A Venture To the Land Down Under
Australia, also known as ‘The Land Down Under’ or ‘Oz’ is the oldest continent on Earth. Being the oldest landmass, life has had more time to adapt much differently than anywhere else on the planet. Nowhere else in the world can we find Kangaroos, Wombats, Koalas, to Platypus’ living freely in their natural environments. If Australia had never been discovered until now, we would be discovering a long lost paradise, cut off from the outside world for millions of years in isolation. Instead, Australia today, with all of its unchanged wonder, is one of the top vacation destinations in the world. Millions of people annually travel from far and wide to the Commonwealth of Australia to experience its many beaches, cities, national parks, world-class surf, and culture.
To understand the culture of Australia as a foreign traveler, is to respect those who call the continent their homeland. Long before the Dutch arrived in the late 17th century, culture had existed in New Holland for tens of thousands of years. New Holland was the name given to Australia by the Dutch, claiming it as their own in the age of imperialism. Little did the Dutch know. The original inhabitants, the Australian Aborigines, lived and thrived there for nearly 60,000 years.
The Aborigines lived primarily as hunter gatherers within complex societies along the coastlines of Australia. The vast interior of Australia is a desolate and barren desert, infamously known as The Australian Outback. Little evidence can be found of early human habitation in the harshness of the Outback for a few sparse regions. But in the more Northern territories, evidence is in abundance dating back to the prehistoric past of Earth’s oldest long-standing culture. Venturing to these sites, reveals how persistent the Aborigine culture really is.
Madjedbebe Rock/Kakadu National Park
Located in the Northern Territory of Australia, just 100 miles Southeast of Darwin, is the Kakadu National Park and World Heritage Site. Roughly about the same size as the country of Wales, nearly half of all Kakadu is Aboriginal land, protected under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976. The Aborigines have occupied Kakadu for nearly 40,000 years, which is rich in Aboriginal cultural sites. Although most of the sites are closed off to outsiders, the Madjedbebe Rock however is one of important significance for anthropologists and archaeologists.
Madjedbebe is a sandstone rock shelter which supports the earliest known archaeological evidence of human habitation in Australia. The site was first discovered in 1973. Signs of stone tools, animal bones, charcoal, to human burials have also been found predating what we previously thought about our archaic ancestors. Unlike the other sites located within Kakadu National Park, Madjedbebe, although unavailable to the public, retains evidence of the earliest human habitation on the Australian continent. The first inhabitants arrived proposedly by land bridges that connected Australia to the rest of mainland Asia. For the next 60 or so thousand years, the Aboriginal people have flourished within Kakadu leaving behind numerous heritage sites that possess artefacts belonging to the oldest ongoing culture and tradition of the Dreamtime.
Lake Mungo Fossils
Some 2089 miles south of Kakadu National Park is another important Australian world heritage site. Located in New South Wales is Mungo National Park, a dry lake that also holds some of the earliest archaeological and anthropological records of human habitation in the land of Oz. Some 60,000 years or so ago, Lake Mungo once contained great quantities of water. During the end of the last Ice Age, the water levels receded and eventually became a salt lake. This made the surrounding soil become more alkaline. As a result of this, it helped preserve what remains were left behind. By the time the Europeans arrived, introducing horses and other domesticated livestock, what was left of the surrounding ecology was eaten up.
The most important find at Lake Mungo was the discovery of Mungo Man and Mungo Woman. The first to be discovered was Mungo Woman. Discovered in 1969 by Doctor Jim Bowler, the fossils belonging to Mungo Woman changed what we know of our earliest hominid ancestors. Analysis of her fossils yields an age of roughly 40,000 years old. However, what makes Mungo Woman’s fossils so significant is that half of her fossils had been cremated. Her fossils are the first known evidence of burial rituals pre antiquity which acknowledges that early archaic people understood advanced practices.
