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A story of Creation

Michael McVeigh  |  14 October 2019

In the beginning, according to one version of the Creation story, God breathed the Word into the void and there was Energy and there was Space. 

As the Word echoed through the new infinity, Energy became Matter, and the stars were born. Out of the dust around those stars came planets, and on those planets there were solid and liquid and gaseous elements, including water. 

Around 4 billion years ago, the echo of the Word was felt in the waters of one of those planets. Matter became Conscious, and the first creature searched for sustenance. 

Some time around 400 million years ago, the echo of the Word was felt again, and Consciousness first ventured out of the oceans onto the rocky lands, finding new ways to sustain itself. 

Then, around 40 thousand years ago, a Man sat by a fire on the shore of the lake he called home. The Word would not be made human for another 38,000 years, but it still echoed in his heart. He had his own names for it, his own story on how it came to echo there.

The Man looked up to the sky and all the things in Creation and saw that it was Good. 

STORY OF THE LAND

It wasn’t any human story that first drew Jim Bowler to the dried shores of Lake Mungo back in 1968, but the story of the land.

He was a geologist, and what fascinated him was climate change. He wanted to know how Australia came to be home to such huge deserts with no mobile sand dunes, and how the waterless salt lakes were created. The large basins in the Lake Mungo area could be used as a type of ‘rain gauge’, to see the evidence of where the water used to be.

However, as he mapped the ancient shorelines, he began to see signs of something far more significant than he first expected.

‘Walking around the shoreline, I kept finding evidence of flake stones, of fresh water shells high on the dune where they should not have been. They had to be carried there’, he says.

Soon after he found the first major piece of evidence of human settlement in the area – the cremated remains of Mungo Lady. A few years later, he made another significant discovery, finding the body of Mungo Man – not cremated this time, but intact.

OWN CREATION STORY

The Man’s people had their own Creation story. It had been passed down to them from generation to generation from when their ancestors first walked on this land in the Dreamtime.

Their story echoed in the landscape around them. The area that would come to be known as Lake Mungo was created to give them life. The lake provided shellfish and other fish, the local area provided animals to hunt, including larger mammals that would eventually disappear from the land forever.

When the Man died, his body was laid to rest in the ground along with his other ancestors. His people covered his body in red ochre, sourced from a far off land. There was a large ceremonial fire, and cleansing ceremonies that would remain part of local Aboriginal culture right up till today.

There was no cathedral save for the stars overhead, but this ritual took place 35,000 years before God first spoke to Abraham at the beginning the time of the Prophets. The Man’s people didn’t need to build a Temple – the land itself held their story.

For thousands of years, through hundreds of generations, the Man rested in the ground while his descendants continued to keep alive their stories even as the land itself transformed. Around 20,000 years ago an Ice Age came and the climate changed. The waters of the lakes dried up and the deserts expanded. The Man’s people moved on to more fertile areas, but their stories were preserved.

Three Aboriginal tribal groups maintained a relationship with the region – the Paakantji, the Ngiampaa and the Mutthi Mutthi people. The home of the Paakantji extended along the Darling River, from the floodplains and waterways north of Broken Hill to the Victorian border. The Ngiampaa inhabited the drier and rockier lands east of the Darling River. While the Mutthi Mutthi lived around the Murray, Murrumbidgee and Lachlan Rivers.

But after 40 millennia the land was disturbed. New settlers came to live there, and those who held the stories of the people were displaced. From his resting place, the Man sensed this change in the land.

And so, it is told, the Man decided it was time that he revealed himself so those stories could be shared again.

EXPLORING THE REGION

There were no Aboriginal people living in the area around Lake Mungo when Jim Bowler was first exploring the region. That the remains were taken away for study without consultation would prove a painful issue for the local tribal people.

‘I’m the geologist – I find the bones, I don’t remove them. But of course, I have to take partial responsibility for that action’, says Jim.

‘When the media celebrated the importance of the discovery, the Aboriginal people came back and said, “Hey, you scientists you are doing what science has done to us in the past – dispossessed our dignity and robbed us of our ancestry”.’

The remains of Mungo Lady were eventually returned in 1993, and have been laid to rest again. But the study of Mungo Man’s remains continued until the early 2000s (when scientists finally came to a consensus on the age of the remains). They were finally returned in 2017.

‘The return of Mungo Man was a very healing ceremony for the Aboriginal people and for all of us’, Jim says.

Aboriginal people have taken on a large role in preserving the area where the remains were found, Mungo National Park. It is now recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Mutthi Mutthi, the Paakantji and the Ngiyampaa share in the management. They have established respectful procedures for dealing with any other remains that are found.

Mungo Man’s remains have been buried, but a final decision on what to do with them is yet to be made. Weathering makes returning them to ground impractical, and many want a shrine of some sort established. But for the moment, Mungo Man is at least back in the land that first sustained him.

FORCE OF SERENDIPITY

What is the story that Mungo Man came through the ages to share with us? That’s something that Jim Bowler, now 89, has been grappling with for many years.

There is some serendipity in the fact that it was Jim who discovered the remains in the first place. He was born on the land himself, the son of an Irish fisherman turned pastoralist. His father, he says, was ‘mystified by the land we lived in’ and talked about it often with Jim.

Having been deeply influenced by his education with the Marist Brothers, Jim went to the seminary for a year, but then dropped out and returned to the farm. After ten years on the land, he left to study geology at Melbourne University, and while there joined up with the Newman Society. It was there he started reading the writings of Jesuit author Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, opening up a new way of seeing the universe, creation and the relationship between humanity and God through Christ.

‘The notion that the Creator, the author of evolution, should so identify with humanity, with the last phase of evolution. That was such an immense shock’, he says.

Given these experiences and insights, it might then be no surprise that Jim might find himself in the midst of the discovery of Mungo Man and his people just a few years later. He has brought to the study an appreciation of the spiritual story of the people buried Mungo Man in the land so long ago, and how it connects with our own Catholic story.

‘Mungo Man was connected to the cosmos, out there under the sun and the stars. Aboriginal people today are connected to country – and in that connection, they are connected to the spirit world that created the land on which they live’, says Jim.

‘Aboriginal people have so much to tell us in understanding our connection to creation, to divinity, our creator, and the Incarnation, which has empowered humanity in our connection to each other, to the land and to God.’

ONE AT THE END

According to another version of the creation story, there was never any separation between God, the heavens, the land and the people. All of these things were one in the beginning, all are still one, and all will be one at the end.

In this story, what distinguishes the Word that speaks to us through Christ, and the story and traditions that Mungo Man and his people shared through the millennia? What echoes did they perceive when they looked at creation that we supposedly ‘enlightened’ people have lost the ability to perceive?

Perhaps more practically, how can the traditions of people who survived the last ice age help us face the climate changes that await us over the next century? What connections existed in their relationship to creation that we have since lost?

Mungo Man has brought our attention back to the stories that we’ve neglected for too long. The time has come for us to listen, so we can learn from that wisdom again.

For more about Mungo Man and Mungo Lady, and the stories of the Aboriginal tribal groups in that region, go to www.visitmungo.com.au.

Image: Geologist Jim Bowler prepares to speak during the Lake Mungo ceremony to welcome the return of the 40,000 year old remains of Mungo Man and ancestors on November 17, 2017 in Mungo National Park, Australia. (Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

 

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