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Historic ceremony at Mungo National Park

In November 2017, after decades of lobbying by both anthropologists and Indigenous groups, Mungo Man and other significant ancestral remains were returned ‘home to country’ to their original resting places in Mungo National Park, south-western NSW.  

Celebrations were held from 16-19 November including the highly emotional repatriation ceremony at Mungo National Park on Friday 17th November, which was followed by cultural events in Mildura on Saturday 18th November 2017. 

Mungo Lady (discovered 1968) and Mungo Man are perhaps the most important human remains ever found in Australia. These 42,000-year-old ritual burials are some of the oldest remains of modern humans (Homo sapiens) to be found outside of Africa. Mungo Lady is the oldest known cremation in the world, representing the early emergence of humanity's spiritual beliefs. 

The discovery of Mungo Man by archaeologist Professor Jim Bowler at Lake Mungo in 1974, also changed scientists’ understanding of how long Aboriginal people had been in Australia and helped rewrite the anthropological record of Australia. 

It is the significance of the Mungo Man and Mungo Lady findings that were key to the Willandra Lakes Region's inclusion on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. 

Photograph of Warren Clark, 19 November 2017 / by Louise Darmody

Photograph of Warren Clark, 19 November 2017 by Louise Darmody


The Library commissioned oral historian Louise Darmody to undertake oral history interviews with 12 people associated with the event about their lives and their involvement with the history of the Mungo Man research and the historic repatriation process.  

Eight of these interviews took place at the time of the repatriation ceremony in 2017. A further six interviews were carried out in early 2018 with people associated with the Mungo Man repatriation process.   

Included in the series are interviews with Paakantji, Ngiyampaa and Muthi Muthi people recognised as the traditional owners of Mungo National Park in the Willandra Lakes Heritage Area. Professor Jim Bowler and other scientists associated with the discovery and research into Mungo Man have also been interviewed.   

Interviews at the time of the repatriation celebrations offered a unique opportunity to capture the atmosphere and energy associated with the historic repatriation process as it happened. They are exceptional in giving firsthand accounts of the events staged for the return of the ancestral remains to their original burial site and the significance of this event for the scientists and the local communities.   

The oral history collection supports the State Library's Indigenous Collecting Strategy that says the Library will collect materials, published and unpublished, from Indigenous and non-Indigenous organisations, individuals, communities and events that document, articulate and animate Indigenous life, past and present, in NSW. To intersect and complement these collections, the Library will collect materials relevant to specific contemporary topics. 

You can listen to people who were interviewed from the Library’s Amplify site. 

Ronald Briggs | Curator, State Library of NSW

Anne Hocking | Librarian, State Library of NSW