To the naked eye the “Willandra Lakes Region” is a misnomer. The lakes dried up 19,000 years ago, but their fossil remains are a boon for paleontologists. “How do lakes leave fossils?” you may wonder. In the 30,000 years that the lakes were filled with fresh water, they collected and deposited layers of sediment, which were revealed as the water evaporated. Over time, winds have swept away top layers of soil, revealing beautiful dunes and rock formations.
The Willandra Lakes Region encompasses Mungo National Park, a protected area in isolated New South Wales about 550 miles from Sydney. In Mungo, visitors flock to the Walls of China where the stratified layers of the ancient shoreline appear in great relief.
Mungo also gave its name to two of the greatest discoveries of archaeology - the Mungo Man and Mungo Lady. Mungo Lady was the name given to partially cremated remains also found in Mungo National Park. These remains point to a ritualized burial ceremony involving multiple burnings. The buried remains of the Mungo Man date back 40,000 years, the oldest evidence of humans on the Australian continent. Also, 460 footprints of adults, adolescents, and children dating back 19,000 to 23,000 years ago were found here. Humans have occupied this area regularly for the past 40,000 years, and their tools and other remnants continue to be found along what was once the banks of the lakes.
The remains of many animals have also been found in the region, including 40 species that are now extinct, even megafauna of pre-historic Australia. Because of its archaeological and natural importance, the Willandra Lakes Region was named by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee as one of its World Heritage Sites in 1981.
Today in Mungo National Park visitors can explore the prehistoric lakes and watch cockatoos, parrots, bats, and kangaroos in their natural habitat. Rains can make roads to the park impassable and many visitors go with a tour group because of the isolated locale of the park.
Know Before You Go
Mungo isn't a highly visited park. It is located in the outback near a point where Victoria, South Australia, and New South Wales meet. The starting point for most tours is the town of Mildura, Victoria.