Time Travel through Outback Australia: the hidden bones of a lake with no water

in travel •  3 months ago

Mungo National Park walkway to The Walls of China

The people began the business of sorrow weeks ago. The beasts, at least twice as high as them, keep their distance. Sounds of the women's wails echo across the lake. The furry animals would be cute if they weren't so big, willing to raise hell if cornered. The last one that wandered too close to the grief now roasting in the fire pit. Food for the kin coming in  for the funeral. The men glance at the beasts between dance and song, worried at how few there are. The sight pulls their thoughts back to the old man, before that elbow started giving him trouble he was a good hunter. He fed the young men who chant for him now, taught them how to bring down the animals, to gather and fish. Showed them how to use their teeth to strip the reeds into twine and knocked a few of those same teeth out to bring them into manhood. They place his body in the hole, bend his legs, lie him on his side, cross his hands over his belly and scatter red ochre in the grave. Returned to dust. Ritual means something and they take care to get it right, honour a long life of service. I can't tell you the year as they lay him down, history has not yet begun. 

It is 42,000 years later and living out of a tiny campervan has worn me down. Mungo Lake is the last stop on my self-drive tour of Outback Australia. A few days by the water is what I need to refresh for the final push home. The dirt road throws up a haze as I putter along in my two wheel drive. I do my best to avoid rocks and the three-trailer long trucks that roar past, I am becoming more and more confused. Google Maps says there is a big lake alongside and I see nothing but dry plains of low lying scrub and wildlife. The roos and emus are plentiful but after so long out the back of Australia I am past being mesmerised by them. I arrive at the campground, pitch my home for the next couple of days and wander off to find water. The nearby Mungo Lookout promises a panoramic view of the 20km long lake. I arrive to find a sensational view of arid plains. Not a drop of water for as far as I can see, which is a long way. Google has betrayed me with its lies. There is nothing here.

 Emus roaming the dry lake bed at Mungo National Park

Emus roaming the dry bed of Mungo Lake

I walk slump-shouldered back to camp and drive off in search of an answer: why did a handful of people tout Mungo National Park as a must-see gem? Ranger Lance greets me with a grin as I walk, bedraggled, through the doors of the visitors centre. We exchange pleasantries, his authentic, mine societal politeness with an edge. I ask him where he hides the water. "Well," he says, "you're about eighteen thousand years too late." 

In response to me dropping down in a chair with the apathy of a teenager who has just been asked to clean their room, Ranger Lance offers to sweeten the Mungo deal by showing me around. He takes me to the courtyard and points at some footprints set in stone. Australia conjures images of perfect weather, a vast Outback, cute koalas and slang pouring from the mouths of laid back, often drunk, white people who are bloody good at sport. Lance begins to tell a different tale. One of a land that is the keeper of bones and stories. I am looking, he explains, at casts of the largest known set of preserved human Ice Age footprints. 

As the Ice Age is ending the once full lakes are now clay pans covered in a thick layer of mud. A family group - mothers, fathers, children, adolescents - move across them. Perhaps seeking resources elsewhere as climate change closes in. Or moving toward the dunes to trade tools, weapons, ochre and stories in the same way their ancestors have done for thousands of years. A rebellious child runs away from the group, called back to stick close to the safety of the tribe. Their feet sink in to the mud, layers of sediment coating them. A few days later a one-legged man takes his place with agile hunters in chase of prey. He keeps the pace, adept at hopping through sludge. The clay slides under the group's heels. A hunter grazes his knuckle in the mud as he sweeps up a spent spear from the ground, taking aim at an emu. After they are gone the winds kick up and blow sand across the basins, covering the tracks. The clay dries and 20,000 years later, in 2003, the winds blow again to uncover them.

The footprint replicas are laid out so that they look like they continue across the plains. I do not realise that Lance has stopped speaking. I am caught up in imagining the hunters disappearing beyond the horizon, struck silent by this preservation of humanity. A child misbehaving, parents protecting children, people out walking, talking and working together to sustain their community. I feel tears skirt the rims of my eyes. I have found my water source, it will not be the last time I cry here.

