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Canowindra, NSW

S 33°34' E 148°40'

Wed 20 Oct 1999

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We decided to go to Canowindra to visit the Age of Fishes Museum.

Lunch was at Cowra in a very pleasant capark by the river. We headed into town on across the old low level bridge only to find 2.5 metre (8 ft) clearance bridges on all the roads into town. We drove back across the low level bridge and then across the new high level bridge and out of town as quickly as possible.

Canowindra is even more run down than I remember it. Clearly it is one of the many country towns in Australia which is struggling to survive. I read in the local paper that the NSW Health Department have decided to "rationalise" food preparation in public hospitals and in future the food for patients in Cowra will be cooked in Orange and delivered to Cowra chilled. I guess a few more people out of work in the town is a small price to pay for such progress.`

The Age of Fishes Museum has only been open a few months and is yet to be completed. It is remarkable that Alex Ritchie from the Australian Museum has been able to see his vision of the richest find of Devonian fish fossils in the world should be conserved locally.

The building was designed by John Andrews, a world ranked architect who lives in the district and the fund to build it were largely raised by the local people.

The few slabs on display show an amazing congregation of fishes sometimes so dense that they overlap one another. At the fringes in the least dense parts the fishes are still very close together. There are about 3100 fossils in the 10 or 20 square metre (100 or 200 square feet) of the slab so far uncovered. Unlike other deposits, all the fossils are in the same layer.

The fossils are extraordinary as the whole bodies have been preserved in a sudden and catastrophic episode which must have taken place over only a few days 360 million years ago.

Many new species have been found, some in very large numbers and some in ones, twos or threes.

One species, which had previously been know only from skeletal fossils, and for which Alex Ritchie had proposed a whole body reconstruction from the bones, appears as a whole body fossil. It is eerie to compare the reconstruction with the real thing as they are almost identical. I had thought that the art of reconstruction from skeletal remains was a bit fanciful but I am now convinced that it is a real scientific endeavour.

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Created by Robin Chalmers on 21 Oct 1999 and last revised 09.01.2002