After the Shearers' Hall of Fame
Lina took over the driving and drove us to Balranald, where we had a surprisingly good lunch in a petrol station (I had a magnificent steak sandwich without the steak). We then went off the beaten path to visit Lake Mungo, in the World Heritage Listed Willandra Lakes Region. It is odd that, while Australia only has 17 World Heritage areas, very few people (including myself) have heard of Lake Mungo. "Mungo Man" usually sparks a response, because of the famous fossil discovery.
Mungo Man was discovered by Dr Jim Bowler on the 26th of February, 1974. The importance of the discovery was two-fold. Firstly, Mungo Man is 40,000 years old, a discovery which doubled the length of time Aborigines had been thought to have lived in Australia.
In fact, rather than being considered a recent arrival, it is the second oldest hominid fossil found outside of Africa (and with the subsequent discovery of additional fossils, it is the oldest Homo sapiens sapiens
fossil community discovered in the world). The second important facet was that Mungo Man had been deliberately buried and covered with red ochre, making it the oldest burial discovery anywhere in the world and (as the burial method was used by contempory Aborigines) demonstrating that Australian Aboriginal culture was the longest continuous cultural practise known in the world. This is reinforced by the discovery at the site of traded stone tools and sophisticated hunting techniques.
It is not only human fossils for which Lake Mungo is so important. It is also an important site for Pleistocene period megafauna fossils.
Among the fossils that have been found there are Zygomaturus trilobus
(a giant wombat the size of a car), Genyornis newtoni
(a flightless bird four times the size of an emu) and Procoptodon goliah
(a giant kangaroo, 3m tall).
There is actually a third reason why Lake Mungo is World Heritage listed. In addition to the human and Pleistocene fossils, investigation of baked sediment from ancient fireplaces discovered that 31,000 years ago the Earth's magnetic field moved 120 degrees and only returned back to normal over several thousand years.
Today the Willandra is the traditional lands of the Paakantji, the Mutthi Mutthi and the Ngiyampaa. The area is made up of five large dry lake basins, which went through wet and dry periods until permanently drying up 15,000 years ago.
We drove the long dirt roads into the area, seeing lizards basking on the road, a herd of wild goats, kanagroos, emus and countless small birds. The desert in the region is as beautiful as anywhere else in central Australia, with the central feature being the "Walls of China", a lunette (sand and clay dune) marking the boundaries of the ancient lake. We didn't spend too long walking around Lake Mungo, because despite being late afternoon it was 41 degrees (106 degrees Fahrenheit).
After Lake Mungo we drove to Mildura
, where we had to drive from NSW to Victoria backwards and forwards looking for our hotel, which (despite being called the Mildura Riverside Motel) was not actually in Mildura, and was on the NSW side of the river, in Gol Gol. We finished up our long day with good food and cold drinks at the Gol Gol hotel, overlooking the River Murray.