2 February 2023

Meet 'Cooper': Australia's biggest dinosaur joins collection at national museum

| James Coleman
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Cooper, at the National Dinosaur Museum. Photo: James Coleman.

How does a dinosaur museum celebrate Australia Day? It erects a model of the biggest dinosaur ever discovered in Australia, of course.

‘Cooper’ is the latest addition to the outdoor garden at the National Dinosaur Museum in Gold Creek in Canberra’s north, an 800 kg fibreglass and ceramic homage to the Australotitan cooperensis.

Despite the fact the model measures 16 metres long and 3 metres tall, museum director Tom Kapaitany says it’s a “teenager” compared to the real deal.

“It’s one of the largest dinosaurs in the world and certainly the largest ever found in Australia,” Tom says.

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Bones of the original Cooper were discovered in 2005 by a farmer in southeast Queensland near Cooper Creek, hence the name. It birthed a new genus of ‘Australotitan‘, a group of ‘titanosaurian’ sauropods said to have lived in this part of the world during the Cretaceous period between 92 and 96 million years ago, and characterised by very long necks, long tails, small heads and four thick, pillar-like legs.

Fully grown, Cooper would have fully uncoiled the tape measure at 30 metres long and 6.5 metres high from the hip. Weight around 18 tonnes – “about as big as the whole museum building”, Tom says, explaining why he opted for a younger model.

Cooper forms an extension of the Canberra museum’s interactive dinosaur garden where children can get up close with life-like models of a variety of dinosaurs (including one “slightly oversized” Tyrannosaurus Rex) and mega mammals.

It’s one of three Australotitan models imported from the Philippines for several thousand dollars each. The other two are on display at Tom’s dinosaur museum in Melbourne.

He says the actual model only accounts for a small part of the total cost, with logistics, cranes and landscaping bringing the total to the “$100,000 to $200,000 range”.

A new enclosure had to be built on the other side of the museum, with large boulders yet to be added for a “Flintstones-style” backdrop. For now, though, Tom admits to having a bit of fun with the smaller boulders, even placing one beneath Cooper’s tail as if freshly pooped.

“The kids are loving it.”

Not only did the new Aussie dinosaur arrive in time for 26 January, but it also forms part of the museum’s 30th birthday celebrations this year. According to newly appointed general manager Carole Arulantu, there’s more to come.

“The focus is going to be Australiana,” she says.

“There’ll be a special family event on Saturday, 8 April, with lots of food, fun activities and tours. Then the evening will be an adults-only night with wine and cheese, and maybe a talk about how dinosaurs procreated.”

In the coming months, there are also plans to makeover the exhibits with fresh lighting and signage to give the museum a real shot at winning its first tourism award since 1997.

A big dinosaur for big plans. Watch this space.

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