Story of Bogong moth feasts brings Indigenous language into schools

A children’s book about an annual trip to Victoria’s high country to feast on Bogong moths is introducing an Aboriginal language that has not been spoken fluently since the 19th century into schools and kindergartens in the state’s north-east.

Bijil Ba Wudhi Deberra: Bijil and Moths is the first book written for children in Taungurung and English. With a grant from the Murrindindi Council, the book’s author, Aunty Loraine Padgham, has provided copies to 45 kindergartens and primary schools.

“We need to develop resources to talk to the kids about language in a meaningful way,” Padgham, a Taungurung elder, told The Age.

The annual moth harvest, which, according to recent archaeological evidence, goes back at least 2000 years, provided First Nations people who lived near the high country with the occasion for ceremony and trade.

“It was a widespread activity during summer because it was cooler up there and the moths were delicious,” Padgham said.

“It wasn’t just Taungurung – it was Gunaikurnai, Woiwurrung. It was a trading opportunity, an opportunity for marriage ceremonies or to go up there and see family members they haven’t seen for the past year,” Padgham said.

Bogong moths are high in fat and were prepared in a number of ways, from cooking on a fire to grinding down into a protein-rich paste, which was roasted in cakes or smoked to preserve it for weeks ahead.

The idea for the book came to Padgham during Victoria’s COVID-19 lockdowns, and it was at first just an exercise to practice translating simple sentences into Taungurung. It quickly developed into a comic, drawn by Padgham’s husband, and published in a newsletter by the Taungurung Land and Water Council.

Read more: The Sydney Morning Herald

‘The embodiment of everything’: Preserving the language of Indigenous Victorians

Mandy Nicholson was in her early 20s when she found a book containing singular Woiwurrung words. It was the first time the Wurundjeri woman had seen her traditional language in print and it became, she says, the beginning of her “language journey”.

It was a bumpy start. Her first attempts to learn those words were “totally wrong”.

“I tried my best to learn how to say them, but I had no idea. I was reading it the English way,” she says.

“Looking back, I was totally wrong in what I was doing. As years went by I got more and more involved in First Language education, because I wanted to learn how to say these words properly, how to use Woiwurrung in context today rather than like an ancient language only used in the past.”

The restoration and preservation of Indigenous languages has attracted considerable popular interest over the past two decades. Great effort – although too often under-resourced – has gone into reawakening many threatened First Languages after they have sat dormant for a century or more.

Community language centres have appeared, as have school programs, workshops and camps; there have been several well-received films with dialogue entirely in traditional “lingo”; and requests are regularly submitted to language holders for permission and assistance to use traditional local words for everything from new buildings to new boats, clothes labels to reconciliation action plans.

Read more: The Age