western Queensland and almost 60 years later a niche paleo tourism industry is booming.

A region built on the sheep’s back, western Queensland is now riding high on the dinosaur’s tail.

A route known as the Australian Dinosaur Trail is expanding, and museum operators are confident Queensland’s outback is well on its way to becoming the dinosaur capital of the world.

The March of the Titanosaurs features at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs in Winton, Queensland.(ABC Western Queensland: Ellie Grounds).

Footprint ‘absolutely amazing’

A chance discovery of fossilised dinosaur bones on his sheep station near Winton in 1999 drastically changed the direction of David Elliott’s career.

“We soon realised the vast majority of Australia’s dinosaurs were found in the Winton region,” Mr Elliott said.

Mr Elliott is now the Executive Chairman of the Australian Age of Dinosaurs in Winton, the first museum to display the west’s most prehistoric inhabitants.

Tiny coelurosaur statues make for perfect happy snaps at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs. (ABC Western Queensland: Ellie Grounds).

It has gone from strength to strength and international border closures have paradoxically provided a boost.

“[2020] looked like a disaster year,” Mr Elliott said.

“[Then] the second half of the year from July onwards boomed.

“This year so far our visitation has probably been about double or better of what it was in any other year.”

Australian Age of Dinosaurs executive chairman David Elliott with the latest exhibits.(ABC Western Queensland: Ellie Grounds).

The museum’s latest attraction, which opened this week, includes a 54-metre-long preserved trackway of sauropod footprints and a host of new dinosaur statues of all sizes, ready for the obligatory tourist selfie.

Already the new exhibit is winning over even the most cynical tourists.

“We just didn’t think we’d be interested in dinosaurs,” Brisbane resident Cyndi Heard said.

“The fact that they have lifted that fossilised footprint from 60 kilometres away and transported it here is just mind-boggling-ly a work of art,” said her husband David.

A 54-metre long trackway preserving sauropod footprints is now open at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs.(ABC Western Queensland: Ellie Grounds)

Visitors ‘completely blown away’

Seven hours south, the tiny town of Eromanga is home to super-sized megafauna animals, as well as Australia’s largest dinosaur, a 67-tonne herbivore called ‘Cooper’.

Eromanga Natural History Museum director Robyn Mackenzie said that set the region apart from the rest of the country.

“These dinosaurs are huge,” she said.

“They’ve previously only been found to this size over in places like South America.”

Volunteers prepare fossils at the Eromanga Natural History Museum.(Supplied: Eromanga Natural History Museum).

These massive, mysterious creatures have lured droves of visitors to a part of the state that didn’t used to see tourists.

“A lot of people don’t know what to expect because they haven’t travelled through to this part of Queensland before,” Mrs Mackenzie said.

“No one leaves disappointed.

Mrs Mackenzie said there had been a 25 percent increase in tourism in the region since the museum opened five years ago, and it continued to grow significantly year on year.

“We had over 200 percent increase from March [2021] compared to 2019.”

Brisbane tourists Cyndi and David Heard were skeptical of dinosaur museums until they visited this one.(ABC Western Queensland: Ellie Grounds).

Story of Muttaburrasaurus discovery will ‘live on forever’

The latest town to pay homage to its dinosaur finds is Muttaburra, in the very centre of Queensland.

Twelve years after the local community association asked the council for a dinosaur museum, the Muttaburrasaurus Interpretation Centre opened.

It provides shelter for a replica statue ‘Dino’, which has been in the town since 1993, and tells the story of how the late Doug Langdon and his horse stumbled across those prehistoric fossils almost six decades ago.

Pearl Langdon’s late husband Doug discovered the Muttaburrasaurus nearly 60 years ago. (ABC Western Queensland: Ellie Grounds).

It’s already been a big hit with tourists.

“Especially the children,” Pearl Langdon said.

“The first thing they do when they come in is run over and start pulling on his fingers, playing around his legs.

The Muttaburrasaurus Interpretation Centre opened in Muttaburra earlier this year.(ABC Western Queensland: Ellie Grounds).

Dream holidays

The state government recently promised nearly $500,000 over three years to deliver a “roadmap” to grow the Australian Dinosaur Trail.

It would be spent on website content, signage and brochures to help paleo-enthusiasts plan their dream holiday to attractions in Eromanga, Winton, Muttaburra, Hughenden and Richmond.

The government estimates dinosaur attractions account for 11 percent of all Queensland’s tourism, and 26 percent of leisure tourism.

Pearl Langdon with her artwork “Dougie”, won first prize at the Muttaburra Stock Show in 2017. (ABC Western Queensland: Ellie Grounds).

Robyn Mackenzie said the roadmap would help establish a “brand” for outback dinosaur attractions that could be marketed to domestic and international travellers.

“There’s greater strength in numbers,” she said.

“Having everybody all together under the one banner is going to create a lot more interest and a lot more pull.

“I think the future for dinosaur tourism and any type of paleo tourism at all is really exciting.

A dinosaur dig near Eromanga in south-west Queensland in 2019.(Supplied: Eromanga Natural History Museum).

David Elliott said the outback’s paleo pals could soon rival Australia’s most famous landmarks for tourist demand.

“We can do it.”

Council of Australasian Museum Directors, c/o Ms Daryl Karp, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House PO Box 3934 Manuka, Australian Capital Territory 2603 Australia, © CAMD 2021
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