Where the Bloody Hell are Yurt?
By Brandon How
Since its arrival in 2016, the ANU Mongolia Institute’s Ger, commonly known as “the Yurt”, has been a delight to students whenever it graces us with its presence. The Ger appears to be set up intermittently – and seemingly at random – but has yet to appear for 2020. A University spokesperson reassured Observer that it will return “as soon as social distancing measures and the University’s schedule allow”. However, a quick delve into the history of the Ger suggests that this will still be some time away.
A Mongolian ger is a round, tent-like structure similar to other yurts traditionally used by the nomadic nations of Eurasia. The wooden structure is covered in felt and held together by rope, and may be adorned by intricate carvings and paintings. The production of a ger has traditionally been a family affair, built by the household themselves. In 2013, UNESCO officially added the “traditional craftsmanship of the Mongol Ger and its associated customs” to the ‘Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’.
The Ger was a gift on behalf of the then Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, in recognition of the University’s contributions to Mongolian Studies, and in support of the ANU Mongolia Institute. It was officially assembled and presented to the ANU on 24 March 2016 by the Mongolian Ambassador to Australia, Batlai Chuluunhuu, and State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Damba Gankhuyag. Chuluunhuu even helped in the initial assembly of the Ger. The ceremony was originally scheduled for 21 March 2016, but was postponed due to rain and excess wind.
The ceremony marked nearly a decade of cooperation between the Director of the ANU Mongolia Institute, Professor Li Narangoa, and the Mongolian Embassy. Currently, ANU is the only university in Australia to offer Mongolian Studies as a minor, as well as the only university in Australia to own a traditional ger.
The Ger typically remains for three weeks after it has been set up, and is usually open to the public daily from 9am to 5pm. A student-run website, “whereistheyurt.com”, was established in May 2016 to track its whereabouts, though it is no longer active.
Since its construction, the Ger has been set up for “student orientation days and other major events”, according to the University. Usually, it is set up in the grassy area between the Chancellery building and the Coombs building, where it is stored when not in use.
In April 2016, the ANU Mongolia Institute hosted a Mongolian costume day, welcoming over 50 visitors to try traditional outfits loaned by the Mongolian community in Canberra. The Ger has also made appearances around the Union Court (now Kambri) Bridge, as a part of ANU’s annual Open Day. Throughout the Open Day event, visitors were able to attend language and calligraphy workshops. At the 2017 Open Day, an Indonesian Zumba workshop was held within the Ger.
At the start of 2017, a three-week summer session course called ‘Special Topics in Asian Studies: Introductory Mongolian Summer School’ used the Ger as a classroom. This course has since been discontinued; a university spokesperson said that all Mongolian language courses have been taught “primarily online” since 2017. Enrolment to these courses is also available via Open University Australia. Despite this, the University has confirmed that “the Ger will continue to be used for occasional class sessions”.
In July 2017, it featured as a part of the ANU Mongolia Institute’s bi-annual ‘Mongolia Update’. The ‘Mongolia Update’ is a one-day public event for those interested in the developments of “Mongolia’s politics, economics, society, culture and environment”. According to the Mongolian Embassy, “participants and visitors enjoyed the Mongolian ger, cultural performances and photo exhibition displaying Mongolian nature and way of life”.
Unfortunately for keen Ger-enthusiasts, it was not until late November 2019 that it was to make its next appearance, once more as part of the ANU Mongolia Institute’s bi-annual ‘Mongolia Update’. This took place after the end of the Semester 2 exam period, and seems to have received little public attention. In light of the increasingly rare Ger appearances, students may need to wait until the end of 2021, when the next ‘Mongolia Update’ is expected to be held.
The seemingly erratic presence of the much-loved Ger has been a source of bewilderment and entertainment to many students, with many taking to Schmidtposting to share these sentiments. In early February, one student posted the simple question “Bro where tf did the yurt go?”, which was met in the comments with an enthusiastic, “Fucken actually tho, where the fuck is it?”. Another student heralded the Ger’s return in mid-2017 with a photo of it being set up and the caption, “The yurt has heard our cry and returns in the hour of our greatest need.” Most recently, an enterprising student took to re-creating the Ger in Minecraft over the weekend.
The Ger has also drawn interest from the general public. The University claimed that previously, “organisations outside ANU have also expressed interest in borrowing the ger for their events”. It has also been the site of field trips for many students, from “pre-school through to high-school”. In 2017, it featured on “The Mongolian National TV News” network iMedee.
Graphics for this article were created by Rebecca Zhong.
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