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Hidden wonders down under: Mungo National Park

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Few have heard of Mungo National Park, yet it's a site of global significance for its archaeological findings and geological formations. It is the site of Australia's oldest modern human remains — around 40,000 years — and one of the world's oldest sites of continuous human habitation.

Lake Mungo, a dry lake, is the central feature of Mungo National Park and the second largest of the 17 lakes in the World Heritage listed Willandra Lakes Region. In 1981 it was named, with Kakadu and the Great Barrier Reef, as one of Australia's first World Heritage sites.

Mungo National Park was formerly Gol Gol Station and the original woolshed is still here and open to visitors. In the 1920s the land was broken into smaller holdings and given to soldiers returning from WWI. It was later acquired by Parks and Wildlife.

The spectacular lunar landscape is characterised by the dramatic Great Walls of China running along what was the eastern shoreline of the lake. It is almost 35 kilometres long and reaches 30 metres high in parts. The "walls" were formed over thousands of years by sediments deposited by winds as the lake dried.

The crescent-shaped lunette has three distinct layers of sands and soil. The reddish Gol Gol layer was formed between 100,000 and 120,000 years ago. The greyish middle layer, Mungo, arrived between 50,000 and 25,000 years ago. The pale brown Zanci layer was laid down between 15,000 and25,000 years ago.

The Mungo layer, which was deposited before the last ice age, is the most archaeologically rich. During the ice age, the lake's water level dropped and it became a salt lake. This turned the soil alkaline, which has helped preserve the remains left buried in the Walls of China.

In 1968, Dr Jim Bowler uncovered the remains of Mungo Man, the oldest anatomically-modern human found in Australia. Believed to have lived around 40,000 years ago during the Ice Age, the remains were covered with red ochre and he'd been buried with ceremony, lying on his side and hands interlocked over his groin. It is the earliest known evidence of such a sophisticated burial practice, particularly as ochre is not native to the region and indicates that a sophisticated trading system could have been in place.

Mungo Woman was discovered just 100 metres away in 1969. Also estimated to be 40,000 years old, she is evidence of the world's oldest cremation.

There is evidence that Lake Mungo was an abundant source of fresh water and food and there is great archaeological evidence from people littering the shore of the lake. Stone tools, grinders for making flour, a stone axe head, middens with shells and bones, fish bones and fish ear bones, a two pronged tool and evidence of hearths have been exciting discoveries, some going back 50,000 years.

Footprints declaring the world's largest human trackway were announced in 2003. Since then over 450 prints of adults and children in at least 23 tracks have been uncovered. They vary from 15 to 30 centimetres.

The first colonists in the region were European farmers, who arrived in the 1860s. Chinese miners worked the area in the 1870s and named the Walls of China.

The site is significant to the Aboriginal people of the area. The Willandra region is managed by the Barkindji, Myiampaa and Mutthi Mutthi people and in 2001 the three tribal groups joined a Joint Management Agreement for Mungo National Park. They have developed a training program where people can learn about archaeological sites, bush tucker and traditional languages.

Harry Nanya Tours is owned and operated by Graham Clarke, a Barkindji Aborigine. He has been doing tours for 15 years and recently bought the business.

Tours of the Great Walls of China include a two-kilometre walk and an explanation of archaeological findings as well as the evolution of the lake and people who have lived here. Graham plays the didgeridoo, tells stories and shows how tools were made.

Mungo Lodge is set in mallee woodlands just four kilometres from Mungo National Park. It has a good range of accommodation: ensuite cabins, self-contained cottages and a camping ground. It has a licensed restaurant, barbecue area, all-weather airstrip and necessary amenities.


740km west of Sydney.


Mungo National Park entry is $7 per vehicle per day. Shearers quarters accommodation is $20 each for adults and $4 for children a night. Camping fees apply.

Mungo Lodge will close between October 2007 and April 2008 for refurbishment. It will re-open as a 4.5-star property and rates will be $240 for a double ensuite room, $180 for a single ensuite room.

Harry Nanya Tours run at sunset between November and March and during the day for the rest of the year. They are $130 for adults and $85 for children.

For more information

Harry Nanya Tours
Ph: (03) 5027 2076

Mungo National Park
Ph: (03) 5021 8903

Mungo Lodge
Arumpo Road
Mungo 3500
Ph: (03) 5029 7297
Fax: (03) 5029 7296

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