Mungo National Park Sand Dunes

Dancing on the dunes at The Walls of China, Mungo Lake

Later I meet Lance at the sand dunes 10 kilometres across the way where he introduces me to the old man. We stand in a field of mars-like formations carved by wind and erosion. Lance squats in an indented section and sweeps his hand across it to reveal a pile of bones. He reels off their age, gifted at weaving tourists through time - 10,000 years old, 20,000 years, 40,000 years. Lance hands each bone to me, explains the animal they came from. This one extinct, that one no longer in the region. I take each with care, afraid to hold something so old, shocked that they are lying in the open.

I am standing in an ancient Aboriginal fire pit. A place once populated by bigger versions of our modern native animals. Among them two-tonne wombats and two metre high kangaroos that could not hop because of their weight. I look across the plains, the open space gives my mind a lot of room to blow the kangaroos and emus up to their Megafauna size. Mungo lifts me out of November 2017 and places me on the shore of a vibrant water-filled lake. I watch tribes gather around fires, children play in groups, giant animals being roasted to fill hungry bellies. I hear chatter, laughter and the stories of Dreamtime.

 Ancient animal bones, Lake Mungo National Parlk

Ancient bones

For a couple of centuries these Aboriginal Dreamtime tales were thought to be the made up. The fiction of a primitive and uneducated culture. Cave paintings of giant beasts now known as Megafauna dated Aboriginal presence in Australia as far earlier than the 20,000 years academics had agreed on. As such they were considered the imaginings of hunters talking themselves up. An ancient version of catching a fish that was THIS big. Until in 1974 the winds of Mungo did what they do best, revealing bones and stories. They call him Mungo Man, an almost fully preserved skeleton, protected for 42,000 years by the sand. A man who rewrote our understanding of human movement across this planet and validated the Dreamtime. He was removed from the dunes for study and returned to his people this month after a long fight for his right to rest in peace.

The way that the people who lived on this lake are still present in its geology touches me on a primal level. We all want our lives to tell a story that means something. Few say more than Mungo Man. His life verified a race whose stories were dismissed. He shows that what makes us human - care, tenderness, grief, spiritual practice - have long been part of the human story. He tells a tale of a strong culture that adapted to, and survived, enormous climatic shifts. A people that outlived the giant beasts, learned to hunt the smaller descendants and still walk this land today.

Mungo National Park introduced me to the Dreamtime - a world where past and present exist as one. It placed me in a time machine and sped me back through thousands of generations to meet a man, a family and a group of hunters. Their value to their culture forced me to question whether I am living a life that matters. The bones and stories of Mungo reveal truths of a culture and lessons in how to live a life that has value. Connection, love and small acts of ritual  are the things that hold up over time. As I leave I ask Lance what is under the giant dunes that still stand. "The future," he replies.

 Ancient bilby bones

Bilby bones

 Diptrodon model at Mungo National Park Visitors Centre

Diptrodon: the original wombat

 Aboriginal stone tools and weapons, Mungo National Park

Ancient tools and weapons of Mungo Lake

 Mungo National Park Lunettes

The Mungo Lunettes


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I like the texture of the pictures! They're not too bright, sharp and saturated (as opposed to most beginner's work) but many elements went perfectly well, making them really interesting.


Thanks. I really appreciate that.


Thanks very good post !!!!

Awesome Work!

Keep it up!!!


your CryptoInvestmentExpert


nice artical

Awesome photo :)

This is really an amazing post. Beautiful use of language and I love the way you weave together the past and the present. Your very own dreamtime - thanks for inviting us to share it with you!


I cannot even begin to tell you how much this comment means to me. It took me a long time to write because it was so difficult to create a sense of dreamtime without confusing the reader. The fact that you noticed that I've tried to give a sense of non linear time just gave me the most enormous smile. Thank you.


Well mission accomplished. From the very beginning to the very end, and the end is the new beginning. Really liked the last line as well. Also I want to say a huge thank you for just linking to your Steemit blog on your website instead of hosting a separate blog there and posting there as well. So nice to see amazing content like this not only being posted first here on Steemit, but posted only here and even receiving back links from external sources as well. I want to mention this publicly because I hope other readers will follow suit for the good of the whole ecosystem. Thank you!


Thank you again. I am glad this is good for Steemit, I really don't have much of a clue but I write separate content for Steemit that is only posted here. I think that's the point of a system like this and it challenges me to write more so that's always a good thing for an avid procrastinator :)

during any traveling please care your self because your life is very important.

