Mungo National Park
is located in the southwest corner of NSW, roughly 100km northeast of Mildura
(Vic). The park is part of the Willandra Lakes Region, a ‘World Heritage
Area’ incorporating 17 dry lakes and covering 2,400 square kilometres. The second largest of these dry lakes is Lake Mungo
- an archaeologist’s place of reverence. Lake Mungo
has revealed the 40,000 year old secrets of ‘Mungo Man’, the oldest human remains discovered in Australia
, and ‘Mungo Lady’, the oldest known human to have been ritually cremated in the world. They were buried on the shores of Lake Mungo
, beneath the 'Walls of China', a series of lunettes on the south eastern edge of the lake.
The 30km plus Walls of China are a significant feature of the Mungo Lake lunette. Slowly weathered over thousands of years; the erosion from wind and water has sculpted the sand and clay into spectacular formations. This erosion has also uncovered extensive Aboriginal artefacts, and the bones of animals commonly referred to as mega-fauna; such as Genyornis newtoni, a flightless bird with legs as solid as a racehorse, and Procoptodon goliah - a towering 3m, 230kg short-faced kangaroo. The fragile carvings in the lunette are a beautiful subject for photography, especially during sunset. Please take note that it is strictly forbidden to climb on the lunette features or disturb artefacts.
Mungo NP provides some interesting attractions like Allen’s Plain Hut and Tank, the Mungo Woolshed
, Vigars Well picnic area, and Zanci Homestead
site and Woolshed. The Mungo NP Visitor Centre is open every day and there is a self-guided 70km driving tour that includes 15 stops - each with sign-posted information. Tours of the Walls of China are conducted by rangers in the school holidays. You can stay overnight at several locations, including the Shearers Quarters (bookings required), the Main Camp (vehicles and caravans), or Belah Camp (vehicle only). A boardwalk (wheelchair friendly) provides access to superb views of the Walls of China, and the short walks - Grasslands Nature Walk (1 km) and the Foreshore Walk (2.5 km) highlights a variety of interesting features within the park.
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The crescent shaped lunette, otherwise known as the ‘Walls of China’, is one of the main highlights in Mungo National Park
. Standing around 30m high and stretching nearly 30km long, this now dry eastern shore holds secrets of preserved campfires, cooking hearths and burials of ancient Aboriginal people. There are three distinct layers of sands and soil forming the Walls of China. The oldest is the reddish Gol Gol layer, formed between 100,000 and 120,000 years ago. The middle greyish layer and the most archaeologically rich is the Mungo layer, deposited between 50,000 and 25,000 years ago. The most recent is the Zanci layer, which is pale brown, and was laid down mostly between 25,000 and 15,000 years ago.
There are three main types of native vegetation that co-exist in the Mungo National Park
- being grassy woodlands
, heathlands and semi-arid woodlands
. Within the grassy woodlands
, cypress pines thrive on loamy soils, sandy ridges and rocky out-crops. They can grow in dense communities, but these days are somewhat scattered, mainly due to extensively harvesting. These trees must be seen in their native habitat to be truly appreciated, as they play host to a variety of wildlife including pink cockatoos, which feed on the seeds of the small pinecones. The heathlands consist of lakebed shrubs such as Chenopodiaceae, commonly known as saltbush or bluebush. During Spring, these plants reveal a beautiful understorey of wildflowers
. In the semi-arid woodland parts, mallee dominate the area. The name mallee comes from an Aboriginal word for eucalyptus trees that are multi-stemmed from their base. The underground woody structure (lignotuber) stores water and nutrients, allowing the plant to survive in such harsh conditions. Aborigines used to rely on these lignotubers as an important source of drinking water.
There are many species of fauna within the park such as the largest of our marsupials - the kangaroo. These herbivores spend their days grazing quietly in the grasslands or resting in a scratched out pad in the woodland shade. All three species - Red, Western grey
, and the Eastern grey
kangaroos co-exist in the park. Other animals you may be lucky to encounter are short-beaked echidnas, spiny anteaters, bats, pygmy and larger possums, bandicoots and the common and fat-tailed dunnarts. The largest reptile in the park is the harmless carpet python, which grows between 2 and 4 metres long. Mungo supports a wide variety of bird species mainly due to the diverse environment. Birds you may see include: emus, mallee ring-necks, galahs, pink cockatoos, zebra finches, crested pigeons, blue bonnets, budgerigars, and orange
and crimson chats.
The Mungo National Park
is one of the most historically rich places
. In 1981, the Willandra Lakes region was given World Heritage
listing because of its special archaeological and geomorphologic features. One lake in particular - Lake Mungo
has provided scientists with some significant discoveries - especially in the last half century. Aboriginal people lived on the shores of the lake for tens of thousands of years, and traces of their occupancy in the forms of: camp hearths, tools, clay-pan workshops, animal bones, and shell middens are giving up their secrets, as the sand dunes of its shores slowly erode away. The most significant discoveries were from the human skeletal remains of Mungo Lady and Mungo Man.
Mungo Lady (also known as Mungo I) was discovered in 1969 by Professor Jim Bowler with the University of Melbourne
. Scientific dating methods as well as burn marks on her remains suggest her age to be up to 40,000 years old - being the world’s first recorded cremation. The pattern of burn marks imply an unusual ritual, whereby after she died, the corpse was burned, smashed, and then burned a second time. Theorists suggest maybe her descendants had tried to ensure she did not return to haunt them.
Mungo was discovered by geologist Dr. Jim Bowler on February 26, 1974 when shifting sand dunes exposed his remains. The body was sprinkled with red ochre, in what is the earliest incidence of such a sophisticated and artistic burial practice. Mungo Man was quite old when he died based on evidence of osteoarthritis and severe wear on the teeth, and new studies have revealed he had an estimated height of 196cm (6 ft 5 in). The age of 40,000 years is currently the most widely accepted archaeological age for the Mungo Man, which makes him the second oldest anatomically modern human remains found outside of Africa to date.