• The remains of Mungo Man and other ancestors are placed into the Aboriginal hearse by their descendants to make their way home. (NITV News)Source: NITV News
Australia's oldest known human remains are on their way back home to eventually be buried on country. It comes after more than 40 years of being discovered at Lake Mungo.
15 Nov 2017 - 3:06 PM  UPDATED 19 Nov 2017 - 1:20 PM

The smouldering smell of burning gum leaves surrounded the Aboriginal hearse that will carry Australia's oldest human back to country. 

Today, Mungo Man begins his journey back home where he was first discovered. 

For Mutti Mutti Elder Mary Pappin the day couldn't come soon enough. 

"It's been a long road for our people, a lot of our old people have passed on now that started this same fight that we've had. They've left us this legacy," she said. 

Ms Pappin said the day was filled with mixed emotions. 

"We're relieved at the moment, but at the same time it's sad because we know we're going through country, through other people's country, and I know they're all excited for us," she said. 

Mungo Man and about 100 other Aboriginal remains will travel from Canberra to Lake Mungo over the next few days making stops through Wagga Wagga, Hay and Balranald. Traditional Owners of each area will pay their respects and perform traditional ceremonies. 

It comes after more than forty years ago when a young geologist, Dr Jim Bowler, came across the remains of Mungo Man on the banks of Lake Mungo in south-western New South Wales. 

The find dated Mungo Man back 42,000 years. The discovery shocked the scientific world and to this day the remains are the oldest found in Australia. 

Today, an elderly Dr Bowler says he is grateful to continue the journey and finally see Mungo Man home.  

"It gives me great satisfaction to see this occasion in the hands of the traditional people," he said. 

The Mutti Mutti, Paakantyi and Ngyampaa people are the Traditional Owners of the area in which Mungo Man was found. 

Today, their descendants received the remains of Mungo Man and the other Aboriginal people who lived in the Willandra Lakes area, to take their ancestors home. 

Paakantyi Elder Warren Clarke says he's been working on getting the ancestors home for as long as he can remember. 

"It's been an endless struggle, a very emotional one for me. We've been working together with the Ngyampaa mob and the Mutti Mutti mob, we do have our disagreements, but coming together for something like this is very, very important to all of us," he said. 

"I feel it will change how a lot of us work and live in Willandra." 

The journey to get Mungo Man and other ancestors home has been more than 40 years in the making, when Dr Bowler first discovered him in 1974. 

The remains were held at the Australian National University until 2015 before a decision to officially hand back the ancestors back to Traditional Owners. 

ANU Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Professor Richard Baker, said the university apologised to Traditional Owners for the distress their removal caused and the suffering of the ancestors. 

"I renew that apology today and look forward to the healing of our relationships this returning to country will bring," he said. 

"On this historic, sad and solemn occasion we acknowledge that we cannot change the past, but we, of course, have to learn from it. Today marks the beginning of a process of moving forward together in a more respectful way." 

After two years of deliberations, Traditional Owner groups and government decided to take Mungo Man and other ancestors back home for the last time while they lay temporarily at the National Museum of Australia. 

National Museum Director, Dr Mathew Trinca, said the museum has been honoured to play a part in the journey and assist in the historic moment. 

"I know this has been a long road, it's a long road that comes to such an important point for you and I think it extends to all Australians who are moved by this sense of a moment of closure, but also an opening up on a way [to work] together in the future," he said. 

On Friday, the remains will be returned to their ancestral homelands in a special ceremony at Lake Mungo. 

Ngiyampaa Elder Joan Slade said she is glad to finally see the old people come home. 

"It's so good to see so many people here to say goodbye to them. I hope we have a good journey home and thank you for looking after them," she said. 

Mary Pappin says the work to get Mungo Man and ancestors home has been a long journey in itself. 

"The Muthi Muthi's, the Ngiyampaa's and the Paakantyi's have all been working together for a really, really long time, it's not just like two years or something this is going back to the time when these people were discovered and taken away," she said. 

She says First Nations Peoples are still surviving after more than 40,000 years. 

"We should be able to go for another 40,000." 

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