Rose Siva was born in New Zealand and has lived in Australia since the late 1990’s. She currently lives on beautiful Tamborine Mountain.
For 15 years she ran a successful education business providing courses for secondary school students across Australia with a focus on helping young people develop reading and learning skills.
Her insight during those years has provided valuable insight into what motivates children to read and, more importantly, enjoy reading.
Rose’s involvement with dinosaurs in Queensland started in 2008 and led to her qualifying as an Honorary Technician with Australian Age of Dinosaurs (AAOD) in Winton, Queensland. Work there preparing bones has enabled her to combine her two interests – dinosaurs and writing young adult fiction.
“There is something about working with 100 million year old dinosaur bones. Firstly, the absolute privilege of being allowed to be the first person EVER to expose the bones of a dinosaur that roamed the plains of central Queensland. Then the effect of 100 million year old dinosaur dust on my brain…”
Her first three books were picture books or ‘read-to-me’ books, designed to be read to a very small child to inspire the love of books. Based on bones of several different dinosaurs she had been working on they were titled Matilda faces her WORST FEAR, Banjo bounces into BOTHER, and Clancy gets STUCK.
Boolarong Press in Brisbane published Rose’s first young adult fiction book, Dinosaurs Fight to Survive, which was launched at the Outback Writers Festival in 2017. Her second book, Dinosaurs and Dragons, has also been published by Boolarong Press.
Her third book, DINOTHAW, The search for the Coldest Dinosaur, takes her young hero Josh to Antarctica in an attempt to recover recently uncovered dinosaur bones.
Rose is currently working on her fourth young adult fiction book about opalised dinosaur discoveries in the Opal fields in Australia.
Dinosaurs I have met – Part 1 MATILDA
Come and find out about Queensland Dinosaurs, the flyer said. Hosted by Queensland Museum, this was part of an educational lecture series. Seriously? Dinosaurs in Queensland? I was intrigued.
The talk was introduced by Scott Hucknell, a palaeontologist, who gave a brief overview of dinosaur history. He explained how it was assumed that any dinosaur remains in outback Queensland would have been reduced to dust in the arid outback conditions. Until David Elliot found something!
That ‘something’ turned out to be part of a femur of a sauropod, a large herbivore. A very large herbivore. David had found the bone lying on the ground when out mustering sheep on his property north west of Winton. Sceptical Queensland Museum staff had been enticed out to take a look at the bone that was taking up a large space on David’s dining room table. They immediately knew what is was, and how significant. The question was, were there any more parts of this sauropod waiting to be found?
An exploratory dig was organised, and at this point Scott explained ‘normal’ dig procedure – small tools, trowels, and brushes to brush the dirt away. He then passed the microphone over to David Elliot.
David explained his D2 method. He borrowed a road grader, a D2 and, brushing aside the protestations of the palaeontologist, he arranged to have the area slowly scraped, removing two inches of soil at a time. Observers at each end of the blade watched carefully. If they saw anything they thought significant they would shout and the grader would be stopped so the area could be investigated. Then a bobcat would be used to excavate further, and if the area looked promising shovels and picks would be used. Finally, trowels and brushes would be tools of choice.
David went on to explain that this first bone was one of many, and once the word went around the area more graziers reported finding interesting bones that they had previously dismissed as rocks. And these bones, when excavated, were being stored on his property out near Winton. So many, he had to make extra space in his utility shed for them.
“So, we have plenty of bones,” he said. “What we need is people to come out and work on them; clean the dirt off them. We’ve got the gear and we’ll show you what to do, so if you have a 4WD and some time to spare come and stay at our shearing shed and give us a hand.” Then he added, “Bring your own tucker. It’s a bit of a way out there so don’t come for a couple of days, come for a couple of weeks.”
How could I resist an invitation like that? Next school holidays (I was working as an educator) I packed my 4WD and looked at the mud map they had sent me explaining how to find the Elliot property.
My first patient was Matilda (later formally identified and named Diamantinasaurus matildae), a significant sauropod thought to have been around 16 metres long and weighing close to 20 tons. She was a lady not to be trifled with, and her huge bones were amazing to work on. Patiently clearing the dirt and rock away with dentist sized drills, the interface between rock and bone was clearly marked by a change in colour. Matilda’s bones were a beautiful bronzy brown colour; I could imagine I was seeing the patina on the surface of her bones. I was mesmerised, in awe of what I was working on, and felt so privileged to be allowed to be the first person to touch the bones of this magnificent ancient animal.
Sleeping in the shearing shed at the end of each amazing day, I had dreams. Dreams of dinosaurs that later became the essence of the stories I began writing. Too much dinosaur dust up my nose!
Towards the end of the visit there was a buzz of excitement. A mysterious item had been found amongst Matilda’s bones. Not just another bone – A Claw! Matilda had company!
Dinosaurs I have met – Part 2 BANJO
The discovery of a claw in the same ‘dig area’ where Matilda was found caused a ripple of excitement. Even before he was named Banjo (officially Australovenator wintonesis) it was apparent he was not a sauropod, and the question was what had he been doing hanging around with Matilda? That question rolled around my mind as I continued to make trips out to the Winton area to work on the bones, and that thought eventually turned itself into the plot for a book.
