This first post was written in January 2010. The Somerville Collection remains one of the most impressive museum displays that we’ve ever had the privilege of viewing.
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The Australian Fossil and Mineral Museum, in Bathurst NSW, is home to the Somerville Collection. We made the three hour trip from Sydney last week with high expectations, and we certainly weren’t disappointed. The quality of specimens on display was absolutely astounding.
As Pete astutely commented, “there was no padding”. Every single piece was magnificent, and the small museum took quite a while to view, because each display was totally captivating. We spent the better part of a morning exploring the two main exhibitions – the Minerals Gallery and the Masterfoods Fossil Gallery.
The collection represents the life’s work of Warren Somerville, an extraordinary Australian with an incomparable passion for minerals and fossils. Story has it that when the full sized Tyrannosaurus rex cast (the only complete specimen in Australia) was delivered to his home, his wife decided it was time for either a museum or a divorce.
Many of the mineral specimens on display are the finest examples of their type in the world. I felt like we’d been to the rock equivalent of the Louvre, all for a tiny entry fee of $21 per family. To understand the scale of this collection, it’s worth mentioning that Professor Somerville was offered $15 million to move it to Japan, but chose instead to donate it to a regional museum in New South Wales.
Here are the highlights from the ninety-odd photos I took, all handheld, without flash and mostly through glass cabinets – and all taken with my little Lumix camera. Clicking on the items will open up a higher resolution photo.
The specimens included a football-sized Tasmanian Crocoite…
…this magnificent Scolecite, which reminded me of a large sea anemone..
…a huge (as in boulder-sized) Amethyst Quartz from Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, in a formation known as an oyster…
…Natrolite in Vugh…
…and several examples of my favourite mineral, Malachite.
The fossil section of the museum was equally as impressive, and while it was hard to top the T-Rex, this large petrified crab from Monte Bolca in Italy came close. It’s exquisitely detailed – astonishing given that it’s more than 34 million years old.
There was an outstanding collection of Amber – these photos were taken through a magnifying glass which slid over the cabinet. The Madagascan gecko is a very rare specimen - over 43 million years old and one of only six in the world. This display made me blissfully happy, as I’ve wanted to see true Amber with inclusions for a very long time…
This shoal of herring-like fish were trapped and fossilised 50 million years ago in freshwater lakes in the US. Known as Green River Shale, the rocks from these lakes in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado have unearthed a wide selection of aquatic fossils, including the rare garpike in the bottom photo.
A collection of crinoids from Western Australia – these “sea lilies” were related to starfish and were the most abundant marine creatures 490 – 250 million years ago. Modern varieties still exist today.
Outside the museum lies the trunk of a petrified gum tree, uncovered in Molong, less than a 100kms west of Bathurst. Weighing over a tonne, the organic material in the tree has been replaced with agate over the past 20 million years.
Professor Somerville, thank you for your enormous generosity in sharing these amazing specimens with us. We feel extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to view them, and our lives are all the richer for having visited your museum!
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The Australian Fossil and Mineral Museum
224 Howick St
Bathurst NSW 2795
Phone: (02) 6331 5511