OXLEY AND BEYOND: From Lake Innes to Lake Mungo
In this virtual tour we take the route across northern New South Wales taken by explorer John Oxley in 1818. But
we travel in reverse direction; from Lake Innes on the Tasman coast up the Hastings River inland to climb onto the
New England Tablelands near Apsley Falls. They are spectacular! Others slightly to the north measure among the
highest in the southern hemisphere. Further to the west, we encounter the Pilliga region behind the coastal ranges.
Then at Dubbo, we leave Oxley’s route, and head out into the western plains toward Cobar. Ann regards this as the
‘real’ New South Wales – the place where she grew up. It is flat – and once the bed of an expansive ancient sea.
The elevation typically falls only a few inches per mile traveled. There is little rain, but a vast aquifer persists below
the alluvial plains. So, colonization by white Australians brought sheep, cattle, rabbits and much desertification.
Since then extensive cropping of wheat and cotton has been added in particular areas. It is fragile, this land!
West of Cobar is the territory of the Ngiyampaa peoples with its treasures of magnificent rock art. Finally, to the
south of Broken Hill we find Lake Mungo. Sand hills eroded as a result of occupation by white man, the sheep and
the rabbits he introduced; reveal an amazing wealth of history. This is one of the cradles of human civilization and
was occupied some 40 to 60 millennia ago. It dried up as the last ice age receded, leaving the indigenous
Australians to cope with steady and inevitable desiccation all around. For me, the ultimate lesson in humility is the
existence of human imprints preserved in the ancient lake bed and dating from around 20,000 BCE. More than 250
footprints, including those of family groups, still mark the edge of this vast ancient lake. The people were tall by our
standards and so apparently well nourished. They had established traditions of ritual burial of their dead – and like
many early human civilizations, they practiced inter-tribal marriage as a basis for genetic strength and also simply
for harmony and preservation of the living history of our kind. Arguably, that civilization was at a similar stage of
development back then as Europe. However, the adverse climate changes drove it surely onto a different course.
No, we should not presume any superiority from the route of development our own forebears followed! Yes, it is
highly appropriate that all Australians have now shaken hands and agreed it is time to build our nation – as one.
8th December 2008