Message From Mungo


Lake Mungo is an ancient Pleistocene lake-bed in south-western New South Wales, and is one of the world’s richest archaeological sites.

Message From Mungo focuses on the interface over the last 40 years between the scientists on one hand, and, on the other, the Aboriginal communities who identify with the land and with the human remains revealed at the site.

This interface has often been deeply troubled and contentious, but within the conflict and its gradual resolution lies a moving story of the progressive empowerment of the traditional custodians of the area.

The film tells a new story that has not been represented in print or film before, and is told entirely by actual participants from both the science and Aboriginal perspectives.

The story focuses on one particular archaeological find – the human remains known generally as “Mungo Lady”.

In 1968, scientist Jim Bowler came across some unusual materials exposed by erosion. Archaeologist Rhys Jones soon identified these as the remains of a young woman who had been given a formal ritual of cremation. The remains were the subject of international academic excitement and debate: claims were made that the remains were as much as 40,000 years old or even older. Lake Mungo became recognised as an archaeological site of world importance.

Through the 1970s and 80s, led by three remarkable Aboriginal women – Alice Kelly, Tibby Briar and Alice Bugmy - and encouraged by archaeologist Isabel McBryde, Aboriginal groups associated with Mungo began to question the work of the scientific community, and became increasingly involved in the management of archaeological work.

In 1992, after much pressure from Aboriginal groups, the remains of Mungo Lady were handed back to the Aboriginal custodians. This hand-back ceremony was a turning point in the relationship between scientists and the local tribal groups.

The film was made over an 8 year period and included extensive consultation with members of the Aboriginal communities at Mungo. The film is rare in that it is a creative collaboration between a professional historian (Prof Ann McGrath from the ANU's Centre for Indigenous History) and a filmmaker (Andrew Pike). The film is radically different in style and intent from any previous film about Mungo.

Mungo Lady was not discovered; she surfaced.

— Ann McGrath, Professor of History and Director of the Australian Centre for Indigenous History at the ANU and co-director of the film

I hope that the film provides a great new link in the understanding of relationships between academics and Aboriginal communities. It deserves wide viewing as an educational and community tool.

— Dr Mary-Jane Mountain, Visiting Fellow in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology, College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University


Release dates
2014 - Australia
18 August 2015 - TV premiere on National Indigenous Television
Video/DVD release date
September 2014
G - general
Ronin Films

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Cite this page

Korff, J 2018, Message From Mungo, <>, retrieved 20 April 2024

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