Showing posts with label Australia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Australia. Show all posts

A prehistoric megafauna map of Australia

map of the prehistoric megafauna Australia Sahul
The prehistoric continent of Sahul: Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea 
joined by low sea levels sixty five thousand years ago
and the vanished megafauna of the late Pleistocene 

"When people lived alongside creatures unique
Giants of fur and pouch, tooth scale and beak"


A playful prehistoric megafauna map of Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea which explores in reliable detail a specific slice of deep time. 

By drawing on the available science to depict ice age coastlines, rivers, lakes, ocean currents, climate, fauna and the presence of humans, the artwork visualises the past in a fun educational way and challenges a static Australian identity.

poster of prehistoric megafauna map of Australia Sahul t-shirt of Diprotodon t-shirt of prehistoric megafauna map of Australia


Why make this map of prehistoric Australia?

Ten years ago I created a map of the supercontinent Pangaea populated with various creatures that lived in the Triassic. Similar in style to an old sea-faring map with monsters, only the monsters of this time were real. It proved to be popular poster art.

As a professional illustrator with years of experience in educational science illustration I was driven to follow up the map of Pangaea by assembling a map of prehistoric Australia. 

The intention was to create an intuitive, engaging way to imagine features of Australia’s past such as land bridges, ancient lakes and ecosystems of vanished enigmatic animals, and to consider the connection of life to climate and a changing terrain. These things have never before been visualised together in one document.

The prehistoric megafauna map of Australia is a serious exploration of the knowledge gathered by expert minds, presented as fun, engaging and educational children’s art.  


A video flyover of the Prehistoric megafauna map of Australia


How was this map made?

There was no existing single visual reference for this map!
To coalesce many fields of science into one image required extensive reading of available knowledge.

I created my own reference guided by scientific literature, topological data and mapping software. Using a referenced estimate of sea levels 65,000 years ago (apparently about 85 metres below present) it was possible to use sea floor data GEBCO 2020 Grid and QGIS mapping software to render a reference map showing the coastlines of a lower sea level. To do this I had to learn to use actual mapping software! 


mapping Australia's pleistocene coastline
Using sea floor data GEBCO 2020 Grid and QGIS
mapping software to reveal Australia's ice age coastline


The depicted geographical features such as rivers, lakes, mountains, snow lines, areas of vegetation and climate were derived from information gathered from topographical data sets and relevant research papers.

The animals featured were chosen for research suggesting they were still living at the time this map explores. Extinction dates of these animals are uncertain but are likely to have happened after this time period. Except for the Meiolania tortoise. No one knows when this went extinct!

To keep the map clear and un-confusing only large extinct species are featured.

Where possible the animals were based on skeletal reconstructions or diagrammatic reconstructions sourced from relevant research papers, and the latest science describing the animal’s life appearance, posture, etc. Sometimes there were only brief written descriptions or suppositions to go by. Some details are simply made up (ie fur colour) because no one actually knows.

The animals have mostly been placed where they might have lived, though for balance and aesthetics I used some license.


map detail of ice age lake carpentaria
Over the last 2.4 million years with fluctuating sea levels
more often than not the Gulf of Carpentaria
has been a lake

map detail of ice-age lake bass and tasmanian land bridge
During Glacial Maximums (ice ages) when sea levels are low
Australia and Tasmania are connected by a 'land bridge'
and Bass Strait becomes a lake


Meet the vanished megafauna

These creatures lived side by side with the Australian animals we see around us today. With a few notable exceptions most of the megafauna on this map are thought to have gone extinct around 40, 000 years ago.

It was once a land of far greater biological diversity. Sadly we can no longer see these enigmatic giants in real life, though in a few cases this may be for the best. Some of them were terrifying!

