National Parks are created all over the globe to protect something. It became apparent to me that Mungo NP is doing a great job at protecting, but also losing a battle with nature itself. The plot twist is, we would not have even known about the place if it wasn’t for deforestation of farmers in the area! As I found out Mungo NP is so much more than the photos of a weird eroding landscape.
When I mentioned Mungo NP to people before I left, very few people knew of the place and those that did, seemed rather ambivalent about their opinions on the place. Even I only knew a few things about Mungo NP. I knew of the landscape and the fact they found “Mungo Man”, some of the oldest human remains outside of Africa. I’d learnt just last year in Ethiopia, that humanity spread to Australia around 40,000 years ago, before Europe and the Americas. Mungo Man was around 40,000 years old. But this is where the plot thickens. It turns out Mungo man was actually a woman who was actually cremated in what appears to be a ceremonial cremation.
It turns out that this is where things get a bit messy. Clearly the scientists who were of course doing this for good reasons, unfortunately took the remains off country, which is a big NO in indigenous Australian culture. Around 103 remains of indigenous people were removed in total. Thankfully they have all been returned and most (except the first two found) were reburied. This is where things get tricky. The reason these bodies were found was because farmers used the trees on the edge of the ancient lakebed to built their farm buildings. This in turn led to erosion on the one lake this occured on. Fortunately in the system of 13 ancient lakes that were last filled maybe 17,000 years ago, only Mungo lake has had this erosion occur.
The whole NP is now heavily restricted. Everytime it rains, more artifacts are revealed. This is most likely the most significant archaeological site in Australia. There are fossilised remains of trees, aquatic animals, land animals and humans, along with the evidence of humans, like stone cutting implements, spearheads, cooking and of course cremation. The area is managed by three tribes and the roads are not sealed to deter visitors. There is no access onto the sensitive area without a guide. Thankfully I did book a tour and saw exactly why this place is so amazing. There are animal bones protruding from the surface (human ones are removed and reburied), 100,000 year old fossilised tree trunks and stones litter the surface that were hunting and cutting implements.
The local indigenous tribes are trying to protect the place but mother nature is eroding it and blowing it towards Sydney. No actual archaeologists are working here either any more. There was a loss of trust with scientists. It is kind of like the awkward person at a party who might offend you without knowing they did. They didn’t mean to do it, but did and that is where the situation feels like at Mungo NP. The final twist is remember how I said there were three tribes that look after Mungo NP? Well the word Mungo is not in any of their vocabulary. Mungo was named after a patron saint of Scotland!
I don’t know what the future holds for this place, but it may be gone within 100 years time. Whether any archaeological work will ever be allowed again, I’m not sure. It sound like they can’t stop the erosion from occuring so for now it feels like Mungo NP is in respite care without a future.
Wow! I’d known vaguely of Mungo and had no idea of the extent. Thanks for sharing info and the photos – def adding to my trip list!
Good to read s summary of the NP etc. My “claim to fame” is that Jim Bowler was my Demonstrator in Geol (at Melb Uni) when I was an undergrad, and then later I was employed as a Dem in Geol in that same Dept. I visited Lake Mungo on a geol excursion in the mid-90s. There was not a great deal of infrastructurre there then, but, still, a very interesting locale.
Wow. I believe Jim Bowler is now in the good books with the local indigenous people, even to the point that he is the only white man they completely trust. It may look completely different to you now. The erosion is occurring quickly. Apparently after the rain they had 6 weeks ago, the rangers had to go out and collect the artifacts that were uncovered and there were hundred of them in the small area they allow people to visit.