The deadline for the 2018 James Moore Memorial Prize is rushing up (25th. August 2017).

For eligibility criteria and full entry details visit: http://flinderspalaeosoc.org/james-moore-memorial-fund

The James Moore Memorial Fund in Palaeontology provides two annual scholarships that are awarded to one rural high school student and one metropolitan high school student. The scholarships offer students the opportunity to join the Flinders crew on a field trip and get some hands on experience. Teagan Cross, the 2017 recipient, writes about her experiences at the Wellington Caves.

 

2017 James Moore Memorial Prize:

Wellington Caves Palaeontology Trip

By Teagan Cross

When I found out I won this trip, I was so excited. On the 23rd of January I met up with Gavin and his crew, as well as two runner-ups for this competition, Lachie and Stephen, to start an adventure at Wellington Caves in NSW.

The first day was spent driving and getting to know everybody, and learning about the music they liked. On the first night we swagged it at a caravan park in West Wyalong. We got rained on during the middle of the night, but didn’t get eaten alive by bugs. The next morning we packed up and set off for Wellington.
We stayed at the UNSW Research Station, which was a few minutes out of Wellington, and about 10 kms from the Wellington Caves. We had the river flowing by us, and cattle to greet us every morning. The first day we went to the caves we had an early morning rise and got the outdoor station set up and the Pit inside of Cathedral Caves organised and ready to go.

Every day we would split up into two groups. One group would go into the caves and dig in the Pit, and the others would stay to sift and clean clay and fossils that had been found. The days’ temperatures reached 40 degrees, but we stopped at lunch-times to have breaks and even get in a swim at the caravan park pool to cool down. The Pit was one of the most exciting parts of this trip. Many people would eventually go a bit crazy being down in the Pit, 3 metres underground in a hole in the cave, surrounded by metal slats holding it up, but that was what made it interesting. Whilst using tools to dig for bones, there would be many jokes and laughter rising up from the Pit. It was a place of discovery and fun. I will never forget the moment when that spade first hit bone. Within minutes I was holding two tail bones from an extinct giant kangaroo. That feeling was incredible, and almost indescribable. It suddenly occurs to you that in your hand are the remains of an amazing creature that lived hundreds or thousands of years ago, and that you are the first person to see it and experience it. 

Up on land, on the edge of the hill and in front of The Phosphate Mine, was where the other station was located. We had a trailer and shade set up, and what Diana described as little ‘possums,’ (more accurately little calico bags filled with fossils and clay) hanging from a shelter. There were two final rinsing tanks set up, and many black plastic cleaning containers set up. We had to empty a bag of clay into a metal box-like object which would sit in the water-filled containers and be shaken to sift and separate mud from rocks and bones. This would be done a couple of times before the final rinsing stage, and after all of that we would scrape the fossils into a little calico bag and hang it up to dry. 

Above: Rinsing tanks at the Phosphate mine with ‘little possums’ hanging above. Photo: D. Fusco (2017)

In-between work we got to go on tours of the caves that were there; the stalactite and stalagmite filled Gaden Caves, the fossil filled Phosphate Mine Cave, and the Cathedral Cave. All were beautiful caves that were exciting to be in and probably held many secrets. If nothing was needed to be done for those who had finished sifting, we would go back to the research centre and sort through some dirt and fossils that had been cleaned and bagged from the last trip that was taken down there. Using paintbrushes and tweezers we discovered many molars, pre-molars, incisors and other bones of small mammals, and the more we found, the more exciting it became. Us rookies were tested on skulls to see if we knew which skull belonged to what organism, and we quizzed the pros to see if they could guess what organism belonged to the skull we had described. Really soon we could recognise different kinds of teeth, femurs, fibulas and tibias, among a few other bone types (however it was still sometimes confusing, but that was part of the learning experience). 

Above: Pit entrance in Cathedral Cave, Wellington Caves, NSW. Photo: D. Fusco (2017)

A few days before the trip was over, four more members came down to help out. Pretty soon we had a full house of 12 people, all working to help discover the megafauna that walked along this land many years ago. One of the moments that stood out a lot was our shopping trips. It was hilarious to watch the expressions of other customers when they saw us walk in covered with orange clay, and I always knew which aisle one of us had been in from the dirt we trailed on the floor! The mornings were fun too. It started off with waking up, getting brekky, and then doing the best you can to wake everybody else up. For me this involved running down the hall, banging on the doors and yelling “time to get up!” Diana’s approach was much nicer, knocking on the doors and asking them to please get up. Many nights we went to sleep after playing Grant’s board games (which were awesome) or watching Jake’s TV shows, and were lulled into our slumber by Sam’s serenading.

Above: Teagan (foreground) & Diana digging for ‘treasure’ at the
bottom of the pit.Photo: D. Fusco (2017)

Leaving was really hard. I had a blast down at the caves, and the team welcomed me in with open arms. To me, they felt like a family, and I’ll never forget the memories I made with them. Everybody was friendly and caring, and despite the heat and repetitive work, there was never a dull moment. This trip really was an exciting adventure, and I would go again and again if I could. I made many great friends and awesome discoveries, and I came home with many stories to share. To everyone who went, thank you all for the great opportunity! I had so much fun down there with you all, and can’t wait to join you on more trips. No pun intended, you guys rock!

Teagan Cross

Teagan is now in her first year of her science degree at Flinders taking the major in Vertebrate Palaeontology. This major is brand new and only became available this year. For more information click on link:

http://www.flinders.edu.au/courses/undergrad/majors/vertebrate-palaeontology.cfm

If you would like to donate to the James Moore Memorial Fund click on link:

http://www.flinders.edu.au/giving/ways-to-give/pay-tribute/james-moore-memorial-fund