The Walls of China at Lake Mungo
Before the gastronomic delights of Chinese New Year and the stunning (literally!) hail storm in Melbourne, I was sharing with you some photographs from our driving tour to Broken Hill. On the second day, we arrived in Mildura and quickly set about driving out to Lake Mungo, the remains of a large lake that dried out about 14,000 years ago about 100 km north-east of Mildura on the mighty Murray River. We had been a little concerned about the drive to Lake Mungo, especially as the owner of the motel we checked into was confident that we wouldn’t make it in our Peugeot, but we asked the staff at the Mildura visitor centre and they were very optimistic. As it turned out, the dirt road had just been graded and was the most luxurious and safe unsealed road I’ve ever driven on. The ladies at the visitor centre confided that they drive on it at over 100 km/h, but we stuck to a calmer 70.
I mentioned in my post about the Pink Lakes near Ouyen that the whole south-east corner of Australia was in the middle of a heat wave. Well, today was no exception – it felt like the temperature was 50 degrees, and after ten minutes I would have been sweating profusely if not for the oven-like dryness of the air. The Walls of China is the name given to the huge sand dune that has collected on the east side of the lake; over ten millenia the dry surface of the lake has been scooped up and deposited along its edge, where it has built up into a fascinating set of sculptures and a truly surreal landscape. On the lee side of the dune, the ground is pure sand, and in the intense heat, every step was exhausting; the demoralising effect of the conditions made me very quickly understand the common trope of people lost in the desert losing their sanity and just giving up. I found myself thinking carefully about the path I walked, as each step down, as enticing as it seemed, just meant another step later. As I write this description, it seems melodramatic and impossible, but the experience was simply overwhelming, while at the same time exhilarating – the Lake Mungo environment is completely unlike any I had previously encountered.
I was conflicted when developing these photographs – turning up the saturation produced some beautifully rich red soil and blue skies, but that isn’t how the landscape looked today, and I really want to show you the scenes as we saw them: intensely bright and scarily dry, but starkly beautiful. Perhaps later I’ll post some “glamour” treatments for comparison.
We didn’t stay at the Walls of China for the sunset, as we didn’t want to drive back to Mildura in the dark, but the sun was so strong that as it dropped near the horizon it was blinding and we had to pull over and wait for it to set. Even that forced pause yielded a beautifully warm scene of what we think was freshly cut wheat, so we were happy to wait.