By this stage I had done enough volunteer work preparing bones to be considered an honorary technician. David and Judy Elliot had officially formed the Australian Age of Dinosaurs, secured land 10km out of Winton, and built an enormous tin shed where preppers could come and work in luxurious fly-free semi comfort.
I can get obsessed doing jigsaws, so to me a mixed bag of miscellaneous possible dinosaur bits to sort through was heaven. I get so focussed I have to be dragged away to get lunch. I remember working on one bone, and calling a specialist over to ask what it was I was seeing. I was told it was a fossilised twig that was touching the bone surface at right angles. So, around 100 million years ago, this particular dinosaur had died and been covered in mud. At some point, after the flesh had rotted away, a branch had fallen off a tree and a twig from the branch had pierced the mud and touched the bone. There it had stayed for 100 million years (give or take a million), the mud solidified into rock, and the twig and bone fossilised. The ultimate cold case, and I was the first person to solve it!
Here I got to meet Banjo up close and personal. We were at the stage of going through the very small bones from the Matilda dig, and amongst them were fragments of Banjo. He certainly was not the kind of dinosaur you would want to meet on a dark night in a confined space. Semi-erect, with sharp claws on his upper limbs, he would have be a carnivore and a skilful predator. It has been suggested he or his relations were the active hunters involved in the dinosaur stampede trackways that are now open for visitors to view at Lark Quarry, 110km south west of Winton.
As more bones were found, palaeontologists were able to build a replica skeleton, and a bronze statue of Banjo now stands fiercely guarding the entrance to the AAOD reception building. His actual bones can be seen in the collection room. When he was officially named he was the largest and most complete theropod discovered in Australia.
I was lucky enough to work on a number of Banjo’s ribs, and the image of some of the bones I delicately glued together remain with me still. Araldite was the glue of choice – we must have used gallons of it. I am sure the Araldite makers did not have this particular use in mind when they started manufacture. The Australian Age of Dinosaurs continues to report and collate more dinosaur finds, and has a backlog of bones waiting to be worked on by preppers. In the time of the great inland seas, central Australia was a fertile oasis that supported many life forms. It also provided unique conditions for the formation of opals, and it was stories of opals in the Lark Quarry area that led me on a hunt to meet my next dinosaur, further south in New South Wales. Lightning Ridge, I was told, was the only place in the world where opalised dinosaur bones can be found. I would have to go and see what I could find!
Dinosaurs I have met – Part 3 FOSTER
Opalised dinosaur bones? Seriously? Was someone having me on?
The only way to find out was to go and look for myself. Lightning Ridge is famous for opals and interesting characters, so I set off in search of both.
The Australian Opal Centre is currently housed in a small shop on the main street. A new home is being planned out in the opal fields beside town, and it will be a purpose built building. Part of its purpose is to safely house and display opalised fossils.
When I was there in 2019 I made a point of tracking down a local opal hunter, opal valuer and palaeontologist. Jenni was very enthusiastic and passionate about both opals and old bones, and took me to have a private viewing of some of the opalised dinosaur bones in their collection.
There I met Foster (officially Fostoria dhimangunmal). Foster was named after Robert Foster, the opal miner who found him. Jenni explained that 100 million years ago Lightning Ridge had been at the outlet of the great inland sea, where rivers had formed. Bones of mostly smaller dinosaurs had been rumbled and tumbled down the rivers, many crushed and broken, and had ended up on the edges of the rivers in the same deposits where opals had later formed. And if by chance a bone ended up in the right space it could become opalised.
Foster was identified as a new species, an iguanodontian dinosaur, and there he was in the display case in front of me in all his blue grey beauty. Jenni showed me other specimens, mostly small vertebrae and shells. Some of the collection, she assured me, was so precious they could not put it on display until they had a purpose built secure building. And most of it came from the Lightning Ridge area.
Armed with new knowledge I was determined to go out to the area where opalised fossils were being found. Out, and out, over dirt tracks past interesting collections of scattered building mostly made of corrugated iron, and old caravans. I met some very colourful characters, all who assured me they weren’t finding ‘nuthing like that.’ Jenni had warned me opal miners were not big on sharing information, especially information on any lucrative finds they may have made.
Towards the end of the day I stopped at a small mining shack where a miner had set up an art gallery selling his own artwork. I guessed this was to supplement his income when opals weren’t to be found. James was unlike other miners I had met; he was open to a chat and interested in dinosaurs and books. When he learned I had written some books on dinosaurs and had worked on bones in Queensland he disappeared into a back room and returned with two pieces of potch* opal. He put the pieces in my hand and immediately I could tell one piece was definitely opalised bone. The other piece had been tumbled in the mine extraction process, and while I couldn’t be sure it was, I couldn’t be sure it wasn’t. I had in my hand opalised dinosaur bone!
This find has inspired me to write another young adult fiction book that I have tentatively called Dinopal. Based around dinosaur finds and opals and on characters I met in the opal fields, this one builds another adventure for my young hero Josh who has appeared in my earlier books. And like my earlier stories, this is firmly grounded in truth relating to Australian dinosaurs.
*Potch opal is low grade opal, usually grey blue or grey green that does not have the opal flash of other colours.
Footnote: Rose has written a series of books for young adults on Dinosaurs. Dinosaurs Fight to Survive, Dinosaurs and Dragons, Dinothaw, and is currently working on another book Dinopal. Her books are available at a number of book outlets and directly from her at rosesiva.com.au