Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Barkly Highway: Droughts, Dinosaurs & the Inland Sea

In the last week, we have travelled east from Three Ways Junction (just north of the Devil’s Marbles) to Charter’s Towers on the Barkly Highway. It has been a journey of discovery for both of us. The highlights have included camping at Porcupine Gorge, discovering Australia’s Dinosaur trail via Richmond and Hughendon where marine and terrestrial dinosaurs once roamed, learning a little more about our inland sea, and visiting my friend Megs, at Charter’s Towers.

Many of the areas along the Barkly Highway have been in drought for 3 years. If you live along the coasts of Australia, it is hard to comprehend what 3 years of drought can do to a landscape. Cattle stations, some of which might be the size of a small European country have been abandoned. Many people have committed suicide because they are unable to service the huge debts that have accumulated. So, it is quite ironic that the secrets that are being unearthed around these parts and the amazing geological formations to be found here are all caused by a great inland sea that covered much of Australia.

We are really amazed to learn that thousands of dinosaur fossils have been discovered in these parts and that many fossils still lie buried here. In Richmond, we marvel at the Pliosaur, a carnivorous, marine reptile that has been unearthed by a local grazier, in the late 80’s.  It was perfectly preserved and the best example of such a specimen in the world, and yet it lies tucked away in this little museum in Richmond, with many travellers only learning about its existence when they travel this highway.

It’s hard to imagine that species as dominant and widespread as the dinosaurs could eventually become extinct and the museum discusses the possible causes of extinction. They argue that a single
event such as a meteor hitting the earth is unlikely to be the sole reason. Other events such as the rise of flowering plants and insects would have reduced the diet of the plant eaters, causing a fall in their population and therefore reducing available food for meat eaters. Volcanic eruptions may also have warmed the planet causing changes in sea levels and consequent changes in local climates as was the case in central Australia. We are both quite amazed to see the map indicating the extent of the inland sea and we wonder if it is too far fetched to imagine a new inland sea if sea levels rise again.

Curious about this, I’ve asked Dr Google for the answer. According to maps published by National Geographic and an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, Australia will get an inland sea if global warming continues and melts the world's ice caps and glaciers, lifting sea levels about 70 metres. This could take about 5,000 years and according to Dr Neville Nicholls, a climate expert at Monash University, scientists have known for decades that the upper end of sea-level rises from melting ice would be around the 70 metre mark. Of course for those of us living in places like Sydney, it is the first metre that’s predicted for the end of this century that is a worry!

Charter’s Towers is the last major town on the Barkly Highway, before we hit the coast. I’m excited to catch up with my friend Megs, who I first met 5 years ago when we both volunteered on a Conservation & Photography project in South Africa and shared a room for 4 weeks. We haven’t met since. We spend a day with Megs and Mick (see last 5 photos) on their lovely heritage home at Charters and Megs takes us to Dalrymple Park, where we both have fun with our telephoto lenses.

It’s almost time to hit the coast and head back to Sydney for our various commitments in October. We’ve learnt lots driving the Barkly Highway and wander why it’s treasures are not more widely talked about.

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