Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 


This was the last member of the family Dromornithidae or thunderbirds to survive in Australia, apparently until the arrival of the Aboriginal People. This bird looked very much like a heavy ostrich with goose-like mandibles. The Northern Territory is the only state they have not been found in. This is the only dromornithid species for which an articulated skeleton has been found.

Genyornis newtoni from the Pleistocene is the type species of the genus, and also the only species in the genus. It was described and named by Stirling and Zietz in 1896. It was the only surviving dromornithid by the the Pleistocene, being known to exist from 1.64 Ma to about 10,000 BP. It was a medium-sized bird, fitting between the larger Dromornis stirtoni and Bullockornis planei and the smaller Ilbandornis woodburnei. Among distinguishing features were femoral shafts that were short and unusually broad, and slightly flattened, and its trochanters were narrow transversely, the internal borders being C-shaped with widely flaring condyles that were less deep and broad than those of Bullockornis or Dromornis. The Genyornis mandibles were less deep and narrow than those of Bullockornis or Dromornis. The knee joint and the reduced inner toe resemble those of Ilbandornis? lawsoni.

Dating of Genyornis egg shell has been found to indicate apparent sudden extinction in the area around Lake Eyre about 50,000 BP (Gifford Miller et al., 1999).

It is believed to have been the Mihirungs or giant emu, the dromornithids of the Dreamtime stories, having survived until possibly as late as 10,000 BP.


At more then 200 kg, compared to 35 kg for an emu, and looking like a giant flightless goose with stubby wings, massive legs and big toes. It inhabited the arid zone and had salt glands in its nose, an indication that it could possibly tolerate saline water. It's large head was big and wedge-shaped, and had a large, deep lower jaw with a 30 cm long beak. Its eggs are estimated to have weighed about 1.5 kg.


Sources & Further reading

  1. Dinosaurs of Australia and New Zealand, John A. Long, UNSW Press, 1998
  2. Peter F. Murray & Patricia Vickers-Rich, Magnificent Mihirungs: The Colossal Flightless Birds of the Australian Dreamtime, Indiana University Press, 2004
  3. Mary E White, After the Greening, The Browning of Australia, Kangaroo Press, 1994
  4. Cane, Scott, 2013, First Footprints: The epic story of the first Australians, Allen & Unwin

Scott Cane has included in his book, written as a companion to the ABC TV series of the same name, a number of stories from his days living among Aboriginal people in the desert and moving around with them.



Author: M. H. Monroe
Last Updated 27/03/2011 


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