So, in order of their appearance on the map...


prehistoric tortoise Meiolania

  • A giant horned tortoise  
  • Had a spiked tail reinforced with rings of bone 
  • Had a pair of pointy horns and many knobbly spikes on its head 
  • Shell length from 0.75 to 2 metres depending on species 
  • An amazing example of convergent evolution with ankylosaurs (armoured dinosaurs)  

Hulitherium tomasetti

Hulitherium tomasetti

  • A giant marsupial living in the mountain rain-forests of what is now the island of New Guinea 
  • Could probably stand on its hind legs and reach up for juicy leaves 
  • A browser, preferring soft foliage  
  • Weighed from 75 kg to 200 kg 

Thylacine cynocephalus

Thylacine cynocephalus Tasmanian tiger

  • Known as the Tasmanian tiger, yet until a few thousand years ago it lived throughout the entire continent 
  • Roamed Australia and New Guinea during the Pleistocene only going extinct in the 20th century 
  • A carnivorous marsupial, carrying its young in a pouch 
  • An example of convergent evolution, many of its features were strikingly like that of a dog 
  • Could open its mouth very wide, to around 80 degrees 
  • Sightings still occur but remain unproven
  • Officially declared extinct in the 1980s

Genyornis newtoni

giant bird Genyornis newtoni

  • A giant flightless bird  
  • Tiny wings and massive, strong legs 
  • The heavily built beak could be used to apply great force 
  • Grew to over 2 metres tall and 250 kg 
  • Related to ducks and geese, but a whole lot bigger 
  • The last of the mihrungs, a family of giant flightless birds 

Phascolonus gigas

Phascolonus gigas

  • The biggest species of wombat ever  
  • Had big square front teeth that grew non stop 
  • Grew to around 200 kg 
  • Did it do cube shaped poo like modern wombats? 

Palorchestes azael

Palorchestes azael

  • An enigmatic giant marsupial  
  • 1.5 metres at the shoulder and massed 1000 kg 
  • A slow powerful animal with a strange head and unusual gait 
  • Strong forelimbs, elbows that could not straighten and chunky claws 
  • Well developed prehensile lips and a long tongue 

Sthenurus stirlingi

giant kangaroo Sthenurus stirlingi

  • A giant short-faced kangaroo 
  • Strong heavy build with robust bones 
  • Grew to between 150 and 200 kg 
  • Short flat face with forward facing eyes 
  • Could reach its arms well above its head to pull down tasty leaves 


Pleistocene crocodile Quinkana

  • A land dwelling crocodile 
  • Broad snout and curved, serrated teeth for slicing through flesh 
  • A fast runner with long upright legs 
  • Growing from 2 to 5 metres long 
  • One of the mekosuchines, a now-extinct lineage of crocodiles 


prehistoric snake Wonambi

  • Last of an ancient lineage of snakes known as the Madtsoiids 
  • Killed prey by constriction yet was not a python or a boa 
  • Grew to 5 or 6 metres long and weighed about 50 kg 
  • Ate smallish prey as its jaw was not flexible like a modern snake 
  • Named after the Dreamtime Rainbow Serpent 

Procoptodon goliah 

giant short faced kangaroo Procoptodon goliah

  • A giant short-faced kangaroo  
  • Big single toe claws like hoofs 
  • Their anatomy suggests they did not hop. Instead they walked! 
  • Heavy build, weighing around 200 to 240 kg 
  • About two metres in height when sitting up 
  • Short flat face 
  • Ate tough leaves and stems 
  • Long arms with two long claws on each hand for reaching leaves 

Diprotodon optatum

giant marsupial Diprotodon optatum

  • The biggest marsupial ever! 
  • Huge skull filled with air cavities to keep it lighter 
  • Up to 3 metres long, 2 metres at the shoulder and massing 3000 kg 
  • Lived in groups and may have been migratory 
  • Back feet had funny inward turned toes 

Zygomaturus trilobus

Zygomaturus trilobus

  • A giant diprotodontid living to about 33,000 years ago in Australia 
  • May have lived in coastal regions near swamps, lakes and rivers 
  • One of the largest marsupials to have ever lived 
  • About 1.5 metres at the shoulder and up to 500 kg 
  • huge cheek bones and a big rubbery nose 

