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545 Million years ago (MYA) the Cambrian Explosion saw the evolution of an incredible diversity of life forms. The ancestors of ALL life on Earth kicked off. Jellyfish, Cordate seastars, Trilobytes, and many, many more. This period ended in a mass extinction and was followed by the "Age of Fishes" - the Ordivician. Ammonites like Cephalopods: ancestors of squid & octopus evolved. Nautiloids, (which still exist today) the lily-like Crinoids and Brachiopod shellfish.
A Warming climate led to the first plants on land - huge fruiting fungus up to 8m high and "free sporing" plants like hornworts and club mosses. An explosion of plant life captured C02 and created oxygen which made it possible for life to live on land. Lungfish evolved with the ability to breath above water. The verdant plant life on land attracted amphibians with legs that had evolved from fins. Eventually Tetrapods left the oceans to become the ancestors of all species of life on land.
At 340 MYA the first "Amniote Reptiles" evolved that laid hard shelled eggs. This meant they could hatch their young on land & no longer needed to returned to the ocean. This major step in evolution saw Crocodiles, pterodactyls, turtles and other reptiles become the forerunners of the two main life groups of life on land - Synapsids: mammals and Sauropsids: reptiles/birds. This time also saw the first "seed plants" Cycads and huge pine tree ferns known as Glosspteris.
144 MYA the first feathered birds appear. Flowering plants like the Bollwarra evolve along with insect pollinators. In an age dominated by dinosaurs small mammals and marsupials appear. The Platypus evolved to later form a branch which became the short beaked Echidna. These two species form the unique group Monotrenes - egg laying mammals that we still have today. The echidna's "puggle" hatches and lives in the mothers stomach folds suckling through her skin.
After the Permian extinction wiped out nearly all marine life & much of terrestrial life on earth reptiles were the first to re-emerge. Followed by birds & mammals. From 145 MYA onwards dinosaurs, growing ever larger on new forms of plant life, dominated. Australian dinosaurs included meat eating Austrolovenator and herbivores Llyaenus and Mutabutasaurus. A massive asteroid coupled with enormous volcanic activity in the "Deccan Traps" caused the extinction of all NON AVIAN dinosaurs.
Bullockornis (Mererong to Aborigines) was a 500kg carnivore related to the Magpie Goose. It evolved from much smaller birds that survived the devastating extinction in which meteor dust & volcanic activity blocked out the sun causing a global night. It Destroyed all terrestrial animals over 5kg & most plants by preventing photosynthesis. Small ground dwelling birds survived because they were numerous, needed less food and did not rely on trees that were wiped out by the long global winter.
NZ fossil records of a proliferation of ferns known as a "Fern Spike" were the first plants to recover after the KPG extinction. Forests eventually re-established. The age of flowering plants and mammals followed - resembling those of today. Discovered from a fossil found in Australia's Darling Downs this sea turtle weighed 200kg. It had a spiked tail and huge armoured head. It belonged to a group which survived at Lord Howe Island NSW until only 600 years ago.
23 MYA the Wollumbin shield volcano erupted. Outpourings of lava over 3 million years built a mountain 2 km high. High rainfall on the coastal side shaped the volcanic deposits into deep valleys and sharp ridge lines forming the radiating river systems we see today. Over time the soft basalt rock eroded into a basin shape or "caldera". More resilient rocks remained to become the landform known as Wollumbin (Cloud Catcher) or Mt Warning - now only 1 km in height.
Mt Warning Lily or Giant Spear Lily (Doryanthes palmerii) with 5m spear of fiery red flowers clothe the cliffs of the caldera attracting birds for miles. It is only found in this area. A unique Australian species, its only relative is the Gymea lily located further south.