Mungo NP – Days 30 to 32 of 180
Although sad to leave Bottle Bend it was off to a new adventure to see the sights at Mungo NP. I had read so much about this place before we arrived there but nothing had prepared us for the road in. The first 20 klm from Buronga to Mungo had lulled me into a false sense of security with a lovely tar road. After that it became the bone crunching corrugations that you read about in Outback Magazines when they talk about the Gibb River Road for the next 100 klms. Top speed was under 80 klms per hour and many stretches down to 40 klm per hour. Corrugations and lots of bull dust! For those who haven’t travelled on Australia’s bush roads may not be familiar with what we call bull dust. “Bulldust or bull dust is a fine red aeolian dust which is especially common in the Australian Outback. It is formed from dry particles which measure less than 2 microns and so form a choking cloud when disturbed. It is a particular hazard when driving as it may conceal dangerous potholes or reduce visibility.” – source Wikipedia.
The 124 klms to the Main Campground took us 2 ½ hrs and we were in dire need of a beer by the time we got there. We were only here for two nights as I had found out that the loop road has been closed for maintenance and there were only 3 spots to visit – the Information Centre, The Main Walls of China viewing platform and the Red Lookout.
Setting sun on the lunettes
My pick was the Red Lookout as you were much closer to the sandstone formations. The roads to and from (20klm from campground to the lookout) were very corrugated and dusty and you had to keep an eye out for the wildlife which to my surprise included feral goats.
We saw Western Grey Kangaroos which are much darker than the Eastern Greys near my home and a mob of Emus. In the distance I saw a small flock of Major Mitchell cockatoos to far away for a photograph plus Apostle Birds, Blue-faced Honeyeaters, Crested Pigeons and the ubiquitous crows.
The main Campground only has 33 camping spots and bookings are essential. The cost is $24 per day each plus $8 a day for park entry. We opted for a year pass at $45 so we could enter any NSW park (except Kosciusko) as it was better value knowing that we would stay at Kinchega NP near Menindee in the coming weeks. The weather was now getting colder with night time temperatures down to 3 degC but daytime a very pleasant 21 degC. That was if you could get out of the wind. Thanks to our apps Willy Weather & BOM we knew that on day two we would get strong winds up to 60 klm/hr and dust. We double pegged our awnings down and tightened all the guy ropes.
Crisp nights make for good sleeping especially under a 5-blanket doona! The wind howled all night but died down in the morning. We had new arrivals the next morning who camped across the road from us and their old caravan had taken a beating on the road in. The side window frame had fractured and the glass broken and the van was full of dust.
The elderly couple (late 70s) were not prepared to be out there that was for sure. One thing most travellers will do in Australia is help others so Greg and I armed with an old silver tarp and a reel of 100 mph tape went over to help patch the old van up as they had nothing to repair it themselves. I also loaned them my Ryobi mini vacuum cleaner to help remove the dust from the interior. Tony & Pamela were very grateful for our kindness. I could not believe that he had only been discharged from hospital the previous week and then purchased a brand-new VW Touareg to tow his 50-year-old Millard caravan which had no support legs nor a jockey wheel!! Amazing that he was using a bottle jack as his jockey wheel and two car stands as the support legs at the back.
The best part about the information centre were the hot showers even though it was 2 klm from the campground. I really did enjoy that part. We drove out to do a reconnaissance run for the best photographic angles for the first night. We could have paid for a tour to walk in and out of the sandstone formations but I could not see the value in that at $40 each or the bus tour for $130 each. For those who have never been here they are not huge edifices like you see elsewhere in the world but they are interesting and very weathered. There were three large tourist groups there when we arrived so I took some test shots as they were in front of me wandering around the rock formations. Call me unsociable but I do not enjoy large group tourism and would much prefer small groups of like-minded photographers when out and about. The sunset was fairly ordinary and did not light up the landscape as I expected it too but such is life. Tomorrow may give me a better result.
This is an excerpt from the history of the region: “The main attraction in the area known as the Willandra Lakes is Lake Mungo. It is a relic of life in Australia 30,000 years ago when the area was defined by a series of large, deep, interlocking lakes “teeming with large fish. The now dry bed of Lake Mungo would have been 20 kilometres long and 10 kilometres wide, with a depth of some 15 metres. On its eastern side sand dunes provided sheltered campsites by the lake shore” is the way archaeologist Josephine Flood described the area in Archaeology of the Dreamtime.
Aboriginal hunters and gatherers, accustomed to walking from water hole to water hole, settled on the shores of the lakes and established semi-permanent campsites where they could rely on the freshwater lakes for fish and crustaceans. The local fauna, drinking at the water’s edge, supplemented their food supply.
