This is a transcript of Episode 2: Trish Sloan, Australian Age of Dinosaurs.
Travis Holland 0:06
Welcome to Fossils and Fiction, a podcast exploring cultural and scientific ideas about dinosaurs.
My guest this week is Trish Sloan from the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum in Winton, Queensland. Trish is the Collection Manager of the Australian Age of Dinosaurs.
Trish, welcome to the podcast.
Trish Sloan 0:44
Thank you. Great to be here.
Travis Holland 0:47
Now you’re the collections manager at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History, which is quite a long title. How do you describe your role there?
Trish Sloan 1:00
My role’s pretty, it’s the same as every other collection manager in a museum. But I have, I guess, a really unique portfolio of training tour guides and other bits and bits and pieces around the museum. So my main role is obviously managing our fossil collection. And a big part of my profile is overseeing the fossils being prepared in our lab. And, and then leading on from that I then assist any research associates or researchers based on how fossils or perhaps they want to do comparisons, I help with that and the application process. And then just a lot of metadata, so making sure that we’ve got the correct metadata, the cataloguing and archiving of museum artifacts or Winton artifacts, and photography, and photography. So it is quite broad range. And then add museum photographer on top of that, and
Travis Holland 2:14
they keep you busy. The museum itself, could you tell us a little bit about the Australian Age of Dinosaurs?
Trish Sloan 2:21
Australian Age of Dinosaurs, I guess is a relatively new museum. However, we’re growing really, really fast. And how so the museums based around Australian dinosaurs obviously and we’re building towards a we’re working towards building a big natural history museum that will showcase you know, billions of years of Australian natural history. So if you’re familiar with the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Canada. So if we could say will be the Australian version of that museum, then that’s sort of what we’re trying to achieve. So, along with that, obviously, we were all about visitor experience. So the something that this museum creates is an opportunity for people to get to see real dinosaur bones, they’re not behind glass windows, they’re not locked up. They’re not fully a secret. And we want to educate and get all of this Australian dinosaur knowledge out there. So we’re very heavily focused on our customer service and visitor experience. And I think that’s one of the big, big, amazing things about the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum,
Travis Holland 3:42
Great. And one of the programs that you offer to get people involved is called Dig-A-Dino, which I love the alliteration of. What participants in that program get to do?
Unknown Speaker 3:53
So Dig-A-Dino is a participant. Participant program, so people pay to go out for a week on whatever property we’re digging on at the time. And from pretty much I’m gonna say daylight to that, because that’s what it feels like. We will go in search of dinosaur remains in the ground. So we give them the opportunity to see something that hasn’t been exposed for, you know, 100 million years and that thrill of that, that experience behind it is something that people love. And then obviously the added bonuses of visiting the museum and we have a day off we call it and we send them back to the museum to enjoy our museum like so let’s see the other side of things, if I haven’t been there already, and and then we have science lectures. It’s a very science driven exploration kind of participant programs.
Travis Holland 4:57
It sounds like a really cool way for people who are interested in Dinosaurs in paleontology to get a little bit of a hands on experience. Yeah, just fantastic. Now, this year’s dig is coming up very soon, isn’t it? It is. Unfortunately, for anyone listening, it’s already oversubscribed. So how could people get involved in the future?
Unknown Speaker 5:16
Well, you know, I’m a big advocate of keeping, keeping a waiting list, because you never know what will happen around the corner. So if anyone is interested in applying for Dig-A-Dino, just send it through to our bookings team. And we will put you on a waiting list. And we’ll be in contact when a position is available.
Travis Holland 5:38
And aside from that program, I know the museum need support is all over the place, because you’re a nonprofit, independent institutions. So how can people support the Australian Age of Dinosaurs museum?
Trish Sloan 5:53
I think becoming a member of the museum is there’s a lot of lots of different avenues really, but membership is important to us, obviously, building our society getting our information out there. And, you know, our members are advocates. So I think that having a big membership base is important. And I think the other involvement is that without people prepping in our lab, because that’s another visitor program of a participant program that we have, we wouldn’t be able to uncover the dinosaurs either. So we’re heavily reliant on volunteers or people to come in and help us with that sort of stuff. And of course, tourism is a paleo tourism is a really big part of this Museum’s funding.