The emus are great


Aren't they? They're everywhere out there

Oh wow!!! i always think that i dont like Australia. Now that i see your pictures, i want to be there:)

The best that this newbie has read so far. I have been out in the desolation between Perth and Cooper Peddy. It takes some courage to travel where and how you did. Well done.


Coober Pedy was one of my favourite experiences.

Congratulations, Your Post Has Been Added To The Steemit Worldmap!
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Nice one brother it is good..
Keep it up

Nice post @onethousandwords. Thanks for archeological information. Photographs are well taken.

Very well written, it takes the reader back to the dream time, there are so many tales of the Aboriginals that should be written, you would do a good job of it.


I agree with that. The stories I fell upon in the Outback, so many untold wonders. Such a history of resilience and strength.


My son-in-law worked at Wildman River Corrections Facility, near Darwin, some of the stories even the kids knew were surprising, but the old men that knew all the stories and lore were dying off and with them goes the history.


I know, that is so sad. The loss of the languages also breaks my heart.


For a Skippy you write a good yarn, will be following for some more. If you get the chance to record any of the dreamtime, please write it up.

Amazing photos, its great to see parts of Australia that we usually don't see on TV. Also, check my blog for photos from Croatia. I think that you will find them interesting .

Wow! What a great content, the time i spent reading through is nothing compared to the worth of the knowledge and information that you are sharing to all of us. I look forward to see more of your post. Kudos to your dedication and passion to create this post.


What a lovely thing to say. Thank you.

Bone chilling pictures you got here,amaging man.

nice ..plz give me upvote

@carlgnash from the @humanbot Human Certified Original Works Initiative has manually determined this post to be the original and truly creative work of the post author.

Learn more:

Thanks for being an original and creative content creator! You rock!

Incredible photos and a great story! Looks like an amazing adventure!


Thanks it was a fabulous advenutre for sure.

I just came here to see your awesome photograph .....

Wonderful post! I always wanted to visit Australia... After reading your post I want to visit it even more. Great quality on the shots too, they translated your writing into images!


Thanks so much. I sweat blood and tears writing this one so I appreciate the feedback. You should definitely come visit. It is a wonderfully diverse landscape in this country

Absolutely Great post .....

This is so inspiring! Amazing content, amazing picture, fantastic adventure! Will definitely follow your journey!


Thank you, that's so kind of you

Great post & beautiful pictures

I think I like the texture of the pictures! sharp !

This is a fantastic post I really appreciate the carefully chosen words. You have great writing skills. As a visual artist enjoyed the imagery your use of language evoked in my mind and felt blown away thinking about the past and my country in a new light. Great photos as well! Thanks for sharing.


Thank you. That is so cool, I definitely see Australia in a different way now. I came back from the Outback telling people that you can't understand this country until you've been to the bits in the middle.

I remember when I got to feed a baby emu, it was so awesome.


I saw baby emus on my trip. They're adorable! It was spring so there were mobs of Daddy emus out with this little ones everywhere.

Hey, Kylie :) I just wanted to say that you are really talented and your article here is really amazing. Keep up the good work and keep posting (:


Thank you :) Now that I'm back in the land of running water and wifi I hope to be posting more regularly. I am loving the sense of community here at Steem, though still working it all out.


Same here :) see you around (:

Amazing pictures!

Good information my dear friend

Nice content and pretty interesting. Thanks.

beautiful pictures, beautiful place, greetings from venezuela.

Nice post Good Job..... i like it

I like archeology adventure, i came at right spot :)

"you're about eighteen thousand years too late." Very dramatic.


It was hilarious. I got the impression that Lance uses that line a lot given that Google keeps telling people they're driving through a giant lake

The amount of thoughts of this post is overflowing, and I loved it! 😎


Thank you. I appreciate that.

Nice post . :D


Thanks so much for the feedback


wow nicely spammed :) @thailand-funfun

Heya, just swinging by to let you know you're being featured in our Daily Travel Digest!

I've already said in the #traveldigest, but this is honestly one of my favorite posts on Steemit, really really well written, loved it!