Megalania (Varanus Priscus)

gian lizard Megalania Varanus Priscus

  • The giant monitor lizard  
  • By far the biggest terrestrial lizard to have ever lived 
  • Estimated lengths approaching 5 to 7 metres and massing up to 2200 kg 
  • Mouth full of large teeth like serrated blades 
  • Had venom and toxic bacteria in its saliva 

Murrayglossus hacketti

giant echidna Murrayglossus hacketti

  • The giant echidna 
  • Biggest egg laying mammal ever 
  • Longer straighter legs than other echidnas 
  • About 30 kg and 1 m long 
  • Very long beak 
  • Tongue around half a metre long 

Progura gallinacea

giant malleefowl Progura gallinacea

  • The giant megapode 
  • Buried their eggs in warm sand dunes, leaving their young to fend for themselves 
  • As tall as a grey kangaroo 
  • Despite its size it could fly... a bit 
  • The giant cousin of bush turkeys and malleefowl 
  • Is it responsible for the remains of egg shell previously attributed to the giant bird Genyornis?

Thylacoleo carnifex

marsupial lion Thylacoleo carnifex

  • A huge marsupial carnivore
  • Around 130 kg and 1.5 m long 
  • For its weight the most powerful bite of any mammal ever 
  • Teeth like enormous cutting shears 
  • Enormous hooked thumb claws for securing prey 
  • A strong tail for balance when leaping or rearing up 

Protemnodon anak

giant kangaroo Protemnodon anak

  • A slender giant of a kangaroo with a very long neck
  • Quadrupedal, tending to walk on all fours  
  • A browser, eating mostly leaves and stems 
  • Grew to about 2 metres tall and 150 kg 

Want to know more about the giants of Australia’s Pleistocene?

There are many excellent museums and locations around Australia which deliver amazing insights into Australia’s ice age landscapes and life. My personal favourites are

  • Naracoorte cave tours and Wonambi Fossil Centre in Naracoorte, South Australia
  • Mungo track, tours and visitors center at Mungo National Park, New South Wales
  • Melbourne Museums exhibit 600 Million Years, the origin and evolution of life in Victoria

A book about Australian megafauna suitable for all ages with beautiful illustrations:

  • Prehistoric Giants : The Megafauna of Australia
    written by Danielle Clode published by Museum Victoria 2009

Or if you want to take a deep dive into Australia's Pleistocene climate and ecology a great starting point is searching for topics on Google Scholar

Map sources

To make the Prehistoric megafauna map of Australia required extensive reading of available knowledge. References as follows:

Map projection
Lambert conformal conic projection

Coastal contours
Based on bathymetric data GEBCO 2020 Grid.
Rendered with QGIS for reference

Sea level at 85 meters below present
De Deckker, P., Arnold, L.J., van der Kaars, S., Bayon, G., Stuut, J.B.W., Perner, K., dos Santos, R.L., Uemura, R. and Demuro, M., 2019. Marine Isotope Stage 4 in Australasia: A full glacial culminating 65,000 years ago–Global connections and implications for human dispersal. Quaternary Science Reviews, 204, pp.187-207.

Based on land data GEBCO 2020 Grid

Existing rivers and salt lakes
Australia Report Map Geoscience Australia 2007

Coastal paleo rivers
Harris, P., Heap, A., Passlow, V., Sbaffi, L., Fellows, M., Porter-Smith, R., Buchanan, C. and Daniell, J., 2003. Geomorphic features of the continental margin of Australia. Geoscience Australia, Canberra.
Voris, H.K., 2000. Maps of Pleistocene sea levels in Southeast Asia: shorelines, river systems and time durations. Journal of biogeography, 27(5), pp.1153-1167.
Hill, P.J., De Deckker, P., Von der Borch, C. and Murray-Wallace, C.V., 2009. Ancestral Murray River on the Lacepede Shelf, southern Australia: Late Quaternary migrations of a major river outlet and strandline development. Australian Journal of Earth Sciences, 56(2), pp.135-157.
Murray-Wallace, C.V., 2014. The continental shelves of SE Australia. Geological Society, London, Memoirs, 41(1), pp.273-291.

