Bogong Moth: history and climate change

I first learnt of the importance of the bogong moth in Alpine Aboriginal society in 1973. As my studies were primarily on frontier conflict I did not write anything further on this until about 1990. In one of the essays I republished in a little booklet entitled Notes on Victorian Alpine Aborigines (1997) I wrote the following.

“The bogong moths were seasonally abundant and harvested from the crevices of granite boulders in the high country. Early European observers were obviously intrigued by this unusual example of insectivorous man and some made written references to the various aspects of gathering and cooking. As the Omeo Plains appears to have been one of the main congregating points both prior to, and during, the moth season the practice has consequently been closely associated with the Jaitmathang (Omeo tribe)…

“But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the moth season was the large numbers of Aboriginals observed on the Omeo Plains, with estimates as high as one thousand along the upper reaches of the Mitta Mitta River. These figures indicate a seasonal movement of associated tribes and allies into Jaitmathang territory. They also suggest co-operation in moth gathering and common camping places. Whilst the moth season tends to show that borders, as we understand them, were almost non-existent between friendly and related tribes, all group and individual activities were probably closely governed and directed by custom.” (p.5)

There can be no doubt that the bogong moth* was a very important food item in all the Aboriginal groups with access to the high country including four of the Kurnai tribes. But beyond the historical Koori connection I had done no further work until the recent reports in the main stream media of the catastrophic collapse of their population (see here and here) the articles of which I summarised here.

The moth has obviously survived for millennia including bad droughts. But the droughts are now longer, harsher and more frequent as the planet warms. As well science is yet to establish when warming first commenced in our region as a result of the enhanced Greenhouse effect**. Perhaps the 1898 fires in south Gippsland and the Federation drought were early local events influenced by global warming? On top of this the breeding grounds of the moth have seen a massive expansion of cropping and many larvae must fall victim to chemical sprays. Time will only tell whether the bogong moth numbers will recover but as many animals and insects are now struggling with one degree of warming how they will cope with a further degree or more is foreboding.

*see Flood, J. The Moth Hunters of the Australian Capital Territory (1996) pp.12-17 for more detail.

**Joelle Gergis in a Sunburnt Country revealed human induced warming in the northern hemisphere commenced as early as the 1830s (p.167).