Flinders University’s palaeontology community celebrated its 30-year anniversary on Saturday 20 October 2018 with the inaugural Wells Palaeontology Lecture and a sold-out reception event that gathered palaeontology devotees and raised funds for a new rural student scholarship.
The inaugural lecture featured a passionate talk from celebrated pioneer of South Australian fossil discoveries, Flinders Professor Rod Wells, on ‘Down the Rabbit Hole: Caves and Deserts as Windows onto a Time before History’.
A key member of the team responsible for the extraordinary Victoria Fossil Cave fossil discoveries at Naracoorte in 1969, Professor Wells initiated research into these finds that was instrumental in establishing the caves as South Australia’s only World Heritage Site.
The impressive fossils had remained hidden for thousands of years, concealed in almost inaccessible limestone chambers that hid a wealth of megafauna bones including those of the remarkable marsupial lion and extinct leaf-eating kangaroos.
Research driven by Professor Wells, at Naracoorte and in the Lake Eyre Basin in the decades that followed, revealed that together with bones, deposits contained valuable plant material, pollen and DNA have shed light on the evolution of Australia’s unique fauna over extensive periods of history covering millions of years, including extinction events and the arrival of Australia’s first humans.
Professor Wells enthused the crowd of students, staff, alumni and Flinders University Palaeotology Society members with the value of his discoveries at Naracoorte and the Lake Eyre Basin over the past 40-50 years, demonstrating how understanding the history of animals’ responses to change has provided remarkable insights into the earth’s history including climate and environmental variations.
He pointed out the technological advances that occurred while he was discovering fossils, and how these, together with ongoing discoveries, escalated the insights enabled by these finds.
After the lecture, guests enjoyed a reception event featuring networking, games, fossil displays and photos to celebrate 30 years since the inception of the Flinders University Palaeontology Society, and the first palaeontology topic taught at Flinders.
Raffles, donations and an auction raised $2,318 towards the new palaeontology scholarship, which will support a commencing student from rural Australia to come to Flinders and study palaeontology. A gallery of images from the event can be viewed on the Palaeontology Society’s website.
Together with the 30-year celebrations and inaugural lecture, Flinders ardent palaeontology community also celebrated a new course this year – Australasia’s first and only palaeontology named degree, the Bachelor of Science in Palaeontology.
With its inaugural intake in 2019, the new course reflects the University’s strengths in this exciting discipline. These include the largest palaeontology academic and research team in Australia with several internationally revered experts, world-class facilities including a purpose-built Palaeontology Lab, and an enthusiastic student community who run the Flinders University Palaeontology Society and passionately organise regular events and communications to inspire and inform.