Walking in the footsteps of ancestors

Hauntingly beautiful to the naked eye, the semi-arid Willandra Lakes Region of South Western NSW is an amazing landscape of dunes and lunettes stretching as far as the eye can see.

This region houses Mungo National Park, one of the earliest known sites of human civilization and one of the most important archaeological sites on the planet.

Mungo became a National Park in 1978 with the aim to preserve and maintain a sample of the Willandra fossil lake system. It is a World Heritage Area covering over 240,000 hectares currently co-managed by the Traditional Owners, the Paakantji andthe Ngyiampaa tribes through the Joint Management Committee.

Traditionally a destination for scientists, Mungo attracted a worldwide audience with the discovery of Mungo Woman in 1969, and Mungo Man five years later on the western shores of Lake Mungo. Mungo Man and Mungo Woman are skeletal remains dating back more than 40,000 years and are some of the most famous in the world because of the rituals associated with the burials.

Mungo Man’s body was sprinkled with red ochre, in what is the earliest incidence of such an artistic burial practice. This aspect of the discovery is particularly significant to Indigenous Australians, inferring a sophisticated social structure and belief system had existed on the Australian continent for much longer than previously thought.

When the lakes of this area dried up 15,000 years ago, Aborigines stayed on, drawing water from soaks along the old river channel and quarrying stone from rock outcrops on the lake floor. Now dry, these lake systems contain the oldest fossil trackway of modern humans with 450 fossilised human footprints of men, women and children, animal prints and a spear mark, stone tools, ancient hearths and middens, some dating back 40,000 years.

The fossilised remains of extinct animals such as Tasmanian tigers, giant kangaroos, hairy nosed wombats and an animal called the zygomaturus have also been found at the site.

Like an ancient walled fortress the lunette known as the ‘Walls of China’ rises out of the flats and is one of the main highlights of Mungo National Park. It is a 30 km long dune formation which protects many thousands of years of human history. A boardwalk has been constructed to protect this incredibly fragile and sensitive environment.

Located within the World Heritage Area, Mungo Lodge was acquired by IBA in 2003 and is a 100% owned and managed property. The Lodge first opened its doors in 1994 to provide very basic accommodation for visitors to Mungo National Park.

More widely known amongst scientists and academics than the wider community, the no-frills operation of the Lodge was adequate for its purpose. However, as the parks reputation grew, so did the sophistication and corresponding expectations of visitors to the area. It became apparent that the only way to attract more affluent visitors and maximise the Lodge’s income potential was to undergo a redevelopment to lift the standards of the facility to a four star level.

Utilising a local builder, redevelopment works commenced in October 2007 and were completed in November 2008. Approximately 98% of the capital injection into the Lodge has flowed into local businesses and community support has been tremendous.

The park is of great significance to Indigenous Australians both locally and across Australia. It provides a direct connection to their ancestors, who were adaptable people that

survived in a harsh climate, had a connection to the land and developed belief systems.

The Willandra Elders (Paakantji and the Ngyiampaa tribes), National Park, Landholders and the Scientific Community have a unique relationship. They are all committed to the protection and preservation of cultural material and values for future generations. It is this unique partnership that makes a visit to Mungo memorable as you can experience such a monumental amount of history in a natural and undisturbed setting.

It is the aspiration of the Willandra Elders to establish a Keeping Place to hold the remains of ancestors and artefacts that have been taken away to be studied and now remain in Universities and Museums across the world. The repatriation of these artefacts and remains would enhance what is already a breathtaking place to visit.

Mungo is not your average tourist experience, and that is its charm. It is a unique experience that stimulates your senses, invites you to travel back in time, to walk in the footsteps of our earliest ancestors and to see first hand the sophistication of Indigenous life. It is simply a place you must visit.

Find out more about Mungo Lodge (external website, new window)