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Lunette with the ancient Lake Bed to the left

A lunette is a single, massive dune ridge formed from clay and sand blown up from the lake
The landscape is being heavily weathered by wind and rain
Hard crusted clay blown onto mounds slows the weathering process
Bones being revealed by the wind's action. Do not touch or remove then as they could be part of an ancient fossil
Kangaroo tracks are well formed in the firm sand
Looking along the lunette which is named after luna, for crescent moon, due to its semi-circular shape

Mungo National Park and Lunette

Latitude -33.723349, Longitude 143.026564

Located in the Outback Region of NSW, nearest large town Balranald

Source:www.environment.nsw.gov.au National Parks and Wildlife Service

Source:http://en.wikipedia.org

Source:www.visitmungo.com.au/archaeology

Link to Detailed Map

Mungo National Park located in South Western New South Wales is a part of the Willandra Lakes Region World Heritage Area. The global importance of the Willandra Lakes Region was recognised in 1981 when the region was added to the World Heritage List. It was one of the first Australian World Heritage sites. By 2010 Australia had 17 world heritage places, but the Willandra Lakes Region is one of only four that are listed for both their natural and their cultural values.

This area is very important to Indigenous Australians and the local tribes, the Paakantji, the Mutthi Mutthi, and the Ngiyampaa hold their Willandra ancestors and their story as precious gifts to be shared with all people. The most famous of these were the discovery of the oldest human remains in Australia known as Mungo Lady and Mungo Man. When these remains turned up some 40 years ago they amazed the scientific community. They have now been dated to 42,000 years old - the oldest human remains in Australia and some of the oldest modern humans in the world outside Africa.

And when 20,000 year old footprints of the Willandra people were found in 2003, they also excited the archaeological world. They are the oldest and only Pleistocene footprints in Australia and the most numerous ice age footprints yet found anywhere in the world. Approximately 500 prints have been recorded in more than 25 individual trackways. Most of these are human but there are also some marsupial and emu tracks. At present, after much research they have been covered to preserve them for future research should the local Elders deem it necessary.

The local geology had a part in preserving the footprints. The claypan where they lie is about 15 cm thick and composed of thin layers of a type of magnesite rich clay that is not common in the Willandra Lakes area. The clay was probably blown out of the nearby lake basin in dry periods. When this clay dries out it sets very hard, like concrete. If the tracks had been out in the wind and rain for too long they would have been eroded away. It is therefore likely that they were covered over soon after being made, by dune sands blowing in from the west in the barren, windy climate of the Pleistocene.

Aboriginal Discovery Tours are the best way to learn about Mungo National Park and its ancient heritage, with the Aboriginal people who have lived in the landscape for 45,000 years. Tours operate throughout the year and are dependent on weather and road closures. See the following link www.visitmungo.com.au/aboriginal-discovery-tours or phone (03) 5021 8900 to get more detail. Another way to get a real feel for the area is to take a commercial tour. Contact the Mildura Visitor Information Centre on (03) 5018 8380 for more information on the commercial tour options available.

The landscape at the Walls of China site is extremely fragile, and so public access is limited to those accompanied by a Discovery Ranger or commercial tour operator. Be careful where you walk and please do not climb on the lunettes or disturb bones or artefacts which may be uncovered by the wind, as these may be of significant archaeological importance. Do not remove anything except your rubbish.

Landscape and Geology

Mungo National Park includes Lake Mungo an ancient dry lakebed. During the last ice age, Lake Mungo was one of a chain of freshwater lakes strung along the Willandra Creek.

About 50 million years ago this rocky inland landscape sank as the Australian eastern highlands rose. Not only was there a lot of tectonic movement at this time, but also a great deal of rain. The Murray, Murrumbidgee and Lachlan rivers all transported soil and water onto the subsiding landscape.

As the Australian continent slowly drifted northwards into hotter, drier climes, temperature and climatic conditions continued to change. About 400,000 years ago dry, windy conditions prevailed and the sluggish, meandering Willandra Creek was cut off, forming the Willandra Lake system. Over time the westerly winds shaped the lake and, as the water receded, continued to shape and create a lunette. The lunette consists of layer upon layer of sand and silt deposited over tens of thousands of years.