Travis Holland 6:45
So yeah, absolutely. I know the museum. If you sign up as a subscriber, you get a print copy of the annual journal. Which, which is a fantastic publication, it’s really worth looking into. And of course, you’re out in Winton in western Queensland. What’s it like being out there? And the links to the community of Winton, how does that work? What’s the relationship between the town and the museum?
Unknown Speaker 7:12
Yeah, well, you know, what’s, what’s wonderful about Winton, is that it is a small community, and they get behind you. So there’s a lot of support for the museum in Winton town. And obviously, we encourage all Winton locals to come out to see us as we grow and get them to experience we’re holding a a community day on Easter Saturday on the 16th of April. So something that we do every year, and it’s a free family morning. Little bit of an egg and spoon race. So get kids involved. So I think we have a good relationship with the town.
Travis Holland 7:52
Great. You mentioned a couple of ways in which the museum comes into its its items. In you have amassed a very large collection of Australian dinosaur bones, I think I saw somewhere. It’s the biggest collection of Australian dinosaur bones in the world already. And you’ve got that together in a pretty short period of time. Given that volume, how do you start to make decisions about what to focus on in displays? And what to you know what to write up and do some research on and those kinds of things?
Unknown Speaker 8:27
Yeah, I think I think when you look at our collection, and the amount of stuff we’re pulling out of the ground, it’s pretty easy to prioritize, we’re obviously consistently looking for something different. So if you, you know, we were randomly the property owner, was checking for weeds on his property and found a pterosaur and you know, that wiped out all of our priorities, and oh, my goodness, we’ve got an Australian pterosaur, pterosaur, we’ve got to jump into so
Travis Holland 9:02
it’s the first Australian pterosaur discovered wasn’t it?
Unknown Speaker 9:05
Wasn’t the first, no. There were a couple – two or three others. And there’s been a new one just released from [unknown] just recently, but it’s just exciting. So I think to to answer the question about how we prioritize I think it’s what’s brand new, it’s what’s exciting. And, you know, please like ferrodraco or that, sorry, that Confractasuchus, the little crocodile, Cretaceous crocodile. He’s really cool. He’s a cool little critter. And you know, it’s taken a long time for us from finding him finding it and prepping it and getting it to a display point and getting it published. Now took a better part of six to eight years.
Travis Holland 9:50
So there was a bit of news about, a bit of interest in that one. The crocodile had the dinosaur in its stomach didn’t it?
Trish Sloan 10:00
Yes, a small Ornithapod. That was his last meal, even that’s cool. So I think, you know, I’m sitting here getting excited telling you about it. So, you know, it’s it’s sort of how we start to prioritize what we what we work on.
Travis Holland 10:17
All right. How did you get into your role? Can you tell me a little bit more about your background? I think it’s a bit of an unusual route, right.
Unknown Speaker 10:28
very, very unusual road. I, I started with this museum, not as a paid employee I was working for a subcontractor of I believe it was, as the dinosaur dig cook. So I cooked for the dinosaur diggers back in 2003 for a week and then I was the cook for a couple of years. And I split went overseas and came back as a full time employee as a fossil technician. And I did tiny little tours in the fossil containers out on Beaumont station and did the safety inductions and sort of helped and Naomi who was in charge of the lab back then prepping fossils, had a great time and I’ve just walked the line I’ve grown with the museum and I have built my passion on collection on fossils that lab work that science and I sit here today as a collection manager just sort of walked the path and gre with it.
Travis Holland 11:36
I should I should circle back so you began as a cook so maybe people think the Dig-A-Dino you know, it’s it’s camping? What, what kind of experience would you actually get?
Unknown Speaker 11:50
Well, the Dig-A-Dino experience is, is pretty great fun, actually, we we put the people in the, they’re accommodated in the shearer’s quarters, we go in a week before and sparkle up the shearer’s quarters and get them clean and tidy and put in some pretty five star single beds. And and then we have a cook on site, we employ a cook, and they eat until they can’t eat anymore, and we dig until we physically can’t dig anymore.
Travis Holland 12:23
You gotta have fuel for the digging.
Trish Sloan 12:24
Gotta have fuel, I agree.
Travis Holland 12:27
So it’s, although you’re out in the dirt all day, it might not be as messy as some people might be expecting.