Paleo lakes
Harris, P.T., Heap, A.D., Marshall, J.F. and McCulloch, M., 2008. A new coral reef province in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Australia: colonisation, growth and submergence during the early Holocene. Marine Geology, 251(1-2), pp.85-97.
Baird, M., 2018. Bass Strait Glider Reveals the Ancient Bassian Lake. Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) Ocean Current News

Sand dunes
Hesse, P.P., 2010. The Australian desert dunefields: formation and evolution in an old, flat, dry continent. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 346(1), pp.141-164.

Climate and vegetation
De Deckker, P., Arnold, L.J., van der Kaars, S., Bayon, G., Stuut, J.B.W., Perner, K., dos Santos, R.L., Uemura, R. and Demuro, M., 2019. Marine Isotope Stage 4 in Australasia: A full glacial culminating 65,000 years ago–Global connections and implications for human dispersal. Quaternary Science Reviews, 204, pp.187-207.
De Deckker, P., Moros, M., Perner, K., Blanz, T., Wacker, L., Schneider, R., Barrows, T.T., O’Loingsigh, T. and Jansen, E., 2020. Climatic evolution in the Australian region over the last 94 ka-spanning human occupancy-, and unveiling the Last Glacial Maximum. Quaternary Science Reviews, 249, p.106593.
Hope, G., Kershaw, A.P., van der Kaars, S., Xiangjun, S., Liew, P.M., Heusser, L.E., Takahara, H., McGlone, M., Miyoshi, N. and Moss, P.T., 2004. History of vegetation and habitat change in the Austral-Asian region. Quaternary International, 118, pp.103-126.

Sea currents
Petrick, B., Martínez-García, A., Auer, G., Reuning, L., Auderset, A., Deik, H., Takayanagi, H., De Vleeschouwer, D., Iryu, Y. and Haug, G.H., 2019. Glacial indonesian throughflow weakening across the mid-pleistocene climatic transition. Scientific reports, 9(1), pp.1-13.

Megafauna living 65,000 years ago
Bradshaw, C.J., Johnson, C.N., Llewelyn, J., Weisbecker, V., Strona, G. and Saltré, F., 2021. Relative demographic susceptibility does not explain the extinction chronology of Sahul’s megafauna. Elife, 10, p.e63870.
Hocknull, S.A., Lewis, R., Arnold, L.J., Pietsch, T., Joannes-Boyau, R., Price, G.J., Moss, P., Wood, R., Dosseto, A., Louys, J. and Olley, J., 2020. Extinction of eastern Sahul megafauna coincides with sustained environmental deterioration. Nature communications, 11(1), pp.1-14.

Presence of modern humans
Clarkson, C., Jacobs, Z., Marwick, B., Fullagar, R., Wallis, L., Smith, M., Roberts, R.G., Hayes, E., Lowe, K., Carah, X. and Florin, S.A., 2017. Human occupation of northern Australia by 65,000 years ago. Nature, 547(7663), pp.306-310.

A poster illustration of the Westgarth Cinema

drawing of the westgarth cinema

I saw two people outside a cinema lean over a motor scooter to kiss and I knew had to make an artwork of it.

In this drawing, behind the kissing couple, is a building based on the Westgarth Cinema in Northcote, Melbourne. It used to be called the Valhalla, a fondly remembered arthouse cinema. I have watched hundreds of films in this place, but haven’t kissed anyone here while on a movie date… yet.

Visit my shop on Redbubble
to buy Meeting at the Cinema
on posters, art prints and other gift items

The artwork was hand drawn in pen and ink and coloured digitally. If you are familiar with the Westgarth Cinema you will probably notice I changed a few details. For instance you can't really park a motor scooter on that corner, and I removed a power pole because it looked visually odd and distracting imbedded in the awning as it actually is in real life.