About 16,000 years ago, as the whole area became more arid, the lakes dried up. All that was left was a 25 km-long sand dune, called a lunette, which stretched along the eastern edge of the lake and was, in places, up to 40 metres high.
When shepherds, many of whom were Chinese, arrived in the area in the 1860s they called the lunette the Walls of China.
Today that landscape remains unchanged. Arrive at Lake Mungo and from the Mungo Lookout above the Visitor Centre (see my comments as I think the Red Lookout was better), you can gaze across the flat, barren bed of a long-departed lake with some heavily weathered sand dunes rising on the eastern horizon.
Lake Mungo’s claims are threefold. It has “one of the longest continual records of Aboriginal life in Australia” having been occupied for over 50,000 years. The skeletons found in the sands of the lunette are the “oldest known fully modern humans outside Africa” and, most importantly, the skeleton of Mungo Woman (or Mungo I as she is officially known), which has been radiocarbon dated to around 26,000 years ago, “has provided the oldest evidence of ritual cremation in the world.”
Josephine Flood has written of the discovery: “It is interesting that it is a woman who was cremated. Although no conclusions can be drawn from a sample of one, it at least shows that 26,000 years ago women were considered worthy of complex burial rites. What emotions inspired those rites – love, fear, or religious awe – we will never know, but all show a concern for the deceased which is the essence of humanity.”
The way to make sense of Lake Mungo is to gaze across the dry lake bed, walk up the dramatic and unusual lunette, and silently contemplate the idea that once, tens of thousands of years ago, at this lonely, haunted place, Aborigines painted themselves with ochre, ate fish and mussels from the lake, buried and cremated their dead, cooked meat in simple hearths and ovens, sewed skins into cloaks and shaped bones and stones into tools and weapons. There is a unique magic about the place, a strange spirituality which is particularly apparent at dawn and dusk.
If you want to glimpse what life was like for Aborigines when our European ancestors were still living in caves then Lake Mungo is a genuinely unforgettable experience.”
Day two was lovely and crisp with no sign of the dust or the strong winds but we diligently checked that we had taken appropriate cautionary measures to protect our gear. Had a lovely decadent Royal Canadian breakfast – Pancakes made from scratch with real Maple Syrup and two slices of bacon washed down with Proper Strong Yorkshire tea. Yummo!!!! By late morning the wind had started to gust to 40 klm/hr and whipped the dust up from the campground. Knowing that everything was secure we drove out to the Red Lookout to see what the sunset angles I would need to get a good shot.
On arriving out there we had passed a small waterhole which I added to the memory bank to explore on our return. I was very impressed with the Red Lookout compared to the main lookout as there were some great photographic opportunities to look for at sunset. Looking back to the campground across the lake you begin to realise what a huge lake system this must have been in the past. We could see the dust storm approaching so headed back for lunch and to hunker down. We stopped at the small waterhole to find a group of five emus there for a drink but they were all very nervous except for the very large male who give us the evil eye as if to remind us this was his place. In the emu hierarchy the female’s sole responsibility is to lay the eggs and the male then incubates them and then raises the young by himself. In a true sense he has paid for his pleasure in time and effort.
The wind howled through the campsite all afternoon and was rising when we left again for our afternoon showers then our sunset shot from the Red Lookout. On our drive over the lakebed the wind whistled over the flat landscape and the dust storm was growing in intensity which had the potential to ruin our sunset shots. The wind was very cold when we arrived at the lookout and as we still had an hour to sunset, we opted to sit it out in the car rather than brave the wind. This is where the road ends at the moment as the scenic tour is closed for maintenance which was disappointing.
Surprisingly the dust storm blew away in that one hour but the winds had got much colder when we braved it to do some photography. Satisfied with the short session we packed it in early as we did not get the light show I was expecting to see after the sun had set. I will have to come back another time when it is fully open and hopefully the lighting will be better as well.
Back to camp for dinner and an early night as we were to leave in the morning for Pooncarie. The other major reason we did not stay long was that I had a long drive back to Swan Hill to pickup my new solar blanket before we travelled any further north.
The next morning had us awake early to very crisp weather but no wind. Time to pack up and hit the road again. A last couple of snapshots of the Apostle Birds and a failed attempt as a photograph of a juvenile Western Grey Kangaroo but alas he/she bounded off into the bush. To add insult to injury I tripped over a tent peg and landed heavily on my elbow. Clumsy bugger I am. A very large bruise to remind me of my visit to Mungo NP.
This day’s travels were going to be quite short as it is only 84 klms from Pooncarie but 50 klms were bone jarring corrugations and choking clouds of bulldust. This is only preparation for when we get out on the Oodnadatta Track and parts west later in the trip.
The good news was that my new solar blanket had arrived at Shepparton and they were looking at how to get it to Swan Hill for me.
Farewell Mungo NP and Pooncarie here we come………