Mungo, An­cient Land, Mod­ern Fos­sil

mailife - - Contents - Words and im­ages by SAND­HYA DUSK DEVI

I have been fas­ci­nated with the Aus­tralian Out­back since my Aus­tralian board­ing school days. I didn’t come home due to the orig­i­nal po­lit­i­cal up­heaval so would spend hol­i­days with friends at their fam­i­lies “small prop­er­ties” the size of Tave­uni! This was my first in­tro­duc­tion to the “land of sweep­ing plains”, a line from Dorothea Mackel­lar’s iconic poem, ‘My Coun­try’, which we stud­ied in school. Oh I re­ally felt that poem, the way I feel ‘Isa Lei’, in my veins. I am an is­lan­der in spirit but I am a global soul with a yearn­ing for vast­ness… I was so spell­bound by the red earth of the Out­back! And I was thrilled to meet indige­nous Aus­tralians (in Queens­land, The Murri). They fas­ci­nated me with their smil­ing qui­etude, how they could smell change in the air, their age-old sto­ries and their affin­ity to the land that they be­longed to but, were con­stantly told, didn’t be­long to them. I recog­nise now that I felt a kin­ship with them. I’ve never wanted to be­long any­where, I be­long ev­ery­where! But be­ing told I don’t be­long where I’m from… that baf­fled me. In turn they found me a cu­rios­ity; an is­land girl of In­dian ori­gin who talked about space a lot… It was from them I first heard about Mungo. Our trip co­in­cided with NAIDOC* Week and PM Tony Ab­bott’s state­ment that Aus­tralia wasn’t “set­tled” un­til the Bri­tish ar­rived. So it was serendip­i­tous that we were go­ing to a place where proof ex­ists that Aus­tralia was “set­tled” long be­fore the ar­rival of the Bri­tish.

Mungo is a dry lake lo­cated about 14 hours south­west of Syd­ney and is the cen­tral fea­ture of the World Her­itage listed Mungo Na­tional Park. Many im­por­tant ar­chae­o­log­i­cal find­ings have been made at the lake, most sig­nif­i­cantly in 1974, Mungo Man; the old­est hu­man re­mains found in Aus­tralia, and in 1969 Mungo Lady; the old­est hu­man re­mains in the world to be rit­u­ally cre­mated. They are es­ti­mated to be be­tween 40,000-60,000 years old and were cer­e­mo­ni­ously laid to rest be­neath the ‘Walls of China’, a se­ries of lunettes (cres­cent shaped dunes) on the shore of Lake Mungo. (Also found were stone tools older than the Mungo Elders. Rit­ual and in­dus­try are proof of a civilised so­ci­ety.) Un­for­tu­nately, it is no longer pos­si­ble to walk amongst the Walls of China, due to ero­sion and shift­ing sands but, view­ing them from the board­walk you can still deeply feel the sig­nif­i­cance of this land and its im­por­tance to world his­tory, ge­ol­ogy and to The Orig­i­nal Peo­ple of Aus­tralia. The Mungo Vis­i­tor Cen­tre has a re­cre­ation of 20,000 year old hu­man foot­prints, dis­cov­ered in 2003. These are re­pro­duc­tions of the ac­tual foot­prints and it’s thrilling to walk along­side the old­est foot­prints ever found in Aus­tralia and the largest set of ice age foot­prints in the world! It is no longer pos­si­ble to see the real track-ways be­cause the tracks are frag­ile and must be pro­tected, so in 2006, the tracks were care­fully cov­ered over with the same sand that had pre­served them. The Mungo Track, a one way 70km dirt road, tra­verses the loop of Lake Mungo. Pas­toral­ism and white set­tle­ment are also an im­por­tant part of the Mungo his­tory and his­toric ru­ins pep­per the land­scape… a mixed land­scape of flora, fauna and amaz­ing wild life! Most Fi­jians don’t ever think about head­ing out­side of the bright lights of the big Aus­tralian cities, it is such an ex­cit­ing novelty to have wealth of choice! How­ever, it is a shame to not ex­pe­ri­ence the wealth of ge­o­graph­i­cal and historical diver­sity Aus­tralia has to of­fer. 30 years af­ter hear­ing about Mungo, I stood there. On an­cient land, I am a mod­ern fos­sil. The land will stay, our time will go but… we leave foot­prints. Tread with care.

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