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Rainforests provide clues to lifeforms from millions of years ago Bruno Kelly/Reuters

Palaeontologists are closer to understanding the Miocene Epoch – a period when Australia broke away from Antarctica and drifted north around 23 million years ago – after the discovery and analysis of fossilised remains in an ancient rainforest in the Gold Coast.

The fossils of the period when rainforests were common across the north of the antipodean country were discovered by a member of the public when on a hike in the Gold Coast hinterland. They were handed over to the Queensland Museum, where the staff's interest has been well and truly piqued.

The museum's palaeobotanist Dr Andrew Rozefelds told Australia's ABC: "There are earlier records in various publications and they talk about fossil plants being found throughout the Mount Warning volcanic region, but there's been nothing published on them.

"It's the first time that we've actually got quite well-preserved material to actually work with. We've got about six drawers of specimens at this stage."

As things stand, researchers have identified up to 20 different types of leaves from the ancient rainforest, with many of them looking like the eucalyptus variety. Rozefelds continued: "It could be just that we're sampling from different forest types at that time and therefore you're looking at different forests. It could be that eucalyptus occurred with rainforests at that time."