Stepping back in time in Mungo National Park

I want to tell my mother (who died 24 years ago in her 100th year) that I have finally made it to Mungo National Park. She visited this remote and ancient part of Australia in south western New South Wales about 50 years ago and was profoundly moved by the experience.

My family ancient footprints aren't in this land where humans inhabited as long ago as 47,000 years ago but I was brought up surrounded by lessons in history and culture: and most significantly, respect and love of country and its people.

Mungo National Park, New South Wales, Australia Photo: Anne Newman ©

Mungo National Park is a protected national park that is located in south-western New South Wales, in eastern Australia. The 110,967-hectare (274,210-acre) national park is situated approximately 875 kilometres (544 mi) west of Sydney in the Balranald Shire. Mungo National Park is the traditional meeting place of the Muthi Muthi, Nyiampaar and Barkinji Aboriginal Nations. People are no longer able to climb the sand dunes as stricter rules have been enforced.1

The national park is part of the UNESCO World Heritage–listed Willandra Lakes Region, an area of 2,400 square kilometres (930 sq mi) that incorporates seventeen dry lakes. The seventeen dry lakes are not all called Mungo but are all declared world heritage. The creek that used to flow into Mungo is being preserved as a sacred site. The national park is about 75 kilometres (47 mi) south-east of Pooncarie, 110 kilometres (68 mi) north-east of Mildura and approximately 145 kilometres (90 mi) south-west of Ivanhoe. The roads to, in or around the park are unsealed and may become impassable in 2-wheel-drive cars but with care can be navigated in SUVs or 4x4s.1

Fortunately for Jane and me the grader had been in the day before and we had no trouble at all negotiating the unsealed road. And along the way we were also treated to the lush growth resulting from the recent heavy rains.

Arriving at Mungo Lodge where we stayed the night, we were greeted by the welcoming committee of Malleefowls. And the view from our cabin showed once more the lush growth brought on by the rain.

If you look very closely you can see the faint outline of a small private plane in the distance, the occupants of which turned out to be aerial photographer Ingrid Hendriksen and her husband who had flown in to view Mungo National Park.

The central feature of Mungo National Park is Lake Mungo, the second largest of the ancient dry lakes. The Mungo National Park is noted for the archaeological remains discovered in the park. The remains of Mungo Man, the oldest human remains discovered in Australia, and Mungo Lady, the oldest known human to have been ritually cremated, were both discovered within the park. 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.1

If you are thinking that this landscape looks nothing like the Walls of China you are right. The name has nothing whatsoever to do with China. This lunette (something that has the shape of a crescent or half moon) was named after the Chinese workers who were working in the region in 1800s and constructed a Mungo woolshed in mid 1850. The woolshed is very well preserved and currently maintained by park rangers.2

And Lake Mungo is named after the Mungo sheep station which was created in the 1920s when the land in the area was subdivided for soldier settlement. The property, owned by the Cameron Brothers, was named after a picture of St Mungo they had seen at St Mungo's Church in Scotland. St Mungo is the patron saint of Glasgow.3

Woolshed constructed by Chinese workers on land now part of Mungo National Park (2)

Jane and I had signed up for the sunset tour which was in a word - magical. The area we were permitted to respectfully walk on was part of Lake Mungo and it felt like I imagine it must be to walk on the surface of the moon. It was a strange experience because it also felt very much as if we all belonged to this small but extremely significant part of this very ancient land.

You can only visit the area on a guided tour and we were so lucky with our guide Scott who had a very strong affinity with the area although he himself was not indigenous.

Mungo National Park was acquired for the National Reserve System in 1979 by the Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife. This organisation fundraised the $101,000 required to purchase the property. The Foundation also funded a resident archaeologist to work on the site from 1979 to 1983. With funds donated by Dick Smith, the Foundation established the Mungo Visitors Centre and Laboratory in 1983. With further sponsorship from BHP, the Foundation implemented the Mungo National Park 60-kilometre (37 mi) long guided vehicle drive in 1990. As of 2010, the Foundation put together a prospectus to create a new Centre at Mungo for education and research. Glenn Murcutt, an Australian architect and winner of the 2002 Pritzker Prize and 2009 AIA Gold Medal, along with Wendy Lewin, were scheduled to design the building.1

Both natural and human made causes have produced this remarkable landscape which is gradually moving southwards towards Victoria. The artists of time have carved away at the sand creating remarkable natural statues which are forever changing.

The landscape at Mungo Photo: Anne Newman ©
The ever changing landscape at Mungo Photo: Anne Newman ©

The patterns made in the sand by the weather were quite remarkable and inspirational for keen photographers and possible painters wishing to create on canvas the moving lines and patterns of time.

Patterns made in the sand at Mungo Photo: Anne Newman ©

With the closing of the day the landscape began to put on the mantle of thousands of years of culture and history - softly covering us in the evening light.

And as the sun finally set over Mungo we were taken back in time with only our own thoughts and emotions for company.

Sunset over Mungo National Park Photo: Jane ©

Let your spirit come with me to Mungo National Park where humans walked 45,000+ years ago. Feel their presence and let yourself slip back in time to love and respect country and culture wherever you might roam.

In Australia animals are never very far from our minds and tomorrow we will show you some of the furry and featured creatures we met along the way on our trip through northern Victoria and south western New South Wales.