Mungo: A Journey into Australia’s Past
By: Mike Jerrard
A place truly out of this world, so much so that it looks like the surface of the moon, Lake Mungo has acted like a time capsule allowing us to take a peek into Australia’s historic past. Staring out at the Walls of China section of Mungo National Park, its hard not to feel a sense of the nearly 2,000 generations of its native peoples that have called it home. The Walls take on incredibly beautiful colors at sunset so a drive out to the lookout at that time is highly recommended.
Clockwise from Left: Walls of China, Galahs, Male and Female Red Kangaroo
Our trip out to the Park almost didn’t happen as heavy rain had forced the closure of many of the areas unsealed roads. Luckily they would reopen the morning of our planned drive out from Mildura. Mildura is the most convenient gateway to the park being just around a 100km (2.5 hour) drive. The majority of travel is on an unsealed road and although 4WD is recommended it is not necessary and we found the drive rather smooth. Note however that the self drive loop in the park can be quite rough.
Mungo National Park came to be when the remains of the oldest Australian, “Mungo Man” were discovered in the 1970’s. Although there has been and will always be controversy regarding the exact age of the remains, the fact remains that they are some of the oldest modern human remains found outside Africa. Current estimates put the age of the remains at 40,000-50,000 years old.
Clockwise from Left: Walls of China, Visitor gazing out from the Walls of China boardwalk lookout, stone tool artifacts
The area is also the location of just as important finds such as the Mungo Lady, which is an example of one of the world’s earliest cremations, and a collection of well preserved 20,000 year old human footprints representing adults and children. The Mungo Man and Lady remains are unfortunately not available for public viewing but are instead locked in a vault which needs two keys, sounding much like a process needed to launch a nuclear warhead. It shows the significant importance of such a find. The keys are held by both an archaeologist group and the native peoples.
Clockwise from Left: Plaster cast of ANcient Mungo Area human footprint, stone tools, locally extinct Hairy nosed wombat jaw still visible out on the walls of china
The Paakantji/Barkindji, Ngyiampaa, and Mutthi Mutthi peoples look over the land in conjunction with the National Park Service. A 70km one way loop (Mungo Track) allows visitors to drive around the prehistoric lake and get personal with its flora and fauna. The main attraction and sight of the discovery of Mungo Man are the Walls of China. Its beauty is something that needs to be seen in person and although stepping onto the lunar landscape is generally off limits to the public, one can partake in an Aboriginal Discovery Tour which will allow oneself to literally walk in the footsteps of Australia’s prehistoric peoples. Ancient artifacts abound here which include stone tools, prehistoric fireplaces, and extinct animal remains. Remains of Tasmanian Devil, Thylacine, Zygomaturus, and Hairy nosed Wombat have been uncovered. As the sand dunes continually shift, new discoveries are continually being made. It is because of this and the fragile nature of the area that necessitates the need to restrict the public to the boardwalk viewing platform in absence of a guide.
There are also many walks in the area beyond the Walls of China where you can see iconic Australian animals such as Red kangaroos, emus, Wedge-tailed eagles, and Pink Cockatoos. Even on these walks one can come across artifacts of past human presence so it is asked that you take only photos and do not disturb any relics which could hinder further study and hinder progress of recreating the story of our ancient past.
Clockwise from Top Left: A shingleback lizard crossing the Mungo Track, Red Kangaroo on the dry lake bed, EMu, emu track in sand, old abandoned emu egg bleached by the sun
Camping is the best way to get in touch with the true essence of Mungo and there are several campsites at your disposal. For those wanting a bit more comfort, a stay at the Shearers’ Quarters located at the start of the self drive Mungo Track is highly recommended. The Quarters consist of 5 very basic rooms albeit cozy and does have access to shared bathrooms, showers, and very nice communal kitchen. The Quarters bring the small group of guests together and telling stories beneath the stars makes for an enjoyable evening after you adventures in the park. The visitor center houses some incredible animal remains that were found in the area and never closes, so even late at night you can venture in and be transported back in time all the while having the place to yourself. Its like your very own private museum viewing.
Clockwise from Left: Fossilized egg shell fragments from emu or possibly Genyornis, fossil Thylacine jaw, fossil Tasmanian Devil skull
Tips for Vistiting:
- A daily entrance fee of currently $8 is collected at the visitor center via self pay stations
- Booking for the Shearers’ Quarters and more information on the park can be found at www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au. More information on Mungo can also be found at www.visitmungo.com.au
- The park can best be accessed by Mildura (115km -2.5 hours). It can also be accessed via Wentworth or Ivanhoe
- There is also a luxury style lodge located just outside the park entrance for those not wanting to go without extreme comfort. Head over to www.mungolodge.com.au for more details
- Check road conditions before venturing out to the park as rains can cause road closures
- Please take only pictures and leave only footprints, who knows maybe future archaeologists will uncover yours one day.
- Other recommended attractions to visit while in Mildura include Perry Sandhills, Hattah-Kulkyne National Park,Kings Billabong Park, and Murray Sunset National Park