Mungo, Ancient Land, Modern Fossil
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.