Monday, 3 December 2012

Mungo man

Again, sometime mid-Nov 2012, after Menindee, before Mildura

This is a long blog. There's just so much to share!  Wait until you see the photos.
Mungo National Park is part of the Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area and is roughly midway between Broken Hill and Mildura. They are a series of ancient interconnecting lakes, each being an overflow for the previous one.  The history of the area is amazing and hard for my little brain to take in.  Mungo man and Mungo woman were found here in the last 50 years or so and changed the world’s thinking about ancient history in Australia.  They believe they lived in this area 45 ,000 years ago, around the last Ice Age.

During the last ice age there was perma-frost in the Australia Alps. Any rain that fell literally ran straight off the mountains in southern NSW and filled the creeks and rivers and it’s this water that filled the lakes. They’ve found thousands of Aboriginal artifacts in the sands between the shores of Lake Mungo and it’s neighbouring lake (can’t remember its name).

Today Lake Mungo is dry (and has been for more than 15,000 years or so) and is a delight to see.  The old lake bed is about 11 km wide and is filled with saltbush and bluebush.  The eastern shore has a stunning lunette stretching pretty much across its length.  A lunette is a fancy name for the crescent shaped sand dunes that form.  They are tallest and widest in the middle and shorter and thinnest at the edges. 

Our arrival at Lake Mungo was exciting.  We could see the lunette in the distance, shimmering in the heat, and the promise of what it looked like close up was fuel for our excitement.  They call this lunette the Walls of China and seeing it close up early the next morning was a thrill.  I’ll let the pictures tell the story.

There’s a 50km circuit around the national park/lake which we did and it took us about 5 hours to complete and we still didn’t see it all.  The circuit takes you from the visitor center, across the lake bed, over the lunette, around the back of the lake, through some sand dunes, and back across the lunette and lake bed, returning to the visitor centre.  The track takes you through stands of belah  trees, mallee scrub, old dams and relics built by the old station owners, and has several interpretive walks along the way.

We did a ½ km walk through the mallee scrub which was fun and educational.  It was the slowest ½ km Simon and I have ever walked, but the kids had our binoculars and were bird watching for the mallee parrot and the mallee fowl (neither showed their plumage), finding cocoons and other signs of insects, and learning about the mallee tree which has about 6 different species here.

The mallee tree is amazing. It’s a multi-stemmed eucalypt and in drought times farmers bulldoze the trees for fodder for their stock.  Its roots are really dense wood and make excellent fire wood.  They were also used in traditional times to make boomerangs, killing sticks and other hard wooden tools. It is also similar to it’s relative the snow gum in that it has two different root systems. The first lot of roots are shallow and spread out across the ground to make the most of the little bit of rain water that falls in these parts and the second are deep, deep roots that find ground water.

My Pop grew up in “The Mallee” - the name given to a region in north-west Victoria - but the mallee country is much more widespread than just that part with it’s name.  We’ve seen it from Mungo, down to Ouyen, and stretching west all the way to the Eyre Peninsula in SA so far (we probably saw it north of Mungo as well but just didn’t know it!). It’s arid country and I would’ve once just thought it was scrubby looking but after doing this walk and seeing it as it once was at Mungo I have a much better understanding of its value and importance.  My Pop’s dad, Grand-dad, survived the drought in the Mallee in the 30s by selling mallee roots for firewood. I think he used to fill up railway carriages – so I’m assuming it was sold to people down the line.

From the mallee scrub we saw a goat trap with a big hole in it the fence, so it was clearly not that effective!  Wild goats are a real problem throughout the parts of outback NSW we’ve been travelling and probably elsewhere too.  At Mungo goats and before them, rabbits, have destroyed the habitat for small marsupials like bilbys and bettongs.  Combined with predators like foxes and wild cats and dogs the problems we’ve caused for the local wildlife have resulted in extinction for 30% of the native mammals.  

The sand dunes on the eastern side of the big hard dunes are mobile and are moving at 3 metres eastward every year. You can climb them from Vigers Well and it was hard work but fun.  Otto just scampered up them, having finally overcome his dislike of sand. They were quite wide and we didn’t attempt to find out how wide as it was midday and hot and our water supply was quickly diminishing and our bellies were rumbling.

Vigers Well is a natural soak where early settlers dug a well.  Cobb and Co used it on one of their routes to water their horses. They say you can still see the wheel ruts from the stage coaches but we couldn’t find them.  We just couldn’t see how a team of horses could get a big, heavy stage coach up and over the sand dunes which is what happened! 

We also got to see a couple of emus having a bath!

We went on a Sunset Tour with an indigenous Discovery Ranger. We were really fortunate to time our Mungo days to fall in with one of these tours as they only run them this time of year on Friday evening and two on Saturday and Sunday. They call it a Sunset Tour but really it was the sun scorcher tour as it’s the hottest part of the day and a long way from sunset at 4:30pm in western NSW during November!!

Despite the heat, and Otto foregoing his day-time sleep, it really was the icing on the cake.  We’d already fallen in love with Mungo but to do this cultural tour with an Aboriginal guide who is deeply connected to his people, his stories and his land was really something. It’s a walk through the Walls of China where we saw a 42,000 year old fireplace with emu shells still visible and the skeletal remains of a Northern Hairy Nosed Wombat that is dated to be 35,000 years old!  Can you believe it?

They are constantly finding ancient artifacts and bones from ancient fauna here.  We also learned that Mungo man and woman are kept in Canberra but that Mungo child is left in situ in the lake somewhere.  Mungo man is 7 foot tall and covered in ochre; the nearest ochre pits are at Mutiwintji, an important place for ceremonies in the past and still is an important meeting place today and now a national park about 50kms from Broken Hill.  I think it took us a good couple of hours to drive here from Menindee and Broken Hill is 100km from there and Mutiwinji is about 50km further out.  Imagine that for a walk! 

They’ve also found artifacts from Gippsland that must’ve been traded by different people and tribes to finally end up here. (For those who don’t know, Gippsland is east of Melbourne and where I grew up).

Mungo is really special and well worth the detour.

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