Mihirungs: The giant flightless birds of ancient Australia
Forty years after the arrival of the First Fleet at Port Jackson in 1788, a 35 year-old Scottish army draftsman and surveyor named Major Thomas Mitchell was appointed as Surveyor- General of New South Wales. Mitchell was tasked with mapping the interior of the colony, in the hope that fertile farmlands and natural resources would be located. In the course of his 1830 exploration, Mitchell was informed by a pastoralist, named George Ranken, of the existence of caves in the Wellington Valley. Curious, Mitchell explored the Wellington Caves with Ranken.
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Fifty thousand years ago, Australia was home to a decidedly unusual fauna. Placental mammals, which are the most common mammals across all other continents, were present only in the form of bats, rats, seals, whales and sea cows. The most abundant and diverse mammals on this island continent were the pouched marsupials and, to a far lesser extent, the egg-laying monotremes: platypus and echidna. Reptiles including giant goannas, turtles and crocodiles also roamed the land, and amphibians were abundant. What of the birds? As is true today, Australia was host to a myriad of feathered forms, large and small. However, if legends of the indigenous people are to be believed, then some birds with which they were acquainted, either through direct observation or through their fossils, were very large indeed.
AAOD Journal Issue 13 (2015) – pages 68 to 84
By Dr Stephen Poropat
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