The next important finding came in 1974 also by Dr. Bowler. The discovery of Mungo Man dates the fossils to 50,000 years ago coinciding with the earliest archaic Homo sapiens. Like Mungo Woman, Mungo Man’s fossils were the earliest indications for the use of ochre in a burial practice. Also found on site were stone tools that dated back even earlier than Mungo Man or Woman. Lake Mungo is open to all tourists and visitors who are willing to pay the $8 park fee to explore perhaps one of the earliest known places of habitation in Australia. People can sign up for a guided tour or they can have their own self guided tour. The local natives who still live in the area have made agreements with the government of Australia to manage the national park where they have lived for tens of thousands of years.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park(Ayers Rock)
Just 1200 miles south of Darwin in the Northern Territory is another one of Australia’s most sacred world heritage sites. Most people know it as Ayers Rock. But to the Aborigines it is called Uluru, one of their most important and revered indigenous sites on the entire continent. Composed of sandstone, Uluru or Ayers rock is a massive rock formation called an Inselberg that rises almost 3,000 feet above flat barren ground. The other half of this venerated site is the Olgas or Kata Tjuta, another set of domed rock formations. Becoming one of Australia’s most recognizable natural attractions, nearly 250,000 people annually travel from all over the world to visit this natural and cultural wonder of the Aboriginals.
Above the ground, Ayers Rock looks as though it is out of place. Because of this, the Pitjantjatjara people hold great reverence towards Uluru as a central figure in their creation story and culture. Uluru/Ayers Rock is what can be known as an Axis Mundi, a Latin term for the axis of the Earth between the North and South Poles. In retrospect, Ayers Rock to the Australian Aboriginals is a place where the Earth and the heavens intersect. The best time to see Ayers Rock is at dusk or dawn, when the pigmentation of Uluru turns a reddish colour.
Visiting Ayers Rock is an intercultural experience. Aboriginal tour guides will take those throughout the rock formations to gaze upon the rich biodiversity that clings to Uluru. Wandering through the unique rock formations, tourists get a first-hand glimpse at the indigenous fauna that is only found at Ayers Rock. Life has thrived and continues to thrive here thanks to Uluru’s natural springs, aquifers, waterholes, and written down in cave paintings, Uluru has a rich lore all on its own when hearing of the legendary Dreamtime stories.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of the Aboriginal culture is the Dreamtime. According to the Australian Aborigine tradition and mythology, the Dreamtime is the most central aspect of the Aboriginal culture. In their culture, the Dreamtime is what weaves together the social and physical aspects of our world. Sacred sites such as Uluru/Ayers Rock are all connected together collectively through their shared belief in the Dreamtime passed down by their ancestors. Much of what is passed down from their elders is in regards to their creation story of the world and how these holy places played a part in shaping their culture. Venturing to these remote Australian sites detaches one from their own culture and immerses them in the world’s oldest known culture.
Murujuga Petroglyphs, Western Australia
In the Pilbara region of Western Australia is a tiny island called Murujuga. It is a small isle that’s a part of the Dampier Archipelago. The Aboriginal nation of the Jaburara people call it “Hip bone sticking out” in their language. Although for such a small island, Murujuga has the highest concentration of ancient rock art and petroglyphs anywhere else on Earth. The number of petroglyphs found at Murujuga is around one million in total. The earliest of these petroglyphs date back to 45,000 BCE, right around the same time other sacred Aboriginal grounds were flourishing. Along with the abundance of petroglyphs, the largest standing stone collection in Australia can also be found here.
However, as of recently there has been recent political debate about the future of Murujuga and the
largest collection of ancient rock art anywhere else in the world. Newer industrial developments have begun expanding into the Pilbara region which is also a global sanctuary of subterranean fauna. Worst of all, in the process of big developers moving into this very important ecological, anthropological, and archaeological site, a good percent of the stone art has been destroyed or removed to make way for developers. As saddening as this is to hear, great efforts have been made to protect one of Australia’s most unique world heritage sites.
By 2008, 90 percent of Murujuga was protected. Yet the remaining 10 percent was still wading in the grey area. Efforts are still underway to protect this venerated site where it is like taking a step back into time observing all these magnificent feats of prehistoric art. A majority of the petroglyphs depict all kinds of different art, predominantly the extinct Thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger which 40,000 years ago were all over the continent of Australia. It is these Aboriginal sites that remove one from the modern world. Visiting these sacred sites deserve our respect because to some these may be just a pile of rocks, but in actuality, it is the closest thing modern day humans have to having a direct link to the ancient world.
