Research website of Dr Gilbert Price

That time I wrote a song

Many years ago, I was invited to the South Australian Museum’s Palaeo Week. I’m not sure if the museum still runs it, but it was amazing: a week-long celebration of all things palaeontology. South Australia has some most brilliant and world-class palaeontological resources, from the incredible Ediacaran biota through to the World Heritage Naracoorte Caves.

My job at Palaeo Week was simply to talk to members of the public about how wonderful fossils are. An easy job, right!

When I arrived at the Museum, I was led out to a big marquee that was setup behind the main galleries. There were tons of folk in there keen to learn more about the exhibits and fossils around them.

I took my place towards the back of the marquee and started chatting with various members of the public. And that’s where I met Professor Flint.

Professor Flint

Professor Flint with a skeleton of the Marsupial 'Lion'

Professor Flint with a skeleton of the Marsupial ‘Lion’

I had never heard of the Professor before. He was a loud Scotsman who bellowed and cried the virtues of palaeontology. He was also one of the experts that the Museum had appointed for the week. I was blown away by his knowledge, the way that he engaged the public, and how he made science so fun.

I later found out that the Professor was the alter ego of Michael Mills from Heaps Good Productions. Michael is a most gifted science communicator. Not a research scientist per se, but he has a voice that can deliver extremely complex scientific ideas, information and theories to the public (and especially kids) in a way that makes it all so accessible.

Michael, or I should say, Professor Flint, is also an incredible performer. He writes children’s songs not only about palaeontology, but AUSTRALIAN palaeontology, and delivers it in a way that inspires and educates his young audiences.

I got to know the Professor on that trip, and stayed in contact with him over the years.

Planting the seed

Fast forward to 2014 and I ran into Michael again, this time in Brisbane when we went out to dinner with some friends from the Queensland Museum. Michael (and Professor Flint) was up in Queensland doing some science engagement activities. It was a great night catching up, talking palaeo and reminiscing about old times.

During the evening, Michael said to me that if I was ever interested in writing a song for the Professor, or at least suggesting some ideas, that he would consider adding it to his repertoire. Now that got me thinking!

When I was a kid, I played trombone in my primary school’s concert band… which I hated! But when I was a little bit older, I got more into music, and played bass guitar and keyboards (somewhat poorly) in a cover band. I’m not sure that I would even consider myself a ‘musician’, but that little kicker from Michael inspired me to hammer out some lyrics for a new song.

The Invictokoala holotype fossil

The Invictokoala holotype fossil

I got home and started thinking about what I could write about. I eventually settled on a song about an extinct koala from Australia that my colleague Scott Hocknull and I had described in the scientific literature a few years beforehand.

We named it Invictokoala monticola, which translates as the ‘Invincible koala from the mountain’. The original fossil was found at Mt Etna (hence the species name), just outside of Rockhampton in central eastern Queensland. It dates to around 300,000 years ago.

What is really special about Invictokoala though is that it appears to have been a rainforest-adapted koala. The fossil record previously suggested that koalas became extinct from rainforests during the Miocene around 10-12 million years ago, so for it to turn up so recently in geological time was quite unexpected.

The song itself is a ballad about Invictokoala and why it went extinct. We suspect it was related to significant habitat loss associated with a major shift towards drier conditions.

I drafted up the lyrics and then sung it into my computer (again, very poorly), before emailing it off to Michael.

Reconstruction of Invictokoala (image: Laurie Beirne)

Reconstruction of Invictokoala (image: Laurie Beirne)

Michael got back to me in a day or two thanking me. I didn’t really expect to hear anything more, but was then bowled over to receive a message from the Professor himself about a week later: he had tweaked the lyrics a tad, added music to the track, then re-recorded it… he made it incredible!

The final song

I was amazed and so chuffed when the song was added to Professor Flint’s second album, Dinosaurs Amongst Us, released in December 2016. If you haven’t done it yet, you can download it from iTunes, CD Baby, and Amazon, among other websites. You can even listen to it on Spotify.

But even more excitedly, I received a Twitter notification from the Professor just yesterday. Our song, Invictoooookoala, will be performed LIVE for the first time at Flint’s weekend concert, Picnic With The Dinosaurs!

The concert kicks off at the Adelaide Botanic Garden in the early afternoon of Sunday, December 3rd 2017. It’s a free concert, but be sure to register for your tickets here.

 

*DISCLAIMER* I receive $0 from proceeds towards the Professor’s albums. But please, please, please, I implore you to download it, not just to support Michael Mills and Heaps Good Productions, but to inspire a new generation of young Aussie kids in the virtues of Australian palaeontology, and Science, more broadly.

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Gilbert Price

Vertebrate palaeontologist at The University of Queensland
Gilbert has diverse research interests that include the study of Ice Age megafauna extinctions, climate and human impacts on coral reefs, and development of new fossil dating methods.

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Comments

  1. Love it!

  2. dinosaur rob says:

    Very funny! Whats does holotype mean? Is it s special type of fossil?

    • Hi Dinosaur Rob,
      A holotype is a representative specimen that shows the best range of characters (in this case, morphology) for what a given species is characterised by. Most species that we know on the planet today are represented by a holotype. They are (usually) found in various museums around the world.
      Hope that helps!
      Gilbert 🙂

  3. ha ha that’s grate. will check it out on itunes.

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