Jaithmathang Senior Elder, Loreman and Songman, Goengalla Jumma Myermyal Minjeke looks out over Yerto (meaning land/country high up) while standing on Mt Loch and reflects on a separation from Jaithmathang Original Country that has lasted generations. Mt Loch is within Shared Yerto of the GunaiKurnai and Jaithmathang Original Peoples’ Country.
Goengalla Jumma said, “You know in 1830 there was a population of more than 600 Jaithmathang Original People living in our isolated pristine Yerto Alpines, in our Mountain Ranges and on our fertile High Plains Country”.
“By the early 1850s our population was decimated and there were only a handful of our people left; there was the arrival and occupation by pastoralists and miners, and then the numerous massacres and killings. The last few Jaithmathang who were left were removed away from our Country to other surrounding settlements. It was actually highlighted in historical information that we were all deceased”.
Goengalla Jumma said the Jaithmathang acknowledge and are highly respectful of Kurnai Senior Elder Russell Mullett and his role as Spiritual Caretaker and Customary and Cultural Educator of Jaithmathang Country during their absence.
A series of visits in April and May this year to the Alpine region of north east Victoria is key to helping Goengalla Jumma and Senior Elder Goengalla Goro Konermar Wotter, from the Jaithmathang Traditional Ancestral Bloodline Original Owners First Nation Aboriginal Corporation (TABOO) rekindle their Spiritual Belonging to their Jaithmathang Ancient Sacred Yerto Mountains and High Plains Country.
They made the journey from Greater Sydney to Mount Hotham through a landscape-scale project supported by the North East Catchment Management Authority (CMA) through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.
The invitation extended to the Jaithmathang Senior Elders reflects an increasing commitment by Government to recognise and be inclusive of the needs of First Nation Original People’s Customary and Cultural knowledge as a priority.
The two Senior Elders, assisted by the Mount Hotham Alpine Resort Management Board, journeyed to their Yerto and the top of Mount Loch; the site of one of the largest Mountain Pygmy-Possum populations in the Southern Alps.
It is one of many Yerto Sacred Places where GunaiKurnai and Jaithmathang Ancestors once gathered for their annual migration to share in feasting of the Bogong moth and for sacred ceremonies.
As the wind and silence of the mountains gently caresses the group, Goengalla Jumma continues: “Our customary rights and cultural responsibilities included land management of our shared Yerto and the caring of our Sacred Totemic fauna and flora which are as sacramental to us as is our water as we are all one”.
“This spiralling decline of our Mountain Pygmy-possum has been of a great concern to us all and should be for every Australian. This beautiful little creature lives in the Yerto rocks of the high mountains – the same place where our Totemic Bogong moth used to come in vast numbers to rest from the heat of the plains every summer.”
The Jaithmathang Elders and GunaiKurnai Elders sadly understand the dwindling numbers of Bogong moth is connected to the decline of the Mountain Pygmy-possum.
“The female possum needs the Bogong moth as her critical food source to provide the nutritious milk to raise her babies. In recent years, a condition known as Pouch Young Litter Loss has seen deaths of up to 95 per cent of possum young in a single season. Our other Totemic Brothers, Crow and Currawong also feasted on the Bogong moth and would show us where the moths were living.
“As Jaithmathang we are the traditional gatekeepers of the Yerto Alpine region including Mt Bogong, Mt Jaithmathang, also the Kiewa and Mitta Mitta Valleys, the Yerto Cobberas Mountain Range, the headwaters of the Murray River and Country on the southern side of the Murray River; also Mt Hotham with GunaiKurnai as shared Yerto. Together we have managed this pristine environment and region since time immemorial before colonisation.
“Permission had to be sought from other Original Nations wanting to participate in the annual Bogong ceremonies and feasting. Those Nations to the west of Jaithmathang would gather at Mungabareena (Albury) for their annual ceremonies that included initiations, marriages, arrangements, trading of weapons and goods, settling of disputes and the renewal of alliances.
“The Elders and their families of the other nations who were granted permission, after their initial ceremonies, to attend the Jaithmathang Yerto Sacred Bogong Ceremonies would gather at the base of Mt Bogong (Mt Beauty) and other significant designated Sacred Gathering Places.
“The invited Elders and their warriors were met at these designated gathering places and then escorted by Jaithmathang Yin (Initiated Warriors) along traditional ceremonial pathways into Jaithmathang Yerto Bogong High Country to conduct sacred ceremonies and to feed on the protein-rich Bogong moth.
“Given the richness of the Bogong moths as a food source preserved Bogong moth cakes were a very valuable item and Jaithmathang Elders made sure no-one took more than what they needed.”
Goengalla Jumma said Hotham is in the Dargo/Dairgo GunaiKurnai Yerto Country and borders with Jaithmathang. To join Jaithmathang, the GunaiKurnai would send a smoke signal from Mount Hotham to indicate they were present.
“We Jaithmathang would send a smoke signal to allow access to the GunaiKurnai and greet them on Mount Bundara Munjee now called Mt Jim. GunaiKurnai were given songs and spiritual guidance by Jaithmathang Elders including acceptance of intermarriage.
“It’s so great this funding was made available to assist us in making this journey home to the places where our Original Ancestors breathed, walked, sang, danced and passed on Lore and once again be able to tend, care for and harvest our Bogong moths.”
Through the Mountain Pygmy-possum Recovery Project, First Nations people will be asked to co-design opportunities to help bring about reconnection and build interest and care for their Country.
The Jaithmathang TABOO Senior Elders have been making regular journeys to the region, including attending an Alpine Ecology Workshop on 1 May at Dinner Plain.
“We’re starting to make more regular trips to our Mung (Mother) Country – our Mung is calling us, recognising us and being more accepting of us and she is waiting patiently for her children to return,” Goengalla Jumma said.
“We are continuing to positively engage with Victorian Government agencies who have dedicated staff and others who reside, work, and have common strategies and passions for working with us towards bringing the balance back to our Sacred Jaithmathang ancient living landscape.
“In the future we wish to see the funding provided by projects like the Mountain Pygmy-possum Recovery Project create opportunities for our youth and adults alike; including supporting their return and individual spiritual reconnection – to be recognised and accepted by Mung Country and of our Old People.”
The Mountain Pygmy Possum Recovery Project is supported by the North East CMA and Mount Hotham Resort Management, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.
Photograph by permission from Georgina Boardman, Mt Hotham Resort Management.