Maureen Reyland and Natasha Langley pack the remains of Mungo Man. Photo by Stuart Hay.

Maureen Reyland and Natasha Langley pack the remains of Mungo Man. Photo by Stuart Hay.

Mungo Man’s long journey back to country

The historic Indigenous remains known as Mungo Man helped re-write the anthropological history of Australia.

After being held at ANU for more than 40 years, the remains have been returned to the elders of the Willandra Lakes area of Western New South Wales.

It is the first step in Mungo Man's journey home, as JAMES GRUBEL reports.

Barkandji woman Junette Mitchell has a clear memory of the day in 1991 when the remains of Mungo Lady returned home to Willandra Lakes.

After the ceremonies, a large whirly-whirly column of dust swept through Mungo town.

"It was coming down the road - big red dust. I said to my mum, 'Here she comes'. Mum looked up at me and said, 'Yeah, that's their spirits.'

"There's going to be a really big one when we bring Mungo Man back."

Like Mungo Lady before him, Mungo Man has now started the long journey home.

In a moving ceremony, ANU handed the Ancestral Remains to elders of the Mutthi Mutthi, Ngiyampaa and Paakantji/Barkandji people, who are the traditional custodians of the Willandra Lakes region.

The ceremony marked the end of years of discussion among the traditional owners, who have wanted Mungo Man's remains to be returned almost since the day they were taken from Lake Mungo in the early 1970s.

Researchers found Mungo Man's remains date back 40,000 years.

They are the oldest human remains discovered in Australia and they helped establish evidence of continuous Indigenous culture in Australia.

The remains also demonstrate the cultural significance of the Willandra Lakes region as a place of priceless national and cultural heritage.