Mountain Journal has published a number of stories in recent years about the fact that Jaithmathang Original Country elders are returning to the mountains to reconnect with their Yerto (meaning land/country high up).
As Jaithmathang Senior Elder, Loreman and Songman, Goengalla Jumma Myermyal Minjeke said in 2021, “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”.
Now reconnection is happening. This story comes from Karina Miotto and Goengallayin Jumma Jumma.
A BRIEF STORY OF A REMARKABLE HISTORICAL GATHERING
Jaithmathang Traditional Ancestral Bloodline descendants, invited scientists and significant others to gather for the first time to protect the Victorian Alps
The Victorian Alps. Ancient Jaithmathang Bimble (Country). Popular for its snow-covered mountains, and one of Australia’s top tourist destinations. A very delicate ecosystem threatened by several vectors, the main one being climate change closely followed by environmental mismanagement. Already there are signs of change. Faced with this challenge, what is there to do? How can it be protected?
An answer first emerged during an informal meeting between Jaithmathang senior elders and scientists in November 2021. For everyone at the time this was a blank page ‘but let’s at least start the conversation’. Nobody knew the outcome of a few days together in the Alps. Until a big question arose: if everyone loves this place, then how to protect it?
One answer emerged from a very special gathering which took place high in the mountains in March 2022. A coming together of 35 people, between traditional owner senior elders with bloodline descendants and invited scientists, was held to exchange information about the demise of the ancient Jaithmathang Bimble environment and it’s sacred totemic fauna and flora species and habitats, in a mutual movement of listening and of sharing of spiritual, cultural and scientific information. The group then walked along the ancient paths created by the first Jaithmathang’s across the high mountains of Mt Jim, Mt McKay and Mt Cope, near Falls Creek in Victoria, learning from one another.
One of the topics of the meeting was the identification and acknowledgement of the dramatic decrease in the number of Bogong Moths that arrive in the region each spring, especially since 2015. Only 15 years ago, the scenario was completely different. There were plenty of these insects, which migrated from the lowlands to the mountains in their millions every year. Today, it is no longer like that.
Jaithmathang traditional cultural knowledge along with science have the power to build important solutions to what is happening in Jaithmathang country.
Uncle Goengallayin Jumma Jumma Myermyal Minkele, Senior Elder and Senior Loreman Songman said, “our old people were the spiritual gatekeepers and cultural caretakers of our Bimble on Mung Tyerr (Mother Earth) and we have returned to again take up these responsible roles after a long absence. Our Bimble and Mung Tyerr has been waiting patiently for us, her children, so we can again be guided to speak on her behalf.”
“Everyone comes from a different point of view and mindset, but what all of us have in common is care for country. It’s an atmosphere of mutual respect”, commented Ian Mansergh, wildlife ecologist that was part of the gathering. According to Monash University researcher Lynne Kelly, in an interview conducted with the ABC News, 70% of indigenous songs are knowledge about animals, plants and seasonality—”the sort of information you need to survive and know that environment backwards”, she said.
Bogong Moths are a major food source for Sacred Totemic animals including crows, currawongs, smaller birds, micro-bats. To the Jaithmathang, they are culturally important in Sacred Ceremonies and represent a significant social connection with other invited First Nations Elders surrounding Jaithmathang Bimble and beyond.
Bogong Moth’s are also the main food source for the Konermar Whyjun (Jaithmathang traditional name for Mountain Pygmy Possum), which is an endemic species that is critically endangered and only found in the Alpine areas of Victoria and New South Wales. They are the only Australian marsupial that hibernates, spending up to seven months asleep under the snow.
The decline of Bogong Moths, which results in the Konermar Whyjun actually starving to death, and as well as the privatisation of water resources, bushfires and climate change were some of the topics discussed by the group. “We change the climate, we change the timing of events, such as the flowering of plants, emerging of certain insects and this is the threat. Mountain Pygmy Possums are a case study, but once one species is being impacted, all others may be”, explains Dean Heinze, wildlife biologist.
According to the State of the Climate 2020 report, co-developed with the Bureau of Meteorology, the Alps have increased in temperature 0.9 °C since 1910. Predictions say that between 2005 and 2030 temperatures may increase by up to 1.3 °C. If this happens, it will dry the entire ecosystem, making it even more susceptible to bushfires. “The tolerance of plants will be exceeded, and some will disappear to extinction”, explains John Morgan, botanist and teacher at La Trobe University.
“Experts predicted that most Alpine vegetation communities would decline in extent by 2050; only woodlands and heathlands are predicted to increase in extent”, says a scientific article published in 2021 in the scientific journal Global Change Biology. This means that, in worst-case scenario, the unique Alpine ecosystems may completely disappear, replaced by the forests that currently grow further down the mountain. Some plants are already disappearing from places they once grew.
“In some parts of the Alps, compared to 40 years ago, snow has completely disappeared. Significant changes are happening and nobody is noticing. If no one notices it, no one cares to do something about it. We need to take action now”, affirms John.
Scientists explained the significant changes they have observed in the ecosystem, and Jaithmathang Traditional Owners added to the scientific knowledge by bringing their spiritual and cultural belonging knowledge and connection to their Bimble. Jaithmathang people and scientists shared openness and a high capacity for listening to nature and to one another.
“This was the most significant gathering I’ve seen in the Victorian Alps in the last 30 years. I am really impressed with the number of women on country, so many young people and the elders. We couldn’t imagine this 25 years ago. I am glad I am part of it”, says Rudi Pleschutschnig, biologist and, for two decades, a park ranger in the Alpine National Park.
“Being back to country is what is important to me”, said Uncle Russell Mullett, senior elder from the Gunaikurnai Nation. “Caring for country is, after all, caring for ourselves”.
On the last day of the gathering, Uncle Goengallayin Jumma Jumma was sitting under the trees amongst the group, sharing a few words. Everyone was in silence, listening to him. Tears and smiles of joy could be seen on people’s faces.
An atmosphere of completion of a very important, historical and remarkable first step was completed and an undeniable feeling of responsibility and gratitude was in the air. Mission accomplished, everybody is now ready for the next steps.
The group is looking forward to inviting and adding future participants and collaborators to the crew. After all, one’s country is literally the common ground that validates one’s true identity and belonging by their ancestorial creator and for the sharing with respectful others whom either reside in or are just visiting. As Goengallayin Jumma Jumma humbly shared, “We don’t own the land. The land owns us”.
Jaithmathang Traditional Ancestral Bloodline Original Owner descendants are now returning back to their Bimble to reconnect with their Ancestors and Birthright Belonging and will be working together with respected scientists in protecting their sacred totemic fauna and flora species and habitats in their currently endangered but still beautiful Alpine region of Victoria. There is more to come. This is the wish of the land.
Photo: Jaithmathang TABOO Senior Elders, Goengalla Jumma Myermyal Minjeke (left) and Goengalla Goro Konermar Wotter with Jaithmathang Bimble in background (‘Bimble’ in Jaithmatang language meaning tribal lands).
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