Image specs: Olympus EP-2, f11, 1/15, ISO 200, 14 (28mm), 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 Standard Wide Zoom (M.Zuiko), white balance custom 8200K, i-enhance mode, tripod, raw.
On my second day in the field, on assignment for Australian Geographic with the University of New South Wales’ (UNSW) team of paleontologists, John Scanlon and Alexis Meyer examined their latest find. The team led by Henk Godthelp, confirmed that this was indeed a rare, sabre-toothed bandicoot.
Based at the outback camp of Adels Grove (details in blog below), a typical day for myself and the paleontologists meant an early 6am rise for a 7am breakfast, packing a lunch before heading off in 4WD convoy to the Riversleigh dig site some 50km down the dirt road towards Mt Isa. UNSW paleontologists have been coming here for 30-odd years. The rugged environment of limestone and spinifex is impressive enough but it was the sheer number of fossils found every day that give this site immense importance. Together with Naracoorte, a mere 2000km away in South Australia, Riversleigh is a World Heritage-listed Australian fossil mammal site.
It is tough going breaking open boulders with sledgehammers and picks. Whilst hammering, we move away from potential rock shrapnel. Further still from the small expertly monitored explosive charges to split larger rock, before dirt is brushed away and the contents eagerly examined for signs of past lives. I wondered around the site photographing with my 90-250mm f2.8 Telephoto Zoom on a monopod to give the paleontologists some space and felt the compression in the images would give favourable portraits of the team as they worked. Only occasionally would I get up close with the 12-60mm f2.8-4.0 SWD Standard Wide Zoom, taking a team member aside and shooting them safely.
It is always an added bonus after the brunt of the assignment is complete, to explore the surrounding area. Barely 10km from the Adels Grove camp is the majestic Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park. A gorge cuts through this dry savannah country and the park radiates colours from the rich lime-greens of the spinfex which create the ‘lawn’ effect on the plateau, the ochre-red walls of the gorge to the deep greens of the water. Kayaking is popular here to the Indarri Falls which separates the upper gorge from middle gorge and it is here that you can see Lawn Hill at its best.
The four-hour drive from Mt Isa to Adels Grove is one long road of red dirt for the majority of the 350km or so with no supplies between the two, should you encounter a mishap. It’s essential to carry food and water, communication devices and know how to change a tyre. Fortunately I had a smooth trip and delighted in the river crossings and kites which circled overhead, no doubt hoping that I add to the roadkill they’d gorged on a few hours earlier. The beautiful grey kangaroo I encountered sitting tight in the middle of the road one afternoon as I approached in the 4WD reminded me that all the now-preserved fossil bones once roamed free too, their end coming most likely by a fall into a deep cavity rather than the from the thud of a roo-bar.
© Warren Field 2010
(Map courtesy © Google Maps)