Three major layers of sediment form the lunette, and each represents a different period of time and different environmental condition. The names of the layers have been taken from the names of stations in the area: The Gol Gol Unit is the bottom layer of the lunette, which was formed approximately 100,000 to 150,000 years ago. It's made up of deep red calcareous soil and represents an aeolian deflation event. This occurred when the climate was warm and dry. Aeolian processes pertain to the activity of the winds and more specifically, to the winds' ability to shape the surface of the Earth. Winds may erode, transport, and deposit materials, and are effective agents in regions with sparse vegetation and a large supply of unconsolidated sediments.

The Mungo unit is made up of quartz sands that were blown from wave-nourished beaches, an indication of full lake conditions and can be separately described as Upper and Lower units. The Lower Mungo unit was formed about 40-50,000 years ago. The Upper Mungo unit contains burials over 36,000 years old.

The Zanci Unit contains the final stage of deflation and clay lunette formation. A decreased water flow resulted in a lowering of lake water levels and exposure of mud and clays on the lake floor. Salts that had accumulated in the exposed mud began to crystallise and cause them to break into sand-grain sized pellets. These were carried by the prevailing south-westerly winds onto the lunettes to form a series of clay blankets. This accumulated up until 15,000 years ago.

The Mungo timeline describes the key climatic, environmental and human events that have affected Willandra Lakes in the geological past. (See the time line at www.visitmungo.com.au/mungo-timeline)

The influence of the wind

When you visit the park, you'll notice that the wind is an almost constant presence. At the Walls of China, the wind ceaselessly moves sand off the lunette and across the dunes behind. The wind has been a major force in creating the landscape we see today.

Coming mainly from the west for millions of years, the winds have affected the climate, helped create the shallow basins in which the lakes formed, blown the central Australian sand dunes towards the lakes and constructed the lunettes.

Winds blowing across Lake Mungo and the other old lakes created waves that washed up on the shores. On the western side of the lakes, these waves cut into the dunes that were moving in from the west, creating a steep shoreline and dumping sediment into the waters. The sediment gathered on the eastern shores where the waves were also eroding the lakeshore and building beaches. In strong winds, sand from the beaches was blown up to form lakeside dunes.

In drier times, when the lake was empty or partly dry, those same prevailing westerlies picked up clay from the lakebed and blew it onto the lakeside dunes. Layer on layer of sand and clay built up into massive lunettes, by far the largest landforms in this otherwise flat landscape.

The erosion has uncovered extensive Aboriginal objects, which indicate a persistent human presence in the past. The bones of animals commonly referred to as megafauna that lived in the area many thousands of years ago have also been revealed. Examples include Genyornis newtoni, a flightless bird with legs as solid as those of a horse; the towering short-faced kangaroo, Procoptodon goliah, and the buffalo-sized Zygomatrurus trilobus.

The fragile carvings in the lunette make for excellent photos in the setting sun. Remember that it's strictly forbidden to climb on the lunette features or disturb artefacts.

Where to see some of the park's landscapes and features

Red Top lookout offers a wonderful vantage point, with panoramic views of Lake Mungo, rippling dune patterns and rich textures. A boardwalk to the lookout provides wheelchair access. It's an easy half-hour drive to the lookout from the Mungo Visitor Centre carpark. Along the way, you'll find signs discussing the long-term climate changes that led to the lakes in Mungo National Park drying out.

How to get there

To visit the park from Balranald, follow the signs to Ivanhoe (Ivanhoe Road) for 53km, turn left 3km after Box Creek Bridge (signposted) and follow this road until you reach the park, follow this road to its end. There is a fee to enter the park and an honesty system applies. From Mildura, you cross the bridge to Buronga and follow the Silver City Highway towards Broken Hill. As you leave Buronga you'll see Arumpo Road on the right with a sign indicating Mungo National Park. Mungo National Park is always open but may have to close at times due to poor weather or fire danger.

The summer months can be extremely hot in Mungo National Park with temperatures up to 50°C. It's often over 40°C between December and February. Please follow these safety guidelines: Water is a rare commodity in a semi-arid environment - always carry plenty with you. All roads in and around the park are unsealed, many of them have little traffic, particularly outside holiday seasons. Always carry extra food and water in case of an emergency. If you become stranded stay with your vehicle! Mobile phones do not work in Mungo National Park. In emergencies a ranger can be contacted on UHF channel 22. No food or petrol/diesel is available at or near the park, although you can get a meal at the Mungo Lodge. Camping sites and accommodation are available in the park. Check NPWS website for details.


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