Students will gain an understanding of the conflicts that arise over the use of land, as well as seeing the issues that have shaped the Lake Mungo area. The ideas looked at in this episode mean that it could be used in more than one HSIE area including geography, history, legal studies, and studies of religion to meet content area and outcomes. (6:27)

Episode 3 – A landscape for dreaming

Warning – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that the following video may contain images and voices of deceased persons.


This is Mutthi Mutthi, Ngyiampaa, and Paakantji Country, otherwise known as Lake Mungo.

Ivan Johnston – Discovery Ranger, Mungo National Park

Out here, we got the three tribal groups working together. We got the Mutthi Mutthi people. They come from that direction, which is Balranald. Also my tribe, the Paakantji tribe, that come from Wentworth, and it goes along the Darling River towards Bourke and Brewarrina. We also got the Ngyiampaa tribe. They come from that direction from Ivanhoe and it goes further back in the southernly direction.


Mungo is a site of rich cultural and scientific value. It's also a meeting place of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal ways, and a site of great contestation. Situated in the far south-west of New South Wales, the lakes are the resting place of many Aboriginal ancestors.

It was here that the remains of Lady Mungo and Mungo Man were revealed in 1968 and 1974 respectively. When they returned from the deep past, Mungo Man and Mungo Woman rewrote the book on Australia's ancient human history and put this country on the world stage. Mungo Man and Woman enabled Western science to validate what Aboriginal peoples have been saying all along. Australian history didn't start with Captain Cook.

[Screen reads. Question. How do Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal ways of knowing land/Country differ?]

A study of the histories that intersect at this important site reveal some of the key differences between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal ways of knowing land or country.

[Screen shows image of Aboriginal Ontology. Country or land at the centre, surrounded by, spirituality, Identity (personal and cultural), kinship ties, lore and laws, languages, knowledge]

Aboriginal ontology sees land as alive and themselves as part of the land, whereas Europeans have historically viewed land as a resource, something to be possessed, tamed and colonised.

[Screen reads: Fact. Dispossession means people being taken away or forced from their land]

Initially, it was the Frontier Wars and the expansion of pastoralism that dispossessed the Mutthi Mutthi, Ngyiampaa, and Paakantji peoples from their country. Pastoralists set about taming and possessing this land by clearing and fencing and using large-scale European agricultural techniques.

The introduction of cattle, sheep, and then rabbits in the 1880s caused immeasurable and permanent damage to this country. Throughout this invasion, Aboriginal people fought to remain on country often by taking up work on the stations. These early colonial relations saw some strange alliances created between the pastoralists and the local Aboriginal people due to their mutual attachments to country.

But the 1960s and 1970s saw a new wave of dispossession for the three local groups. The unique geography of this site and its rich historical value drew the attention of conservationists, archaeologists, scientists, and then tourism. The archaeologists and scientists approached this country with the same sense of European imperial entitlement as the earlier pastoralists.

[Screen reads: Fact. Ethnocentric is the use of one’s culture as the ideal standard against which all other cultures are judged and (usually) negatively compared.]

Through their ethnocentric worldview, this country could only be understood in its entirety through the colonisation process of mapping and recording it as a geography.

Indigenous knowledges and ways of knowing were invisible to these early scientists. Their voices were silenced. Their rights to maintain and protect and access their spiritual and cultural sites were denied in the name of protection and scientific discovery.

Given these power relations, it is not surprising that the dominant versions of history of this site, that Mungo Man and Mungo Woman, were discovered by archaeologist Jim Bowler and his scientific colleagues.

Sound familiar? At the time, they thought nothing of removing the ancestral remains from their burial grounds without consultation, and taking them to the Australian National University, where their bones were then mined in the search for the knowledge about the origins of Homo sapiens on the Australian continent for more than 40 years.


What do you see now as the most important elements of ethical research?

Dr Jim Bowler – Geologist, University of Melbourne

Well, you see, we are talking to an old man here who interviewed Murray Black. Murray Black collected human skeletons by the truckload. As a student in the university, I interviewed Murray Black. I was never to know that another 20 years later I'd be coming out here and collecting... Being responsible for collection of skeletons, which the Aboriginal people saw as the continuation of the Murray Black disrespectful collecting phase.

So that we've broken through that phase, and now with the long dialogue with Aboriginal and archaeological colleagues, that unity of sitting down on the same sand dune and learning from each other, that's the dynamic now that is driving present research and present understanding. We are walking across this landscape together in harmony, science and traditional people. That's a tremendous new agenda on the Australian landscape.


Perspectives of Aboriginal people, such as Mutthi Mutthi elder Mary Pappin, expose a very different relationship or way of knowing country. From this perspective, the land is an active participant. The land is alive.

In her words, "It's the land that revealed those people. "Mungo Man came back by natural erosion "to tell us their stories. "Stories of their own land, and they didn't reveal themselves for nothing.", she says. "It was to tell the story of Aboriginal occupation and strong societies within our countries."

[Screen displays multiple images of Aboriginal people peacefully protesting]

And so, they did. Mungo Man and Mungo Woman helped give Aboriginal people back a voice. They revealed the sophistication of pre-contact societies, and validated the unimaginably long history of Aboriginal occupation of this continent at a time of great social change, and helped propel the Aboriginal Rights Movement into the era of self-determination.

List of sources and acknowledgements

  • Image: Shell Middens. Provided by Dan Rosendahl

  • Images: Trackway Site. Provided by Matthew Cupper

  • Image: Lake Mungo National Park Location. Source image retrieved from

  • Image: Recreation of Lake Mungo. Provided by Geovanni Caselli

  • Image: Mungo Man archaeological dig site. Provided by Jim Bowler

  • Image: Timeline Mungo man in history. Source facts retrieved from

  • Image: Mungo man skeletal remains. Provided by Jim Bowler

  • Image: The founding of Australia. Retrieved from

  • Image: Down on his luck. Retrieved from

  • Images: The foundations of Perth. Retrieved from

  • Image: Cooks landing at Botany Bay. Retrieved from

  • Image: Historical photos of Willandra Lakes region and people. Retrieved from Mungo National Park conservation management and cultural tourism management plan

  • Image: Mungo Man archaeological dig site. Provided by Jim Bowler

  • Image: Landholding maps. Retrieved from Mungo National Park conservation management and cultural tourism management plan

  • Image: Mungo Lady repatriation. Provided by Maggy Bradie

  • Narration. Voice over by Sheri Hennessy, Southern Cross School of Distance Education.


NSW Government Public Schools, Learning Systems, DART connections, Southern Cross School of Education. Virtual Excursions 2017.

[End of transcript]

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