Mungo returns home

AFTER spending more than 40 years in a box in Canberra, Australia's oldest human remains will return home later this month. 

Mungo Man was first discovered in 1974 by geologist Jim Bowler at the banks of Lake Mungo in South-Western New South Wales. 

This discovery and the earlier one of Mungo Lady in 1969 changed our understanding of the antiquity of human occupation of Australia setting it back beyond 40,000 years. 

Mungo Man was held at the Australian National University for decades before being officially handed back to traditional owners in 2015. 

Since then he has been stored at the Canberra's National Museum of Australia while protracted discussions between government departments and traditional owners took place.

Mungo Man's last stop before his journey under tight security will be in Balranald on November 16 where a smoking ceremony will take place at the Aboriginal Cemetery followed by a special event at the Balranald Discovery Centre to commemorate Mungo Man's journey home. Mungo Man will be stored in a "secure location." 

Mutthi Mutthi elder Alice Kelly will also be honoured as the custodian of Lake Mungo National Park and the Willandra Lakes region.

Aunty Kelly lobbied for both Mungo Lady and Mungo Man to be returned to country and played a critical role in contributing to the anthropological and archaeological knowledge of the Willandra Lakes area when Mungo Man was discovered. 

She was on many government and non-government committees concerned with land preservation and cultural heritage including the World Heritage Committee. 

She also contributed to the 1981 UNESCO listing of Lake Mungo and adjacent lakes as the globally-significant Willandra Lakes World Heritage area.

Her daughter, Mutthi Mutthi representative Patsy Winch, who is a member of the Willandra Lakes Aboriginal Advisory Group committee and a member of the repatriation committee said it was significant that Mungo Man's last stop before going home was in Balranald. 

"Mum was a visionary who respected her culture and heritage and all Aboriginal people not just the Mutthi Mutthi tribe," she said. 

"She made a big difference to indigenous and non-indigenous relationships and consequently was named Aboriginal Woman of the Year in 1988."

Mr Bowler previously told the ABC that he was "disturbed" that the remains of Mungo Man and Mungo Lady had not been returned to their home. 

"We've been criticised for removing those remains, but had I not brought in my colleagues from Canberra, those remains would have blown away, they would have been eroded, both Mungo Lady and Mungo Man. There would be no world heritage area today," he said last year. 

"I acknowledge the pain of Aboriginal people and we work very closely with the three Indigenous groups.

"Those remains have been transferred to ANU to the national museum at the agreement of the Indigenous people — seeing that as the beginning of his return home — but after 42 years, there is still no where to put him."

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