Day 4. Tuesday 1 August (Horses’ Birthday)
Perfect sunrise through the river mist.
‘Let’s do coffee at Euston and then go north to Mungo,’ said T, so that’s what we did.
The lower Murrumbidgee becomes treed again and fields of olives, almonds and vines announce the arrival in Sunraysia. At Euston, (a whistle-stop) town with just a takeaway café, huge club/resort and new colourbond-roof housing estates (but RV friendly, with a parking area set aside that we didn’t check out), we took the coffee break, then headed up the dirt road toward Mungo. A newly- established almond plantation provided the morning colour scheme…pink soil against a blue sky with row upon row of trees.
Soon it was corrugation and saltbush…the occasional sheep, a few emus and NOONE else on it! But this has to be the ideal season! – thinks T. Arrive at Mungo National Park expecting campsites to be already taken by those who get on the road super-early… NOONE!
The Visitor Centre is open but deserted, so we register, pay and head for the remote campsite Belah. We had been at Mungo some 20+ years ago and had heard that the park was now fairly controlled in order to preserve the fragile environment. What a pleasant surprise! Yes, there are now boardwalks and you can’t tramp all over the Walls of China, but this is a plus and today we had it all to ourselves.
Set up at Belah (all alone) and dusk descends as the varied birdlife whistles, sings, carols and caws the end of the day.
Day 5. Wednesday 2 Aug
Birdsong wakes us and with a soft morning light it’s another fine day. The Mallee Ringneck parrot, emus, Red Wattlebirds keep us amused, darting in and out of the Rosewoods.
Continuing on the Mungo Lake circuit we take in the natural environment of Belah, Rosewood, Bluebush, porcupine grass, Wilga, Leafless Cherry (parasite), emus, kangaroos ( black, grey and red) and the man-made features of a feral goat trap and Vigars Well which was full of emus as we arrived, but was vacated promptly. The well is a permanent soak and was a horse and dray watering point, just ahead of the sand dunes (which could have been coastal) with their fine white grains. This is the back (eastern side) of the Mungo lunette.
Next were the Zanci Homestead ruins, including a white cypress dugout to shelter from searing heat, Zanci Woolshed, then the Mungo Woolshed, beautifully preserved examples of drop log construction. Learning of the pastoral history of this area presents a very different perspective from our learning when we visited two decades ago. Back then, the focus was on the Indigenous features of this area, with Mungo Man and Mungo Woman, the Willandra Lakes system and the 3 Aboriginal groups who still meet here. Mungo became a sheep farm in the 1870s and wool was harvested in a harsh land which has no running water. Now under NPWS management and with World Heritage status, the story of Mungo is more comprehensive, presenting the bigger picture of the dramatic social, cultural and environmental change that came with pastoral pursuits on the back blocks acquired by European settlers between the Darling and Lachlan Rivers. The Willandra Lakes, full in the last Ice Age, human footprints from
20, 000 years ago fossilized in the claypan, Mungo Man and Mungo Woman from 40,000 plus years ago, 100 years of sheep and pastoralists, and now the National Park. The World Heritage status is now understandable.
Tonight we are in Main Camp and there are at least 6 other camping groups. Positively crowded! And rain threatens.
Day 6. Thursday 3 Aug.
The threat materialized – rain on and off all night. The one encouraging thing is that we have maintained our record as drought busters! At about 11 am, a ranger said that 10 mm had already fallen, and a drizzle continues. Roads are all closed so we’re here for at least another night.
A slow day – drizzle on and off. D walked to the Visitors Centre to check road conditions and weather. The park was closed, according to the lone Ranger, notwithstanding all the signs said ‘Open’. The roads in and out were closed, he was told, although there were no signs indicating that. Common sense said that they shouldn’t be used: dangerous and damaging. The penalty for being on/getting stuck/damaging a closed road is c.$1800 per wheel!!!!!!!
So T spent the day productively knitting her new sweater, while D spent most of the day checking his battery gauges, as the generator gurgled away outside in its little sun shelter.
There was a group of nine campers close by, and twin sisters of about our age were avid (fanatical?) crocheters. T was able to borrow a precious sewing needle from one to complete the first stage of her project, and we were invited to share their fire that evening, rain permitting.
And the rain did permit, so we spent a very enjoyable and humorous evening with this group of friends from Bendigo, who had travelled often together. One of the group was the brother of the twins, but he had left his wife in Bendigo, after an eight week holiday, to work while he joined this trek! They were headed to Tibooburra to visit an old nursing friend of the twins, who was now the bush nurse in charge there. They were expected for a birthday dinner on Monday night…so desperate to get out of Mungo on Friday. More rain forecast.
Day 7. Friday 4 Aug.
More light rain overnight, but in just a couple of patches – our fingers were crossed! Some sunlight broke through, and the clouds scudded across quickly yo provide at least some drying. D checked the road in front of the campsite and although still a bit wet seemed suitable. The Bendigo group were on their way, as was another couple further on, so the consensus seemed to be to go. On the way out we were told that a school group that had been staying in the old shearers’ huts was intending to head back to Mildura in their bus, so it seemed that all was a go. We were planning to take the shortest possible dirt road – about 50 km towards Pooncarie on the Top Hut Road, then turn left to Wentworth once we hit the bitumen.
Well, the road was suitable, but only just! Lots of boggy sections, but not deep, but enough to occasionally give the rig a bit of sideways slide, which is disconcerting. Parts were excellent, so we made fairly good time – the 50 km took just under two hours. When we reached the bitumen we looked back to see the sign: ‘Road Closed’!
So on to Wentworth, where we are staying the night. Pajero and Kimberley caked in red mud, despite a bit of a clearing by stick en route. Rain is forecast, so perhaps that will do the job on the way to Broken Hill tomorrow.