European settlement has been part of the Willandra Lakes area since the 1840s. In this episode viewers will see how the changed use of the land impacted on the changing the shape of the land. The episode looks at how different stakeholders of the land are working to preserve its history. The images that are included in the video will provide students with a clearer understanding of how an environments shape and look change over time.

Lake Mungo and European occupation (3:49)

Episode 11 – Lake Mungo and European occupation

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

(soft piano music)

Ross O Shea – Principal consultant, Mundi Consulting Services

This is a very unique world heritage property in terms of Australia, in that at the time of listing Mungo National Park was a very, very minor part of the whole area. The pastural land holders were a majority of the land.

Daniel Rosendahl – Executive Officer, Willandra Lakes Region World Heritage Area

You use local knowledge to better understand the landscape. These land holders have been here, some of them for several generations, and so, know the land better than anybody else.

Ian Wakefield – Land holder, Top Hut Station, Willandra Lakes Region

Dad settled out here about 1954 and the original family was about 70km away, it was around the turn of the century.

[Screen reads: Fact. European occupation in the Willandra Lakes over 15 years ago]


Record show that Europeans arrived in the Willandra lakes area in the 1840s. With them they brought significant change to the natural environment. Europeans introduced sheep and cattle to the area. In the 1880s rabbits also arrived. The introduction of these three species reduced vegetation significantly. Overgrazing and severe drought combined to shock the ecosystem.

This reduced the productivity of the environment, resulting in reduction in stocking rates. Native wildlife, such as wombats, bilbies, bettongs and other small medium-sized native animals were driven to extinction in the region.

The already eroding landscape experience accelerated degradation at the hands of cattle and sheep grazes. The traditional owners of the land were dispossessed and their traditional practices ceased. It is likely that European activity resulted in the erosion that eventually revealed the remains of Mungo lady and Mungo man.


The interesting thing about the Willandra, I call it the Willandra paradox, is the very reason that we know why there's archaeology and the significant geology in this landscape is because of erosion and erosion is something's already starting probably a couple of thousand years ago. And it really escalated when we started grazing sheep on this landscape.


Today, local landowners and national parks and wildlife work consistently at preserving the landscape, the main land management strategies surround preventing erosion.

[Screen reads: Fact. Erosion is caused by introduced species and vegetation removal is the most significant threat to Lake Mungo’s natural environment]


so, you use that local knowledge of where watering points could go or where we could put fences to protect particular areas. And then we also have within the New South Wales government, there's a science division. And so, we worked very closely with the science division and the landholders to bring cutting edge best practice science, contemporary sites into farming practices in the Willandra likes to help, help stop erosion and to help slow down erosion.


We have fenced off some sensitive sites on our properties to just manage that, so, the stock can’t get in around that, and do any damage to those sites.


Soil erosion is part of the natural geomorphic process, particularly in semi-arid environments where wind erosion sculpts the landscape and creates dunal systems. The entire Willandra lake system was created as a result of wind driven sand, forming dunes that block the flow of Willandra Creek. The lunette associated with each lake was built out through a wind erosion process of lake bed and lake shore sediments. Today erosion threatens the dunes in Willandra lakes region. The most severe examples of erosion can be found on Lake Mungo, Lunette.

List of sources and acknowledgements

  • Image: Historical photos of Willandra Lakes region and people. Retrieved from Mungo National Park Conservation Management and Cultural Tourism Management Plan

  • Image: Photos of Australian Fauna. Retrieved from

  • Image: Excavations of Mungo Man. Provided by Jim Bowler

  • Image: Shell middens. Provided by Dan Rosendahl

  • Image: Erosion Control. Provided by Dan Rosendahl

  • Video: Forces shaping Willandra Lakes. Provided by National Parks and Wildlife.

  • Narration. Voice over by Melissa Ellis, 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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