Trish Sloan 12:35
Not really. But you know, every site is different. So the site that we’re going back to in May, there is one part of it’s quite fast paced. So excuse me, we know where the bones are, we’re very familiar with what we’re getting into there. Then the other side, which were referred to as hotspot is slow. The matrix is just that little bit harder. It’s a bit dry, and it’s full of teeth and crocodile bones. And it’s just not further not for everybody. So it’s, we call them fragglers. So people who just like to enjoy going millimeter by millimeter to find these little tiny things. And then we’ve got a spivving station.
Travis Holland 13:24
What kind of teeth are you hoping to dig up on this one?
Trish Sloan 13:27
Well, we have already found sauropod teeth, some isolated sauropod teeth, which actually extremely rare to find in Australia. I can confirm that we actually have part of – it’s called the premaxilla. It’s like the front of the snout of the snoropod – a sauropod and we’ve got crocodile numerous crocodile teeth. We refer to some of them as piscevore teeth. And that’s, you know, something a fish eating animal but it could well be a crocodile we’re not really sure. Gosh, there’s little crocodile vertebrae. There’s lots of little things, little pine cones as big as your fingernails, some smaller than your fingernail. Little funny fruit seed pods. So there’s lots of different things if you can imagine that area being like a corner of a creek bed that’s just been just slowly jammed by water and
Travis Holland 14:30
Lots of stuff has washed into there over time.
Trish Sloan 14:30
And it’s like a big debris bank. It’s just amazing.
Travis Holland 14:38
What era does it is it?
Trish Sloan 14:40
you’re looking at Cretaceous. It’s Winton formation. Yeah.
Travis Holland 14:44
And I guess that’s the that’s the main formation nearby to where where the museum is? Yes, yeah. Fantastic. Your background is a little bit unusual perhaps for a collections manager. And I know you said to me that you have some friends around the world and other museums, who are also collection managers, what do they how did they come into the role? And how does that differ from from you?
Trish Sloan 15:13
Um, well, the two collector managers that I know, are good friends of mine. And I guess, I guess the difference is, you know, what, what the museums represent. So, you know, one’s heavily Geosciences and structured a little bit different, but the role’s quite similar. And I guess the other person is in charge and got lots of volunteers behind them doing all that stuff. Whereas I’m doing it all myself. And I’ve got a handful of people on my team that give me a hand on the side. And I’m just starting to get some volunteers and sort of university interns, which is great.
Travis Holland 16:01
That was one thing I was gonna raise next. Now, obviously, you basically trained up on the job, and lots of other people might start that way, as well, and certainly you use volunteers. And you mentioned interns. So what approach does the museum take to helping to develop a future sort of workforce in the field?
Trish Sloan 16:19
Look, we have a really, I believe this museum has a really good approach for students. And, you know, we were encouraging people to come out and experience and I think, our work experience students can choose from, so I’m talking school, school grades, so the higher grades elevens and twelves. You know, we can give them hospitality experience, we can give them that collection, management, lab, paleontology sort of experience. But then you get up to your university students, the internships, and, you know, we can get them into that heavier collection management and right into the nitty gritty as to why we accession and not accession and donations and all this stuff. So I think our role for them is really important. And Museum is what we’re about, is giving people that experience.
Travis Holland 17:21
Fantastic. And related to that, I guess, you see, you know, see how your we’ve talked about your being deeply embedded in the Winton community, you know, embedded in these networks of people who are interested in the field? What are your relationships with other museums, and you mentioned one from Canada that you kind of modeling yourselves on and making, that might be putting words into your mouth, but sort of becoming the Australian version of I think you said, what’s the relationship like with other museums then around the world?
Trish Sloan 17:51
Um, you know, I think we have, so who we work with, prior to that, but still doing it. Now. I think we have good relationships. It’s something that David, our executive chairman is really passionate about is building those relationships. And then I guess, using that as a guiding light, that’s what we’ll try and achieve. And so I think it’s, it’s, I think, what I’m trying to say is that it’s important for us to build these relationships, so that we can, you know, have, we can all showcase what we need to showcase basically,
Travis Holland 18:35
Museums are often linked with galleries, archives, and libraries as the GLAM sector. What similarities or differences do you think there are – I guess there’s a kind of knowledge institutions or cultural, cultural knowledge institutions? What sort of similarities are there? Do you learn things from from related institutions? Or do you sort of stick with the museums?
