Bogong Dreaming

Bogong moth.

Bogong moth

Swarms of Bogongs descend on our national capital every year—and yes,  I’m referring to the brown and black moths, agrotis infusa, not to be confused with the  Bogan,  flannie  mulleti,  your typical  spectator at Canberra’s  Summernats festival of The Burning Rubber.

Just before we began our road trip to Canberra this mid-winter, we heard the bodies of two snowboarders had been dug out from under four metres of snow after an avalanche ended their lives on Victoria’s Mt Bogong. It is to these  alps, and the high country of the Snowy Mountains in NSW,  that every spring the moths in their millions  follow their songlines.  They have been doing this for thousands of years.

Bogongs bug the hell out of politicians every October (balcony doors cannot be opened, nor mouths so much). Despite Australia’s  best efforts to consign them to the same fate as the swarming Passenger Pigeon of America, they just keep on keeping on and doing what Bogongs (and Bogans) do best:   Eat, root and die. (One larrikin Bogong famously landed on Yvonne Kenny, mid-song, at the Sydney Olympics Closing Ceremony, and in 1865, Bogong moths invaded a church in Sydney, causing a service to be abandoned).

Our destination is the elegant National Library of Australia on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin.  If there’s a finer building in Canberra I haven’t seen it. Its classical marble columns announce the structure as a Temple of Learning, a repository of all wisdom, one might say.  ‘It’s the place we keep our culture’, at least that’s what the schoolteacher was telling the little Aboriginal girls  on a tour group  I later encountered. ‘Now who can tell me what culture means . . .’ he asked.


In nearby Reconciliation Place is Judy  Watson’s  Fire and Water sculpture, which ranks as one of my best experiences of public art.  Up close is a rusty steel bower which appears to me to be cradling the body of a seal. I learn that the esteemed artist  was in part representing the annual feasting that took place around the gathering stone when dilly bags swelled with fat, juicy Bogongs that sizzled on hot hearthstones.

The deaths of those  two snowboarders ‘living their dream’ on Victoria’s highest peak had again reminded me never to take a day for granted.   But there was a simpler, sadder omen the day we went away.

A lonely bush grave. Photo: Robert Crawford

A lonely bush grave.
Photo: Robert Crawford

This is where they found the body of an Aboriginal woman, dead beside her flimsy tent after bitterly cold weather set in. She was 45 and had 10 children apparently.  A closer look at the remarkable photo published in the South Coast Register shows how the dead woman lived in what the police called a humpy,  just off the beaten track near Bomaderry Creek,  a few metres from mown grass, warm houses and full bellies. She is one of our homeless, sleeping rough. Local shelters have since warned there will be more deaths as harsh budget cuts bite deep.

I don’t know her name but she made me feel blessed for my life and opportunities, and that, but for the grace of God, there go I. She also made me feel ashamed that we turn our backs on our own people, and it is a disgrace. Poor Fellow My Country, indeed.

The time has come the Walrus said . . . In Canberra, I had to submit to using a wheelchair for the first time. Even portable oxygen is not enough to keep pace with the able-bodied.   One of my dearest, oldest friends in the world gave us the Platinum  tour of the library including  behind-the-scenes access, where automated drones fetch reader requests from the vast mileage of stacks. (And lest you think librarians shy and retiring, their staff noticeboard betrayed a big interest in Roller Derby meets).

Life with lung disease has made outings rarer, but more memorable.  My ‘new normal’ is one in which I cannot enjoy as much art  and culture as I would like, but somehow, what I encounter is more sacred for its scarcity. Feast and famine, same as it always was. I cannot change the wind,  but I can adjust my sail.

And just like the First People, I feast when the moths are rising.

Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu Wiyathul

6 thoughts on “Bogong Dreaming

  1. I love the idea of our politicians disappearing under the black cloud of Bogong moths as it descends on Canberra, but fortuitously providing a tasty feast for the local indigenous people. That’s the only free meal they’ll get out of Canberra. It was tremendously sad to hear of the death of that homeless woman so close to my own home. Those of us living in comfortable suburbia can forget that it takes only a few, small steps onto the wrong side of the tracks to free fall right out of society and our heartless Federal government is gradually eliminating the safety net for these people.
    Good to hear your enjoyed your visit to the National Library, Bar, despite (or maybe because of) having to use a wheelchair: no aching feet after that brush with culture. Btw, I wonder how the young indigenous children would define “our culture” and what on earth they expected to see when they went inside?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Barbara, A very interesting post, very thoughtful; inspires even. You touched a lot of nerves. From moths to the plight of the homeless, further to your own use of a wheelchair for the 1st time. We here in the States do a rather shabby job of taking care of our own homeless, while doing a damn fine job of taking care of those that enter our country illegally. Hard to figure why an illegal has more rights, more protection, more medical attention that our own homeless, including our veterans, it makes no sense. I see so many parallels. You know we are on the same path, and it seems it really depends on the day as to who may have the lead. Good read, take care, be safe. Bill

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you Bill, and hello. We are enjoying spring-like weather already.
    My partner is relieved I’m agreeing to use a wheelchair. I don’t want to be one of those chronically ill people who inflict their pride on others, usually our loved ones. But it’s still another marker on the journey, isn’t it?
    Talk again soon, my friend.x

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Barbara, good morning my dear friend, I think it is wonderful that the 2 of you have come to an accommodation regarding the use of the wheelchair. I believe it took a tremendous amount of courage on your part for accepting the use and the same of your partner for suggesting the ride. That is a major step, and it appears you have done so with much dignity. And you absolutely are correct it is indeed a significant marker. One I am fighting tooth and nail, I have not yet quite mustered your courage, I am so proud of you Barbara. But I also do now wish to become “that” individual that inflicts their pride on their friends and love one. Barbara you do inspire me. Please take care, Bill


  5. Dear Barb, Chris has given me your blog details. So pleased to be able to read your thoughts and news. You always were a wonderful writer and I see it continues.
    Love to you and Frances


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