Top Reasons to Visit Mungo National Park
For over 50,000 years, Aboriginal people have roamed the shores of the Willandra Lakes.
From the main campground, it’s a 2km drive to the Visitor Centre where you can join the Mungo Aboriginal Discovery Tour and once everyone has arrived, you’ll follow the ranger on the short drive out to the Walls of China.
Once welcomed to country, we were led out along the boardwalk and onto the lunettes. Access beyond the boardwalk to the lunettes is only possible for those on Discovery Tours and it is a “must-do”.
We heard how the Aboriginals came to be at Willandra, what they ate, where they lived and how they were buried. We were shown ancient shell middens, old carving stones and places where fires had been lit. It’s just amazing to get so close to such an ancient place.
The story of how the Mungo Lady was first discovered in 1968 after lunette erosion exposed her remains was amazing; “They cremated her, crushed her bones, burned her again then covered her remains in the sand.”
Over time, the lunettes developed and hid Mungo Lady for 40000 years before being discovered by a geologist, Jim Bower.
In 1974 Jim also found Mungo Man while riding his motorbike around the Lake Mungo lunette. Mungo Man was buried on his back with his hands crossed upon his lap before being sprinkled with red ochre. This is the oldest known example of such a burial ritual.
“Mungo Man was about 50 years old when he died” our guide explained, “he was a hunter who suffered bad arthritis in his elbow from throwing spears. “
Upon reaching the top of a dune, we were free to explore for a few minutes before returning to the boardwalk and the end of the two-hour tour – the best fifty bucks I’ve spent in a while.
The nerve centre of Mungo National Park is the Visitor Centre and a couple of hours were spent reading about the cultural heritage and pastoral past. There was a short movie as well as several interpretive exhibits.
The lunette ridges of the lake formed over 150000 years, building up with sand and clays as the water levels of Lake Mungo changed over time. These lunettes make up the incredible Walls of China. The lunettes also hide ancient human artefacts, megafauna, Tasmanian Devil and Thylacines bones found at Lake Mungo.
When Europeans arrived in the 1840s, the introduction of sheep, cattle and rabbits, droughts and overgrazing devastated the ecosystem and sped up the lunette erosion. This erosion exposed archaeological artifacts important to the local tribes and so Mungo National Park was created in 1979 and the Willandra Lakes Region was listed as a World Heritage Area in 1981.
The Mungo Track links all the main attractions of the National Park. Beginning at the Visitor Centre the 48km drive is a one-way loop. Check out the historic Mungo Woolshed and sheep yards first. The craftsmanship is astounding with its unique drop log method of building which occurred in 1869 using the hardy cypress pine, a termite-resistant wood. In 1922 a part of the woolshed was removed and relocated to build the Zanci woolshed.
Follow the road out to the China Walls then take a right and follow the edge of the lake before reaching Red Top lookout. A short boardwalk offered views along the lunette with deep ravines eroded by the prevailing winds. This is a popular spot at sunset.
Belah Camp is the second camping area in Mungo and is perfect for a picnic lunch, taking advantage of the picnic tables under the shade of a Mallee Gum. Fires are not allowed at this remote campsite.
Vigars Well is a highlight on the loop track. It’s not so much the well, but the massive dunes that dominate. Climb to the top of the largest dune and check out the views. Sliding down the dune on an esky lid like a kid would be perfect here.
Once you’ve re-crossed over the lunettes, the track leads along the lake floor of Mungo heading toward the western edge of the shoreline. Covered with bluebush and other native grasses, the sheep that grazed this lake devoured this fodder to the detriment of the land.
Upon reaching the red dunes on the western bank, cypress pines are beginning to regenerate, their population devastated by the popularity in their strength and suitability for building and you’ll soon reach the old Zanci Homestead.
Mungo was once part of Gol Gol Station but in 1921 it was divided into smaller lots under the soldier settlement scheme, creating several new stations including Mungo and Zanci.
The Zanci Homestead site offers an insight into the hardships that the Vigar family went through trying to establish themselves. The drop log woolshed still stands proudly as do the stables, a testament to the longevity of Cypress Pine.
When I walked down the stairs into the dugout where the family spent their time during the tortuous summers, I was struck by the enormity of it all and how hard it must have been. The dugout was also used as a cool room for food storage.
Allow time to read the informative boards that have been erected in the old woolshed. Tracing the pastoral heritage of Mungo from its 1850s origins to when its life ended as a working property and became Mungo National Park in 1979. Zanci joined the Park in 1984.
Surely there’s more?
If you don’t feel like cooking dinner, the nearby Mungo Lodge takes the pressure off with a restaurant-quality menu and extensive beverage list. You can also book sunset tours from here but get in early as it’s tough to snag a seat.
A walking track from the Main Camp leads to Mungo Lookout which offers expansive views across the ancient lakebed. It’s a beautiful vista and a perfect place to catch a colourful sunrise.
And, as the sun set on another remarkable day, I sat and wondered if the whistling in the trees around me were the spirits of Mungo Lady and Mungo Man watching me in their sacred land.
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