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Writing for museums: Meet the crown dragon


The finished product: the text panel for Guanlong – hooray!

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Be a science writer!

I recently worked as a writer on the Australian Museum’s TYRANNOSAURS – MEET THE FAMILY exhibition, now touring New Zealand.

Prior to this job, if you’d said “tyrannosaur”, I’d have screamed “Rex!” and started running. I knew they had teeth, I knew they had claws, I knew they were extinct.

And that was it.

Well, turns out, there’s a whole lot more to know about tyrannosaurs, and I was lucky enough to learn some of it on the job.

Making every word count

The process for writing museum panels is a long one.

– Each panel is short — some less than 100 words — but they each have to grab attention, communicate a message, and add value to the visitor’s experience.

– The TYRANNOSAURS panels had to work for kids and adults

– They also had to steer clear of any typically Aussie references: the exhibition is touring different countries, so it needed to work for audiences around the world.

–  Accuracy is most important of all. I worked with a paleontologist on the panels for this exhibition, to make sure everything was spot on. Every fact was triple-checked, every sentence was scoured for ambiguity.

Ten drafts, 200 words

The panel pictured above introduces a primitive tyrannosaur named Guanlong wucaii, meaning Crown Dragon. We’ve only found two Guanlong specimens, so not a lot is known about this dinosaur. It was my job to communicate the key facts in something super-interesting and engaging. What do you think?


Guanlong wucaii: the crown dragon

Guanlong is one of the oldest tyrannosaurs known: it hunted 95 million years before T. rex.

Height: 1.1 metres tall at the hips.                 

Length: 4 metres.

 Lived: 160 million years ago (Late Jurassic).

Discovered: By T. Yu in 2002, Xinjiang, China.

Meaning crown dragon, Guanlong was named for its flashy head-crest. Fragile, hollow and made from fused nasal bones, the crest may have been attractive to other Guanlong. Such a showpiece is unusual in a predator.

Shaking hands with Guanlong
Guanlong isn’t your typical tyrannosaur: it has long arms and three-fingered hands for grabbing and ripping. But the shape of its teeth, skull and pelvis all link it to the tyrannosaur group. Like many tyrannosaurs, it almost certainly had feathers.

Trapped in a footprint
The two known Guanlong died in the same way: they fell into the muddy footprint of a massive herbivore and were trapped. The 6-year-old died first and was probably trampled by the adult, who arrived later. Both skeletons are almost complete.

Likes: Elaborate headwear.

Dislikes: Being called primitive.


Artwork by dracontes



Tyrannosaurs: Meet my text panels – the Australian Museum tyrannosaurs exhibition


I’ve been working this year with the Australian Museum (and my kids) to write the text panels for their new TYRANNOSAURS: MEET THE FAMILY exhibition, and it’s about to open!

It’s going to be incredible, with some real surprises and unusual experiences in store for punters, plus, of course, it’s chockas with informative, witty, succinct and fascinating text panels 😉 (Ahem, now, where did I put my trumpet?)

But seriously. Go see it if you can. It’s really cool, and I learned a lot of things about dinosaurs along the way. Writing for the museum was a terrific experience and I was lucky to work with a great team of creative minds. MY FAVOURITE THING!

Tyrannosaurs, exclusive to the Australian Museum in Sydney, is the first exhibition in the world to shine a light on this legendary dinosaur family. If you thought you knew tyrannosaurs, think again.

Tyrannosaur eats kids

Me and the kids at Universal Studios in Singapore…The Australian Museum exhibition is going to be even tastier!

The Museum are flying in fossilised T-rex specimens from North America, and smaller feathery ancestors recently found in Northwestern China; there will also be life-sized skeletons and models, fossilised pre-digested stomach contents (if you’re into that sort of thing), and a machine that lets you gauge the bite-force of a T-rex (roughly 6 tonnes of pressure) against your own.

Date 23 Nov-27 Jul 2014

Open Daily 9.30am-5pm


Photo shoot with a tyrannosaur

I’ve been working for several months now on the text for an awesome exhibition at the Australian Museum about tyrannosaurs, and our house is now awash with tyrannosaurs.

So, it’s only natural to take our Tyrannosaurus rex for a photo shoot. I thought I’d share the results, cause they’re incredibly unscientific, and the kids and I had a ball! In fact we all had a ball, except for the ankylosaurus 🙂

The ankylosaurus, grazing in the wild.

The ankylosaurus, grazing in the wild.

tyrannosaurus camoflage

The tyrannosaurus demonstrating its incredible camoflage when fossilised.

tyrannosaurus closeup

Note the massive head balancing the long tail (this shoot may be unscientific, but we still shun the old-fashioned kangaroo-pose)

tyrannosaurus hunting ankylosaurus

The ankylosaurus is on borrowed time. Our tyrannosaur is closing in….

Tyrannosaurus on the moon.

Randomly, kangaroo-style tyrannosaur makes it to the moon.


And *sigh*…That was delicious! (Note the pneumatic skull, the robust jaw, the satisfied post-ankylosaurus grin.)

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I feed my kids to a hungry tyrannosaur

I feed my kids to a hungry tyrannosaur


Great news! I’m writing the text panels for an exhibition on TYRANNOSAURS with the Australian Museum. I never knew there were so many species of tyrannosaur! T. rex had cousins, and lots of them.

Things I’ve learned so far:

– Dinosaurs like T. rex may not have had vocal chords. Which means they probably went raging through the jungle, roaring whimpering gnashing their teeth.

Dinosaurs aren’t actually extinct! The hot theory is that avian dinosaurs (A.K.A birds) survived the mass extinction and evolved in to chickens and emus.

– And while we’re on the subject of birds, dinosaurs probably had feathers. Cute, fluffy, fuzzy feathers. Even the blood-crazed meat-eating giants. How adorable!

Seriously, dinosaurs have a lot of secrets for dudes who’ve been dead for hundreds of millions of years.

The exhibition opens late 2013 and it’s going to be AWESOME.
Think up-close-and-personal Walking with Dinosaurs. Think OMG I hope I don’t wet my pants.
It’s going to be scary (and fascinating)(and seriously interactive).

See you there!