The ANU Ger, home to Mongolia Institute events

6 December 2022

The Ger is not just a home, but encompasses a feeling that connects me to my Mongolian culture.

If you've been around campus the last few weeks, you might have seen the Ger.  
A Mongolian dwelling, the Ger was gifted to ANU in 2013 by the President of Mongolia at the time and facilitated by the Mongolian Embassy in Canberra, in recognition of the University's commitment to Mongolian studies.

ANU is the only university in the Pacific region to be engaging and teaching Mongolian-oriented courses in language, history and culture.  

A ger, the Mongolian term for house is a tent structure held together by slotting poles together and securing with ropes made from horse hair and knots made from cow hide. More commonly known as a 'yurt', the structure is used as shelter by pastoral nomads and their newborn herd animals across Central Asia. 

Set up to coincide with the inaugural multicultural Immersia festival held over the weekend, the Ger has also held special significance for the Mongolian Embassy in Canberra as this year marks the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Australia and Mongolia.  

Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong marked the milestone by writing how Australia's "business, educational, and people-to-people ties have grown year-on-year since we officially established relations [with Mongolia] on 15 September 1972". 

Dr Uchralt Otede is a Reseach Fellow at the ANU Mongolia Institute, currently working on environmental issues and herders' self-help movements in Inner Mongolia and Mongolia. 

For Uchralt, the ger is an important part of Mongolian cultural identity.  

"I use the ger to teach the next generation about Mongolian culture, including teaching my daughter classical Mongolian script," Uchralt said.  

"The ger is not just a home, but encompasses a feeling that connects me to my Mongolian culture." 

Dr Natasha Fijn, Director of the ANU Mongolia Institute, is an ethnographic researcher and observational filmmaker. With a research team based at the Mongolia Institute, she is researching multispecies Mongolian Medicine, or health and wellbeing across species in Mongolia. 

Natasha explained how Mongolian culture is intricately connected to herd animals as the ger's design is parallel to animals' physiology. 

For instance, the pot belly stove in the centre of the ger is symbolic of an animal's mouth, while the wooden frame can be thought of as an animal's bones, while the felt walls can be thought of as similar to the insulating fat of the herd animal. Both herd animals and the architectural design of the ger are uniquely adapted for the high altitude, arid and extreme environmental conditions of the Mongolian Plateau. 

"During the Immersia festival, we featured Mongolian language, aspects of Mongolian cultural heritage and a storytelling workshop inside the Ger. As part of the festival's open day, guests were able to view calligraphy and traditional Mongolian attire and partake in Mongolian games. The Ambassador to Mongolia's ten-year-old son was also in attendance and the participants had the opportunity to hear him play the morin khuur (also known as the horse-head fiddle)." 

The Ger will again return as a mobile space for events and workshops in 2023. 

For more information about the ANU Mongolia Institute, please visit https://mongoliainstitute.anu.edu.au/. 

Story by Pamela Hutchinson