In 2008, an Australian liquid natural gas company attempted to open exploration in Western Australia’s Kimberley region near the town of Broome. The area’s Traditional Custodians, the aboriginal Goolarabooloo people, protested the construction because the lands are considered sacred in their people’s creation story. To aid in their case to the Australian government, the Goolarabooloo Custodians invited dinosaur researcher and Queensland University paleontologist David Salisbury to confirm their legends.
According to Salisbury, the area’s massive dinosaur tracks have been an integral part of the local people’s creation legend for thousands of years:
They form part of a song cycle – they relate to a creation mythology, and specifically the tracks show the journey of a creation being called Marala – the emu man. Wherever he went he left behind three-toed tracks that now we recognise as the tracks of meat-eating dinosaurs.
After 400 hours of cataloging the dinosaur tracks in the area, Salisbury ended up discovering the most diverse and concentrated collections of dinosaur fossils known in the world. Over one hundred and fifty of the tracks have so far been identified as belonging to twenty-one different types of dinosaur species spread out among the four main groups of dinosaurs: herbivorous four-legged sauropods, two-legged predatory theropods, bipedal grazers called ornithopods, and thyreophorans, or armored dinosaurs.
One set of tracks has been confirmed as the first known evidence of stegosaurus to be found on the Australian continent. Among the tracks is also a set of sauropod footprints measuring 1.7 meters (5.5 feet) across, possibly making them some of the largest known dinosaur footprints in the world.
Queensland University’s Steve Salisbury, lead author of this study, the peninsula on which the fossils were found boasts such a wealth of evidence of diverse dinosaur life that it could be called the continent’s “Jurassic Park:”
It’s such a magical place—Australia’s own Jurassic Park, in a spectacular wilderness setting. It is extremely significant, forming the primary record of non-avian dinosaurs in the western half the continent and providing the only glimpse of Australia’s dinosaur fauna during the first half of the Early Cretaceous Period.
The tracks date back to the beginning of the Early Cretaceous Period, around 140 to 120 million years ago. No other dinosaur fossils from this time period have been found in Australia.