Lake Mungo: A Land Before Time

Posted by Tayyab Farooq on

How would you describe your ideal holiday? Are you a beach bookworm, reclining on your towel with a good page turner and never leaving the hotel without a pair of compact folding reading glasses? Maybe you’re an insatiable sightseer, zipping from world heritage site to Michelin Starred restaurant. Or perhaps you’re more the flâneur, strolling map-free through the streets of foreign cities, seeing where your curiosity leads you.

Then again, maybe all these experiences leave you a little underwhelmed. You don’t just want two-weeks resting on your laurels, and where’s the sense in jostling with hundreds of other tourists to get a glimpse of the world’s most frequently photographed attractions? What you’re really after is a unique experience, something unforgettable, transformative, something truly out of this world. If this sounds like you, Australia’s Lake Mungo might be just what you’re looking for.

Mungo National Park

Lake Mungo is the central feature of Mungo National Park in the state of New South Wales (NSW), Australia. Located around 760km west of Sydney, it is part of the World Heritage Listed Willandra Lakes Region. But don’t expect to do any swimming. While at one point the lake was 15m deep and had a surface area of 200km sq, the water level dropped during the last ice age, transforming the once lush wetlands into an arid salt lake.

With its vast, undulating expanses of white sand, skeletal trees, and moon-like rock formations, the area perfectly encapsulates ‘the Australian Gothic’ – the rugged, otherworldly beauty of the Australian outback. Aside from this, the area is also one of the most important archeological sites in the country, if not the world, and a place of great spiritual and historical significance to the area’s Indigenous peoples.

An Ancient World

In 1969, a local university professor found the ancient remains of a woman, which had been partially cremated before burial. “Mungo Woman” was initially estimated to be around 25,000 years old, but more recent studies have placed her as far back as 40,000 years. This makes Lake Mungo the site of the world’s earliest known human cremation.

In 1974, the same university professor discovered the remains of a prehistoric male, “Mungo Man.” The remains had been covered in red ochre, evidence of an advanced, ritualistic burial practice. The latest methods have dated this site to around 60,000 years. Considered alongside other artefacts from around Australia, some of which are up to 80,000 years old, there is a strong argument for Indigenous Australians being guardians of the world’s oldest surviving civilization.

What to Take

Day tours run from nearby towns, like Mildura and Wentworth, and since you’ll be doing a lot of walking, we suggest you pack light. The first thing you will want to take with you to Mungo National Park is a water bottle - a big one. Summers are hot, with average highs of around 32°C, and the semi-arid climate means there is little cloud cover. Be sure to take along a broad-brimmed hat and plenty of sunscreen, as Australian sunburn is notoriously nasty. A sturdy, functional day pack and some polarized sunglasses will complete the ensemble.

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