After our visit to ‘D’ site, we drove back a mile along the main road before entering a gate into what looked to me like a wilderness. Then setting the four wheel drive into gear, we bashed through plains of grass seven feet tall, ducked in and out of dry creek beds, and swerved around termite nests. It might have only been a fifteen minute ride, but to a four wheel drive novice passenger like me, it seemed like an endless, bumpy drive into nowhere. It was only later that I found out that there was science in the madness – we had followed a well-known track, which due to a bumper wet season was grossly overgrown. Aside from the natural impediments, there were also man-made impediments. Some of the gates that we drove through were so complex to open that it seemed like you needed a degree to do so successfully. I quickly realised that the Gulf country was rougher than I thought.
Eventually, we stopped at a limestone ridge called the Bite-Centennial Gallery. This site produced the first big finds after ‘D’ site.
Mike, our guide for the day, was one of the key palaeontologists behind the Riversleigh finds. He has returned here at least once a year for the last 36 years. You’d say that he was fountain of knowledge about the area, but he was also an amusing story teller.
At Bite-Centennial Gallery, he began by recounting the disturbing story behind the name (involving a drunken, biting cattleman, a distressed geologist, and a decapitated yabby), before we walked up the ridge, which for me was when the fun started.
I have never been a rock wallaby. I like being in the outdoors, but I’m more comfortable with gentle strolls along established paths than bush bashing across the wilderness. And worse still, an ankle injury six months before had made me more hesitant on my feet than usual. You can guess that my first hour at the Gallery was not terribly fun. Grasses constantly pricked my short legs, their seeds covered my trousers and top, and the razor-sharp limestone cut my hands when I touched them. This certainly was not what I was expecting.
I learned my lesson quickly though. The next day, I wore gaiters to the field, and my shins certainly thanked me for it.