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A history mystery

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A history mystery: A journey to Lake Mungo National Park

In September 2011, I travelled to Lake Mungo National Park in south-western New South Wales with another Museum staff member Dave Arnold and a film crew to shoot some film footage for the Education Section’s latest Australian History Mysteries curriculum resource case study. Because ancient Australia features in the new national history curriculum, we decided to create a 'history mystery' about the famous discoveries of Aboriginal remains at Lake Mungo. The discoveries at Lake Mungo form such an important part of our understanding of how Aboriginal people lived in Australia more than 40,000 years ago.

Lake Mungo is located in the Willandra Lakes region of south-eastern Australia, not far from Mildura in Victoria. Lake Mungo is 26 kilometres long and 11 kilometres wide and is just one of a group of lakes in the region that helped to sustain groups of Aboriginal people who camped and fished along the shores, tens of thousands of years ago. Even today, traditional custodians still have links to Country and family ties to this now dried-up lake and world heritage area. They are actively involved in the management of the park, which is now a thriving adventure destination for tourists. Lake Mungo is famous for its lunettes on the fringe of an ancient shoreline. In geology, a lunette is a wind-formed, crescent-shaped dune. In the 1850s, Mungo was part of the extensive Gol Gol Station and the lunettes at Lake Mungo are colloquially known as ‘the Great Walls of China’ in reference to the Chinese who worked at Gol Gol Station in the 1860s.

The three Aboriginal language groups of the area are the Paakantji, Ngiyampaa and Mutthi Mutthi. The Elders from each of these groups share knowledge of Country and work together as a team. By their work, they demonstrate dedication, passion and love for their 'country'. The friendships and respect of the Elders extends to the scientists, archaeologists and anthropologists who also work at Lake Mungo, and to others including farmers and the larger community of Mildura.

The Elders warmth and generosity of spirit was captured on film when Marie, Lottie and Patrick and Warren, Ricky, and Kenny — who work at Lake Mungo — participated in our 'history mystery' project. It was also great to meet geomorphologist, Jim Bowler, who famously discovered the remains of Mungo Lady and Mungo Man in the 1960s.

Watching, listening, learning and filming the material on Lake Mungo will result in a very important educational resource to be shared with students and teachers in schools around Australia who, like me, can begin to appreciate the mysteries of Lake Mungo.

Deb Frederick, Indigenous Education Officer