While away in the Murrumbidgee-Murray region we not only marvelled at the rivers, but also at the lakes - or rather, at landscapes that were, once upon a time, lakes. The highest of many high points in our holiday was a couple of days spent in Lake Mungo National Park, about 90k north-east of Mildura.
Lake Mungo has no water, and has had no water for around 14,000 years:
Timescales are almost irrelevant in discussing Lake Mungo, but as the units of counting are in the tens of thousands, you care only that it's a very ancient landscape. Evidence of Aboriginal occupation of the area - fire sites, fish bones, mussel shells, tools - goes back at least 40,000 years, and the skeletons of Mungo woman (discovered 1969)and Mungo man (1974) are dated variously between 25,000 and 60,000 years ago.
As the Lake disappeared and the soil dried, westerly winds built up rock and sand formations on the eastern side of the Lake to form lunettes (what a lovely word) - crescent shapes formed by the winds. These lunettes are a stunning feature of the landscape. You can just see them as a white line on the horizon of the photo above (possibly you need to be short-sighted!). The lunettes are now called the Walls of China. One story goes that the Chinese pastoral workers working at Mungo (then a pastoral lease on the western edge of the non-Lake) in the late nineteenth century thought the distant wall of rock and sand resembled the Great Wall of China.
Up close there is no resemblance to the Great Wall of China, except perhaps for the wonder each excites in the viewer. We spent an afternoon and sunset wandering through the dunes and sand, clay and rock formations, and found it so wonderful we returned the following morning:
While its magnificence was unchallenged, Lake Mungo was not our only awe-inspiring experience of ancient landscape. About 10k outside Wentworth we found the little-publicised Perry sandhills.(Well, we found them after losing ourselves, but that happened rather frequently on our trip).
These sandhills are golden-red, unlike the white sandhills of the Walls of China, but also date from around 40,000 years ago, with ancient evidence of the mega-fauna that inhabited Lake Mungo as well as this area. Unlike Lake Mungo, where visitors are somewhat reverent in the presence of of such natural grandeur, the Perry Sandhills are a play and picnic ground for local people. When we were there two young boys were sliding down its not so pristine but steep slopes on pieces of cardboard. We were also told a number of times that they are much in demand as a desert locale for a variety of films and advertisements!
Our final encounter with ancient landscapes was much more serendipitous. In fact, I didn't even know it was an 'ancient landscape' until I returned home and googled it. As you drive east between Swan Hill and Echuca there are a number of lakes to the south of the road (these ones have water). There was a sign to Kow Swamp, and intrigued by the blunt inelegance of the name and attracted by its proximity, we turned off the main road to investigate. Of course we took the long way round yet again, but eventually came upon the swamp - hectares of water with marshy edges, a sulphurish smell, and dead trees protruding across its surface. But it was crowded with birds, particularly a species of heron, and in the late afternoon light the stems of some reed-like growths glowed red.
I've since discovered that this is yet another site for archeological excavation, where the bones of a group of around forty individuals - possibly dating from 20,000 years ago, have been unearthed. I still don't know why it is called 'Kow Swamp' but its significance in my memory has been enhanced beyond its somewhat creepy beauty.
Next (and final) episode - the built environment!