Wow I am very honored by your words. Thank you. I can't tell you how much that means to me that you would say something so beautiful about my work <3

congrast for your job i subscribe and vote

Nice story

muy interesante y impresionante lo que nos depara australia, que impresionante como cada pais tiene sus misterios y enigmas que hacen de nuestro planeta maravilloso. Dediquen tiempo a vivir y recorrer el mundo en lugares como este y disfruten su vida a lo maximo

Hi, I'm new on Steemit but when I saw your account the first time I liked it.
Great content! Keep going on!
Maybe you can take a look at my account as well...
I'm author for essays, comments reviews (e.g. for films, TV shows, etc.) in german and english language.
And maybe you can also follow me as I followed you, or vote for my comments as well, so that we can create a kind of little network for art or reviews of films and series.
I know that you get a lot of comments but I hope you take a look! In my blog, you will easily find the english article, at the moment there is only one, my first one...
Keep going on with your nice work! I like it!

Theres a cool quality to these photos. Kind of dark and blueish tinted.


I think it was the overcast weather, it cast an odd tinge over the place


Ha ha I love Mr Bean


m sure everyone in the world'll like that man
he is simply an amazing man

Hi,I am from and I like your post

Wow, hello, I just discovered your blog an I'm amazed by your photography. I'm a documentary filmmaker you truly have an inspiring eye.

There is something mysterious to your images.

I'm excited to see more! Upvoted and following you !



Thanks, I appreciate that

This is an epic experience.

You hit the big time on this post. Well written, dream-like, trippy, and vision-questy. The photos you chose draw you deeper into the daze like feeling. I like your weird town post as well.


Thanks, that's the perfect compliment for what I was trying to do with it :)

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lovely pictures

Beautiful post, very great to read about Australia :)

Stunning!!! We're steemer and I'm proud of that.

Love your pictures, they have such an eerie vibe to them.


Thanks. I think the overcast weather was responsible for that :)

Very impressive!

This was a thoroughly enjoyable article. Both your photos and your words paint an engrossing picture of times when the world was younger than now. I actually heard your words in my ears. I experienced your experience. Thank you, and please keep on bringing your country alive.

These shots are gorgeous! Love the pictures

I'm community manager from TravelChain company and our team really liked your profile. The content you make is very interesting and referred to the main point of our company.
We would like to offer you to take part in our Bounty campaign and help us with promoting. If you will be interested, contact me via email bounty@travelchain.io and I will send to you links with some information)

The pic with the emus does it for me.


ha ha I'm glad to hear it. They were everywhere, no shortage flightless birds on that lake.

wow that's great. Keep up
hope you would like to read similar blog
Secret Places and Things to See and Do in the City of York

Wow nice click bro!

Great story and photos - glad trip has gone well for you!


Thanks. It was an awesome trip

Their past is our present, and it's our common future. These were my thoughts while reading your beautiful story. I think I got it right, since in the end you say: The Dreamtime - a world where past and present exist as one. And the future is under the dunes.

We've a similar place just 40 km from here where the fossils of the Neanderthals were discovered. Being there, for me it's exactly the same feeling you describe.



You're here! I love this platform. I hope you enjoy it also.

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Hi @onethousandwords,

I'm @joshua-golbuu, or Josh for short and I just joint @TeamAustralia / #TeamAustralia a few week ago (I moved from the islands of Micronesia to Australia to study and live here).

I just wanted to drop a note to say hello.

Your post was great love the photos.

I don't have many recent post because I just finish my last exam Friday, but I very much like to get to know everyone in our team. Hope we will meet on Steemit.

here is my re-intro with more details: https://steemit.com/teamaustralia/@joshua-golbuu/from-micronesia-to-australia-my-journey-re-introducing-myself-to-teamaustralia-and-to-everyone-in-steemit-after-my-exams

Peace ✌ & 💖 love!


Hi Josh. I'll be sure to check out your reintro. Thanks for the warm welcome 😊

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Hey there, @onethousandwords!

Hate I missed the payout window on this post. Congrats on doing so well with the rewards! It looks like you have some fantastic stories to tell related to your travel.

With that in mind, I'd like to extend an invitation to join The Unmentionables! We've reviewed your application, and we think you'd be a great fit. Contact me (ethandsmith) on Steemit.chat or Discord, and I'll send you the invite link to our Discord server!

I hope to hear from you soon!


I'd love to join you. Thanks for your kind words. I shall now attempt to navigate the technological territory required to contact you 😊


You've done a fine job of contacting me so far! We're glad to have you in the group. Looking forward to more great posts like this one!