Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 20:46 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 20:46 | SYDNEY

Aussie bogongs, Pommy mice


Graeme Dobell

12 April 2010 09:36

The annual influx of bogong moths gives a certain rustic feel to the house on the hill in the centre of Canberra. The country ambience is in keeping with the robust and sometimes earthy ways of our elected leaders.

The bogong visitation (plague) is an annual example of the law of unintended consequences, in even the most planned environment. Australia spent one billion dollars to build the house with the huge flagpole. But in all that planning, no one factored in the migration of bogongs.

We moved into the new parliament in 1988 and shortly after were joined inside the building by hundreds of thousands of moths. Long afterwards, it was common to open a book or a file and find the carcass of a long-departed bogong. Each year they come back, although these days not as many actually get inside.

The phenomenon even promoted a research paper from the Parliamentary library. I direct you to the delightful paragraph heading: 'Parliament House as a moth trap'. Doesn't that explain much that you previously found strange about Oz politics?

The Parliamentary paper explains that Canberra is on the flight path of the bogongs traveling to the high peaks of the Brindabella Mountains. But like many a political innocent before them, they are distracted from their proper path by the bright promise of the parliament:

Parliament House, built on Capital Hill with its elevated floodlit flagpole and extensive lighting, appears to disrupt the flight of moths migrating through the Canberra area. It acts like a giant light trap. Starting in early October, the Bogong months start congregating around Parliament House, treating it as temporary camp on their way to the mountains….The moths attracted to Parliament House may mass in the nooks and overhangs of windows and courtyards to avoid the light and heat of the day in somewhat the same manner that they naturally aggregate in rock shelters of the mountains.

Just as the bogongs help define parliament for me, now I will always think of mice rather than Big Ben when turning my thoughts to the home of British politics. I am indebted to Gideon Rachman for his column, 'Mice on the loose in Parliament'.

Not only has Gideon a fine line in foreign policy commentary, he also knows deep, droll humour when he sees it. In his column you can click on this link to the House of Lords Hansard for 3 March, where the upper house is getting the low-down on the mice in residence at the Palace of Westminster. As Rachman judges, the debate about mice 'is certainly England at its finest, combining elements of Pinter and Monty Python.' The mouse debate is little more than a single Hansard page, but it deserves a page in the history of dry political wit.

The challenge for me was to come up with an Australian equivalent. I went to my bookcase and found a few more moths as I flicked through various tomes. But everything I found was crumby compared to the cheesy effort of the House of Lords. I settled on Mungo's Australian Political Anecdotes as my best bet. We have nothing like those Oxbridge-flavoured mice. Instead, here is Mungo defining how we do political wit:

The story is told of an early sitting of the Federal Parliament in Melbourne during which a minister was being heckled mercilessly by a member of the Opposition. Eventually the heckler, who was somewhat tired and emotional, gave up and went to sleep in his place, allowing the minister to finish his speech in peace. The minister then walked across the chamber, unbuttoned his fly, and urinated in his tormentor's ear. Hansard is said to have recorded this event as: '(An incident occurred)'.

I have heard this story more than once, but no one has ever been able to give me a name or a date, so it may be no more than a political myth. But if it didn't happen it should have. Here, perhaps, is the ultimate Australian political anecdote; the quintessence of the way the rude colonials adapted the solemnity of the British parliamentary system to suit their own peculiar needs.'

Now that's bogong humour.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.