from garden of eden to world heritage

from garden of eden to world heritage

September 13, 2010  |  aborigines, travel tips and tales

I can’t believe that it has taken so long to experience Mungo National Park – one of the globally recognised treasures on the Australian landscape. Only an hour north of Mildura, Mungo National Park includes most of the ancient dry lake bed of Lake Mungo, one of a series of dry lake beds that make up the Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area.

40,000 years ago, Mungo National Park was a Garden of Area teeming with wildlife. Now it’s a parched semi-desert with differential erosion unlocking the secrets of an ancient aboriginal culture dating back 50,000 years. Mungo is owned and operated by three tribal groups of aboriginal people who form a Group Elders Council – something of a model for other places – operating Mungo with Parks in a joint management agreement.

Each school holidays, one of the tribal groups – the Barkindjii, Mutthi Mutthi and Nyiampaa – run the excellent Discovery Tours guided tour program. Another commercial tour is run by Graeme Clark of Harry Nanya Tours. Harry’s story is legendary and may well become a film one day. Mungo certainly has incredible archaeological and geological significance, but the aboriginal stories going back tens of thousands of years provide the real meaning.

The relatively recent discovery of Mungo Lady and Mungo Man provides the most important human remains ever found in Australia. They were buried on the shore of Lake Mungo, beneath the ‘Walls of China’, a series of lunettes on the South eastern edge of the lake. Their discovery re-wrote the ancient story of this land and its people and sent shock-waves around the world. Three years after their re-discovery and intense scrutiny, the trackways were carefully covered over again with a bed of sand – the same sand that had protected the footprints from the elements for thousands of years. The tracks are so fragile and precious that they have to be protected from everybody, even researchers

These 42,000 year old ritual burials are some of the oldest remains of modern humans (Homo sapiens) yet found outside of Africa. Mungo Lady is the oldest known cremation in the world, representing the early emergence of humanity’s spiritual beliefs.

Mungo Lady and Mungo Man are particularly special to their Aboriginal descendants who still live around the Willandra Lakes area, as this quote from Nyiampaa Elder, Roy Kennedy demonstrates:

Coming to Mungo I get a different sense of feeling that I’m home. You seem to know when you’re back in your own Country. It’s not taught to you, it’s built in you. It’s in your soul, that that’s your Country”

Visitors can stay at Mungo Lodge, but I must say I was a little disappointed with the result after Indigenous Business Australia invested a lot of money in its refurbishment. The Lodge lacks soul and stories and is still an opportunity waiting to happen. The accommodation is pleasant but you could be anywhere else in Australia. The old Lodge used to come alive with campfires and stories. Let’s hope that is rekindled soon.


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