Trish Sloan 19:00
No, you know, we, I guess, depends who’s talking here. But for me, I, I, because I’m building archives, and I’m building our database at the moment, I’m open to any suggestions. I’ve done a lot of research leading up to these bigger projects at the museum. You know, even as far as establishing a library, they’re all still very new for us. And it’s still very progressive. You know, so I’ve had to throw myself into the Dewey system. And for me to do that I’ve actually physically gone to a library and asked questions. And so I guess we heavily rely on, or I do anyway, rely on the knowledge of others to help me and the management team that built the museum.
Travis Holland 19:52
fantastic. What some of them… if someone was to say to you, okay, you’ve got I know there’s a thousand answers floating around in your head here, but, what’s the single proudest thing or the best you’ve achived do you think in your time with the Australain Age of Dinosaurs?
Trish Sloan 20:10
Travis Holland 20:12
That’s a question without notice. I know.
Trish Sloan 20:14
That’s a big question. Good grief, you know, there’s so many amazing moments. I think I think the highlight or the something, the thing that probably keeps me fully tied to this museum is is how productive we are. And being that productive. And I’m probably more referring to the fossil lab being more productive. And discovering more and, and getting those research papers out is something that I thrive on. And I guess I’m excited. I mean, you can you can wake up, come to work, and not even expect that you’re going to hold a dentary of a dinosaur in your hand that day. And it’s just an amazing feeling that we’re not only experiencing it ourselves, but we’re giving that experience to others. And this is just a line of passion, really. And it just continues.
Travis Holland 21:23
Trish Sloan 21:25
I’m getting teary just thinking about it.
Travis Holland 21:26
I can see your passion for the museum. Trish, I think that’s that’s so brilliant. And I really appreciate your time today. So the last question I wanted to ask is, perhaps it might be an obvious one for a dino podcast, but what’s your favorite dinosaur?
Trish Sloan 21:40
I got asked this recently and I’m a bit torn. I have to say Australovenator. And because Australovenator, or Banjo, started my career in this museum. And I think I think he would have caused a bit of mischief, an old therpod, out there back in the day when he was running around, Winton, Winton area and it kind of matches my personality I think.
Travis Holland 22:11
Can you describe Australovenator?
Trish Sloan 22:14
Australovenator winstonensis is one of the largest almost complete theropods here in Australia. He’s meat eating carnivorous, probably very much an opportunist. And he’s got really big hand claws. And nice long cassowary type legs that can run nice and fast.
Travis Holland 22:35
You’ve got quite the range of dinosaurs up there. You’ve got you’ve got some theropods, and pterosaurs and you’ve got – I know pterosaurs aren’t dinosaurs, somebody’s going to tell me off for that one – but the crocodiles and the sauropods? Is there anything you haven’t found yet that you really hope, oh we’ve got to add that to the collection? I guess a genius, obviously, you’re hoping it’s a new species. And you’ve mostly described, I think, new species.
Trish Sloan 23:03
So I think in the Winton area, I’ll probably need to be specific there. I know that it’s impossible for us to find one but I have to say it, I want to find the centrasaur. But I know probably would never do that wherever find one but it would be really nice to put ankylosaur in amongst the mix of our environmental critters and you know, like an ornithopod or something like that, little [inaudible].
Travis Holland 23:36
There are some there’s a very cool Australian ankylosaur in me comes from a little further north. I think than –
Trish Sloan 23:45
Travis Holland 23:46
Absolutely. All right. I know I said that the question about your favorite dinosaur is going to be the last question but thank you for indulging me a little longer.
Trish Sloan 23:54
Travis Holland 23:55
Trish Sloan from the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum I really appreciate your time. Thank you so much. Thanks to Trish Sloane from the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum in Winton Queensland. To support the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum or find out more, go to AustralianAgeOfDinosaurs.com or look them up on social media
Thank you for listening to the Fossils and Fiction podcast produced by me, Travis Holland, with the support of Charles Sturt University. The podcast theme music is Sonora by Quinca Moreia via the YouTube Audio Library. Find more content on our social media channels, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Tiktok. Show notes are available on the website fossilsfiction.co You can subscribe to the podcast on all major podcasting platforms.