I created the artwork as an entry to Illustrators Australia's art exhibition Paper to Pixel. So if you went to the exhibition this artwork will probably (hopefully) be familiar to you.

Pen and ink drawing of the Westgarth Cinema

Look at that big menacing ink blob right under the couple. Gaaagh!
Good thing there is digital editing.

To show some of the process here's the pencil rough and the ink drawing before I coloured it.

illustrating a map of historical railway lines

How many stations will need to be placed and labelled? 
255 stations on 27 lines. 
Hmmm, that's quite a few. Okay then, lets see how we go fitting all that information in...

Earlier this year I was commissioned to illustrate a historical map of Sydney's rail lines and stations. I was supplied with a rough layout and information of when the lines and stations opened, moved, extended, renamed or closed. A complex document to layout! I would like to think the result remains visually simple and easy to follow.

Truth is I enjoy putting together a historically based info-graphic like this and it makes me happy thinking of the historical train enthusiasts eagerly pouring over the carefully presented information.

If historical rail maps of Australia are your thing you can find this map and others available for purchase on Steve Watson's website


Book illustration - Aliens Ghosts and Vanishings

Aliens Ghosts and Vanishings

Aliens Ghosts and Vanishings Strange and Possibly True Australian Stories Written by Stella Tarakson illustrated by Richard Morden Penguin Random House Australia

In store November 2016!!

A year ago I was approached to illustrate Aliens Ghosts and Vanishings a book examining the most bizarre stories from Australia’s culture and history. It is a joyride of Australian gothic weirdness written for 10 to 15 year olds, however I enjoyed reading it and I’m quite a bit older than that.

Did a UFO drag a family’s car off the road in the middle of the outback? How did rocks rain from the sky in WA? And what became of the prime minister who went into the surf and was never seen again?

Explore the strangest tales, most incredible encounters and creepiest urban legends in Australia’s history. Read about the investigations and weigh up the facts – do you believe the official explanations for these weird and wonderful events?

Here's a few examples of the strange tales it examines...

Hawkesbury River Monster
Mythical creatures! This particular beastie is the Hawkesbury River monster, illustrated with the appearance of a plesiosaur. Next time you’re dabbling your toes in a river look carefully to be sure there is not one of these lurking in the deep. Chomp chomp!

Ghost hunting with an EMF detector
Haunted places! Some ghost hunters believe haunting spirits can be located with an electromagnetic field detector. Well I'm not so sure about that, but you can decide for yourself.

The falling rocks of Manyup
Mysterious locations! Have you heard of the falling stones of Mayanup, Western Australia? This is Audrey of Mayanup in the 1950s, around whom things would move strangely and rocks would appear, slowly falling to the ground. I'm not sure if she could actually levitate, but it felt appropriately telekinetic and spooky, so thats how I illustrated her. 

Westall UFO sighting
UFO Sightings! In 1966 in the Melbourne suburb of Westall more than 200 students and teachers from two schools saw a mysterious object land in a nearby grassy field. I was delighted when I learned I was to be illustrating a scene form the Westal UFO sighting. I had heard some of the witnesses speak at a convention and personally asked them to describe what they remember seeing and feeling when they approached the object. Best illustration reference ever.

Conspiracy theories behind behind the disappearance of Harold Holt
Bizarre disappearances! What was behind the disappearance of Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt? The conspiracy theories speak of a shark attack, CIA intervention, eloping with a love interest, UFO abduction, and even a Chinese submarine waiting to take him away! 
This was the first illustration completed for Aliens Ghosts and Vanishings, setting the style for the rest of the images. The plan was to create dark, mysterious illustrations with simple line work and lots of texture. I was also keen not to patronise the teenage readers with twee illustrations, instead aiming high and assuming an audience of sophistication.

The Gosford Glyphs
Strange happenings! Does the existence of the Gosford Glyphs prove ancient Egyptians travelled to Australia, or are the markings simply a prank by some cheeky school children? Hmmm, what would be more likely... let me think. Ancient Egyptians, obviously!