Daintree National Park, Queensland Australia
Apart from the ancient Aboriginal sites that are heavily cantered and revered in their way of life and is a great experience to understand the world’s longest standing culture, the Land of Oz has enough attractions to visit for decades. One of the most jaw dropping beautiful attractions is Daintree National Park located in Queensland, Australia. Traveling here is taking an even bigger step back in time. While the Aboriginal culture is almost 50,000 years old, Mother Nature has existed long before and long after we’re gone.
This very national park is the oldest rainforest on Earth. The Greater Daintree Rainforest is estimated to be 180 million years old, millions of years older than the mighty Amazon, surviving through the Jurassic period and even the Cretaceous period which saw the extinction of the dinosaurs. Not only is it a part of the stunningly beautiful Cape Tribulation, backed by the turquoise blue waters of the South Pacific, exploring this park is wandering through an ancient rainforest that has been totally preserved through the ages.
The cause of this natural preservation is a result of Australia itself due to continental drift. Millions of years ago as the plates were shifting, Antarctica overtime began making ocean currents colder, preserving Australia’s climate and its rainforests. Previously extinct plant species have been rediscovered once again.
Perhaps the most profound experience to be had here is the bird watching. Located here are over 430 different kinds of bird species that call the rainforest home. Daintree also has one of the largest populations of Cassowaries in their natural habitat, an endangered species of bird that is closely related to the Ostrich and Emu. The biggest draw when visiting this world heritage site is Daintree River. An old fashioned ferry will carry you across to a series of boardwalks where people can observe the endangered Cassowaries and traverse dozens of uncharted tropical beaches.
Great Barrier Reef, North-eastern Australia
If there is one thing Australia is known for more so than anything else are its beaches and its coral reefs. There are over 12,000 beaches in Oz. It would take over 30 years for someone to visit all of them. An entire life could be spent exploring Australia’s beaches. Along the North-eastern coast of Australia is the more tropical humid climate of Oz. Most of the rainforests and coral reef systems are concentrated here in the territory of Queensland and the Northern parts of New South Wales.
Off the coast of Queensland is the largest coral reef ecosystem on the planet. The Great Barrier Reef is composed of approximately 2,900 independent reef colonies and hundreds of smaller atolls. It is so large that the Great Barrier Reef can be seen from the ISS in space making it the largest naturally made structure. Millions of coral polyps bring life to this rich biodiverse ecosystem that attracts 3 million visitors annually. As a world heritage site and a natural wonder of the world, the reefs here support some of the most diverse forms of aquatic life. Swimming with dolphins, deep sea fishing, grazing with Whale Sharks, gliding with giant Manta Rays, to going scuba diving or snorkelling into the world of finding Nemo.
Not only is this magnificent reef coveted by many tourists, it also holds great significance for the Aboriginal peoples as well who have used the reef and the Torres Strait for 40,000 years. However, as the Earth continues to warm up as a result of human activity, the Great Barrier Reef is under siege by a devastating phenomenon. Coral bleaching has rendered parts of the Great Barrier Reef as barren. As time goes on, more and more efforts are underway to protect this natural wonder of the Earth that holds a special place in the world for tourists and for the Aborigines who hold it sacred like many of the other wondrous sites in the land down under.
The Australian Adventure Awaits
What are you waiting for? Now is the time to save up and go on the adventure of a lifetime to more than just a country. Australia “The Land Down Under” is a continent lost in time. After being isolated from the rest of the world for so long, life developed there in a way like nowhere else in the world. From the world’s oldest rainforest to the world’s longest lasting culture of the Dreamtime, from the unique marsupials and other organisms endemic to only Oz, Australia is a convergence of the prehistoric past with the age of modernity.
If it was not for the European expansion across the world, Australia might have remained a hidden gem until technology came along. While there are many negatives to European colonization and imperialism, the only plus was it made remote and isolated places like Australia accessible to tourists from all over the world and not just one particular group of people who had access. Nevertheless, whenever you do visit the land down under, the ultimate thing is respect for the Aboriginal nations who have lived and cherished the very land that has supported them for nearly 60,000 years dating back to the oldest stone tools and fossils discovered. Exploring the natural wonders of Australia, to learn just how sacred it is to the Aborigines, will allow you to immerse oneself in the culture and beauty of Australia, a land truly like none other.