The powerful images in this episode shows why the Willandra Lakes area is so unique and spectacular. The images and explanations in the video provide viewers with a greater understanding of geographic concepts and the forces that shape the land.

Lake Mungo today (4:06)

Episode 12 – Lake Mungo today

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

(upbeat music)


Lake Mungo today is a scene of absolute beauty. The deep red earth contrasts against the blue clear sky. The lunette dune system is obvious from a great distance, as the white sand reflects light. A place of stark beauty, the Willandra Lakes region is unique, showing how climate, wind, and water have shaped the landscape over the last 2 million years.

Human remains found at Lake Mungo have proven crucial to improving our understanding of human settlement of Australia. The region provides powerful fossil evidence of ongoing human occupation dating back 45 to 60,000 years.

Once a lush environment teaming with water and animal life, the now-dry lakes and dunes have yielded well-preserved fossils of over 55 animal species, including giant mammals. The fossil record also provides evidence of people adapting to changes in climatic conditions.

[Screen reads: Fact. Willandra lakes region and Lake Mungo are arid landscapes]

Today, the vegetation in the region is typical of semi-arid zones. It plays an important role in stabilizing the landscape and hence maintaining its sediment strata and many species of native fauna.

Small, scrubby, multi-stemmed Mallee eucalypts are found on the dunes, with an understory of herbs and grasses. In the lake bed, several species of saltbush are able to thrive in the saline conditions. 22 spaces of mammals are currently recorded in the region. Bats are the most diverse group, and there are some 40 species of reptiles and amphibians.

The bird life of the Willandra Lakes region is similar to that in many other semi-arid areas of Australia: parrots, cockatoos, and finches. At Lake Mungo, we observed finches making homes in the clay pans on the side of the lunette dunes.

On the Eastern side of each of the lakes in the region, there are vast crescent-shape lunettes made up of layers of sediment deposited between 40,000 and 15,000 years ago. The layered composition, including clays and fossil soils distinguish lunettes from dunes. One of the most spectacular series of lunettes known as the Walls of China is found on the Eastern side of Lake Mungo.

Over the past 100-200 years of erosion of lunettes has been accelerated by the removal of vegetation due to grazing. Wind and the minimal water that falls washes away the soft sands and clays, creating the ribbed surfaces and gullies that characterise the region. The erosion is also responsible for uncovering the remains of humans and animals that once lived in the area.

Melissa Ellis – Geography teacher, Southern Cross School of Distance Education

As an archaeologist, is this a really exciting place to come out and visit?

Harvey Johnston – Archaeologist, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage

Absolutely, absolutely. It's great. It's a lot of rich texture. Things that have been buried in the dunes can easily be exposed. so, as soon as you've got a bit of erosion, you get sub-surface being sediments exposed and all the sediments being revealed.

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

In a really sensitive paddock where sheep have over-grazed or ate a lot of the grass and that started erosion. And so, that erosion is uncovering archaeology and it's uncovering the geology and it's still doing that to this day. So, so, every day, every time there's a big storm event or a strong wind, new sites are being exposed and are coming to the surface. And we go and cover those up with the shade cloth to try and protect those as much as we can.

List of sources and acknowledgements

  • Image: Archaeological dig site. Provided by Jim Bowler

  • Image: Human migration routes. Provided by National Geographic partners retrieved from

  • Images: Mungo trackway Site. Provided by Matthew Cupper

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

  • Video: 45,000 years at Lake Mungo. Provided by National Parks and Wildlife

  • Image series: Fauna of Willandra Lakes region. Retrieved from

  • Image: Sediment layers at Lake Mungo. Source provided by Professor Jim Bowler

  • Image: Lake Mungo Walls of China. Retrieved from

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

  • Image: Shell Middens. Provided by Dan Rosendahl

  • Image: Erosion control. Provided by Dan Rosendahl

  • 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]

Return to top of page Back to top