Back on the surface, we were shown a few diprotodon fossils, which showed how big this marsupial was.
Its molar. Compare it with a human molar and you quickly get the picture.
Its thigh bone.
And a close up of a replica skull.
No wonder it was the biggest marsupial that ever lived!
I don’t think the early colonials knew what they were getting themselves into when they found the first big bones in Wellington Caves. This is a replica of one creature they found.
It’s the size of a hippo, but there wasn’t anything remotely as big in Australia these days. So what could it be?
They found a diprotodon. It’s a wombat-like herbivore, a marsupial, but one that was between the size of a hippo and an elephant. They were around one million years ago, when the area around Wellington Caves was much wetter, and there was much more vegetation to eat. They died out perhaps 25 to 50 thousand years ago, although scientists are still arguing why (climate change?).
Imagine having one of those roaming the back paddock.
Phosphate wasn’t the only thing the miners found.
The deeper they went, the more fossils they found.
At one place, there was a wall full of bones and teeth.
Over the years, paleontologists have been digging up and studying the fossils found in the mine. Some even ended up in Germany.
But how had the animals got there?
Scientists think it might be one of two ways. Remember the bats, the ones who produced all the poo? These bones might be the remnants of their kills. That’s why there were a lot of small animals there – rodents, snakes, bandicoots, and other small marsupials. The second way was that they fell into the caves through sink holes and couldn’t get back out.
The first explanation covers the shards on the walls. The second covers the bigger things they found. We’ll see what they were next.
In the mine, you could see cross-sections of the limestone. How the minerals and water crystalised and formed calcite.
But what was this phosphate they were digging out? The phosphate in this particular mine was formed from decomposed bat guano. That’s right, it’s very, very old bat poo from the Pleistocene (around 1 million years ago). You can see it here as the white bits.
And here seaping into the rock crevices.
We walked into the phosphate mine, and were transported to another world.
The mine was only operational during the first World War. Australia needed phosphate for both agriculture and to make explosives. However, the story goes the operators only started it to get government funding, as the mine had very little phosphate at all. When the war was over, they closed and backfilled the mine.
In the mine there are a few remnants of what it must have been like to work it in the bad old days. You could see that the mine was dug out by hand, from the pick marks on the walls.
The rails for the trolleys were still in place…
… As well as an old shovel.
All of this was buried until the mine was dug out and revamped in 1996 for the tourists.
The area south west of Wellington is well-known for its caves, even from early colonial times. It was already settled on by the time explorer Thomas Mitchell and his party ventured through in 1835 to trace the course of the Darling River. He was led by the local magistrate, George Rankin, to the caves, where they discovered some peculiar things. But more on that later.
The first thing you notice about the landscape is that it’s, well, lumpy. It’s what is called a karst landscape – the landscape of caves – and apart from the vegetation, it’s similar-looking everywhere you go on earth.
But the interesting things aren’t on the surface, as you might have guessed, but in a WWI phosphate mine. So let’s go underground.
It was a frosty morning at the garden, as you can see. A real change from the comparatively mild Sydney autumn.
And one more shot of the wonderful Japanese maple before we leave the garden.
The Japanese garden had some lovely stone latterns…
… And even a stone pagoda.
It’s strange to see such a Japanese object against the gum trees.
Beside the pond was a pretty little pavillion. It was nice to see more autumn colour too. I think it would be a perfect place for a garden wedding.
The garden had a water course running through the middle, with lilies, and small spring, and of course, a lovely red bridge. It’s lovely to watch and listen to the running water.