So many wonderfully strange tales. A book I thoroughly enjoyed illustrating. 
Aliens Ghosts and Vanishings is available in stores and on-line November 2016.

lace monitor makes lace

lace monitor makes crochet lace knickers

Lace Monitor crochets lace underwear.
Her name is Anna. Go Anna!

This lace monitor was originally one half of a spot-the-difference puzzle in a book of Aussie Puzzle Adventures. I think she is sweet enough to be crocheting out in the big wide world on her own merit. So now she is on Redbubble and Society 6 as prints, gift cards, t shirts and the like. Long may she craft!

Visit Pixbyrichard on Redbubble to shop for Lace Monitor makes lace
on gift cards, carry bags, t-shirts and stuff

Puzzle illustration - Collect Ten Flowers for a Pavlova Picnic

Handsome Yowie has a Flower
 Beautiful Bunyip has a Pavlova

Handsome Yowie has a Flower. Beautiful Bunyip has a Pavlova.

Collect Ten Flowers for a Pavlova Picnic!
Help the handsome Yowie find his way through the maze to a picnic with the beautiful Bunyip. If he collects 10 flowers along the way she will give him a great big slice of pavlova. Yum. This is another of my Aussie Puzzle Adventures

illustration of a maze with a yowie and a bunyip

Visit Pixbyrichard on Redbubble to shop for
Collect Ten Flowers for a Pavlova Picnic,
Handsome Yowie and Beautiful Bunyip
on gift cards, posters, t-shirts and stuff

What are these strange beasties?

Yowies and Bunyips are Australian mythical animals or cryptids.
Yowies live in the darkest unexplored reaches of the Australian bush. They are big hairy ape-like beings similar to a Sasquatch or Yeti. Bunyips are dangerous magical creatures that inhabit isolated rivers and billabongs.

Both are to be feared and treated with the utmost caution, unless you are have brought flowers or pavlova.

Puzzle illustration - Who threw which boomerang?

an Australian puzzle with boomerangs

Today the boomerang testing range is a whirl of confusion.
Can you tell who has thrown which boomerang?
Here’s a hint, the patterns on their helmets are coded to the boomerangs.
Who threw which Boomerang is another Aussie Puzzle Adventure

Thorny Devil

The Thorny Devil is available on its very own range of gifty items.
Also known as the Moloch or Thorny Dragon, these little lizards live in the Australian desert.
They are covered with spikes.
They are super cute.

Visit Pixbyrichard on Redbubble to shop for
Who Threw Which Boomerang
and for the Thorny Devil
on great things like tshirts, cushions, posters,
gift cards, and lots of other stuff.

It's a stick.
And when you throw it... it comes back!

Despite the old stereotypes most Australians live in cities not in the outback, we almost never ride to work on kangaroos and most of us are not expert boomerang throwers. Though as it happens I actually do have a collection of returning boomerangs, some of which seem to be missing. I must have thrown them away. I wonder if they will come back?

R :)

Puzzle illustration - Spot the Tawny Frogmouths

puzzle illustration of tawny frogmouths

Can you find all five Tawny Frogmouths?
Of course you can, but you have to admit they are pretty good at hiding.

Tawny Frogmouths are birds found (or not found) hiding in trees throughout Australia. They look like owls, but are actually more closely related to nightjars. Experts at camouflage they can look just like a tree stump, even up close! That is, until they open their big yellow eyes.

Spot the Tawny Frogmouths is one of my series of Aussie Puzzle Adventures.

It was originally in of a puzzle book of mine called Puzzles Down Under, published by Black Dog Books in 2009. The publisher has since reverted the rights, allowing me to make the puzzles available as beautifully printed posters gift cards, art prints and t-shirts. So you can expect a lot more of these puzzles very soon.

Visit Pixbyrichard on Redbubble
to shop for Spot the Tawny Frogmouths
on gift cards, posters, cushions and stuff