About the Collection
Last updated:7 June 2023
Geoscience Australia houses world-class mineral, meteorite, fossil, and rock thin-section specimens within the National Mineral & Fossil Collection. The collection is of scientific, historic, aesthetic, and social significance. Geoscience Australia is responsible for the management and preservation of the collection, as well as facilitating access to the collection for research, and geoscience education and outreach.
The collection contains an impressive:
- 15 000 gem, mineral and meteorite specimens from localities in Australia and across the globe.
- 45 000 published palaeontological specimens contained in the Commonwealth Palaeontological Collection (CPC).
- 1 000 000 unpublished fossils in a ‘Bulk Fossil’ collection.
- 250 000 rock thin section slides.
- 200 historical geoscience instruments including, cartography, geophysical, and laboratory equipment.
The first rock and fossil specimens were accessioned into what was known at the time as the 'fossil and ACT rock reference collection' during the 1920s. The collection has subsequently grown through field work discoveries, purchases, exchanges, donations and gifts. The collection was initially a repository used by geologists undertaking fieldwork around the ACT to better understand the regional geology. As Geoscience Australia's work has evolved to encompass a wider range of activities–including mineral and energy resources assessment–the collection has grown to include more diverse specimens.
The mineral collection formally commenced in 1940 with the transfer of mineral specimens from the Australian Museum at the request of Dr Walter Woolnough, the Commonwealth Geological Advisor.
During the early 1940s, the focus of the organisation shifted to a Strategic Minerals program with many field programs being undertaken. Following the formation of the Bureau of Mineral Resources (Geoscience Australia's precursor organisation) in 1946, many significant minerals were collected by the Bureau's geologists, including specimens of muscovite, uranium, and iron ore. The mineral collection continued to grow with the purchase of a number of large collections during the following decades, representing locations across the globe. One notable collection was that of Albert 'Flossie' Campbell–a particularly fine collection of approximately 1 000 minerals from Broken Hill. This collection was purchased in 1963.
The collection includes original wooden cabinets full of fossil specimens collected in the early 1900s by the first Commonwealth palaeontologist, Frederick Chapman. His primary focus was on microfossils known as foraminifera, but he also collected fossils of all kinds from Victoria. From the 1910s until the end of the 20th century, much palaeontological work was directed towards discovering oil and coal in and around Australia, including in Papua New Guinea. Fossil specimens collected from this work program are stored within the collection.
The collection also includes many vertebrate, invertebrate and plant fossils. Many specimens in the collection are 'type' specimens, which have been published in scientific journals and now form an essential scientific reference. As with all significant fossils, this collection is safeguarded under the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986.
Thin Section Slides
Geoscience Australia holds a collection of petrographic thin sections prepared from rock samples that have been collected over many decades. These have been collected primarily from within Australia as part of our work programs. Thin sections are microscope slides that contain a very thin section of a rock. The section is approximately 30 µm thick, so thin that light can pass through the rock when it is examined under a microscope. The collection currently contains over 50 000 catalogued rock thin sections, with more continuing to be produced and catalogued. The thin section collection is a valuable resource that can be used to study rocks that have been sampled over a large geographic range.
The National Mineral and Fossil Collection has been greatly enriched by a number of generous donations to the Commonwealth, which are held at Geoscience Australia. Among these are the collections of Colin. M. Chidley, Clement Victor Latz, Doug Boerner, Albert Glen Smith, and Brian Bown. Geoscience Australia accepts donations of specimens of national significance or items that add value to or complement our existing collection.