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June 1994 Index

Bulletin Index Caithness Field Club

Caithness Field Club Bulletin
June 1994

Jack Saxon

I can almost hear people asking: where on earth is Canowindra? It is almost due west of Sydney in New South Wales; a bit too far away for a visit by the Caithness Field Club. The following is an extract from a newspaper article by Julian Cribb:

The story of the Canowindra fish bed has the sort of serendipity about it that often marks great discoveries. In 1956, trucks travelling the unsealed Gooloogong road were grounding on a protruding hummock. The Carbonne Shire despatched bulldozer driver Charlie Stevens to remove the obstacle. Carefully he levered up the slab and left it propped up by the roadside.

A few months later the rains had washed it clean. Bill Simpson was droving cattle along the road and saw the monolith consisted of a dense throng of fishes of peculiar shape and variety, 114 victims of some prehistoric holocaust. The slab was duly reported to the Australian Museum, where for more than a quarter of a century it held pride of place in the fossil gallery.

Intrigued, (Dr.Alex) Ritchie visited the site in 1992 and a quick survey persuaded him far more lay beneath the strata, but his crowbar and hammer made little impression on the sandstone. A year later he returned with a more suitable implement, a 22-tonne excavator loaned by the shire and a team of enthusiastic volunteers mustered from the local community.

What surfaced took their breath away. Impressed into the living rock was the story of a quintessentially Australian tragedy - thousands upon thousands of fish trapped in the mud of a drying lake bed under a baking Devonian sun, more than 350 million years before the first human footprint marked the earth.

Gently the drought shrouded its victims in a layer of dust and, when the lake refilled, the forms of the fish were frozen for eternity in their rocky tomb.

Text figures of Remigolepis, Bothryolepis and phyllolepis are given but Groenlandaspis is so rare that no meaningful drawing exists. We can look forward to some new research papers on this subject from Australia.

Jack Saxon