The Australian Outback is not a place, its an experience. It’s red sand and remoteness, heat mirages and emus, sunsets and shooting stars. Its the ancient Australian Aboriginal Culture: stories, art and food plants woven into a magical experience by Aboriginal People.
Mungo National Park in south-western New South Wales is an Outback experience. Its part of the Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area, listed mostly for its 45,000+ year old Aboriginal Heritage.
Aboriginal Guide Ernie from Mungo Lodge joined us just on the edge of the famous artifact-rich sand dunes of Mungo. But before even walking onto the lunette, he stopped us at an ordinary-looking patch of ground.
“There’s something special here” he said. We looked hard, and saw…. Nothing.
A tiny whorl of green leaves had caught his attention. He pulled out a digging tool, and very gently loosened the soil around the leaves. First, in a circle about 20 cm in diameter. Then with his hands he gently probed in the soil. He dug again, in a tighter circle. Each time he probed closer and closer to the unimpressive-looking little plant.
Finally his hands closed around the roots of the plant and he lifted it free of the sand.
It was beautiful. A cluster of little parnsips, some as long as your little finger, were presented to the group. Each was joined to the plant by a slim fibrous root. We could see why Ernie had dug so carefully in such a large circle around the plant – in the soil the network of tubers would have been spread out over some distance, and rough handling would have broken many.
Then for the taste-test. Sweet, crisp, juicy. A bit like a radish but without the sharp bite.
It was easy to imagine desert Aboriginal People enjoying the juiciness of this vegetable. And if such a small food plant could produce so much, this land could have provided a plentiful living for people who knew their stuff.
Aboriginal Guides like Ernie know their stuff. They know the big things, of course – like how to interpret 50,000 years of human history written in the sand dunes. But it was a demonstration of his keen eye, his sensitivity to a delicate plant, and his understanding of one of humanity’s basic needs – the need for food – that resonated so strongly with the group.
A little thing that makes an Outback experience memorable.
The Mungo Outback Journey 4 day private tour operates from March to November every year.
Mungo also has amazing wildlife – read about encounters with Blue Bonnet Parrots and how Welcome Swallows have taken over the Mungo Woolshed.