Issue 3
Tuesday, 07 May 2019
Charles Darwin University
E-news
Northern Institute’s Brenda Muthamuluwuy and Virtual heritage researcher Kevin Lucas
Northern Institute’s Brenda Muthamuluwuy and Virtual heritage researcher Kevin Lucas

Virtual reality to build cultural understanding

By Jon Taylor

CDU is partnering with an Arnhem Land Aboriginal corporation to develop an immersive mixed-reality virtual engagement with a remote homeland.

CDU’s Northern Institute is working with the Gong Wanhurr Indigenous Corporation (GWIC) to help build capacity to drive the concept forward.

The project proposes a new method of two-way engagement between remote communities and cultural institutions to open up a new avenue to develop better understanding of Indigenous culture.

Virtual heritage researcher with GWIC, Kevin Lucas said the work combined traditional storytelling techniques with the latest mixed-reality technologies.

“This is a sort of multi-layered process-led documentary that reveals its narrative through customary and contemporary threads that highlight how a community is using its traditional knowledge and practices to realise its dream for a united and stronger future,” Mr Lucas said.

The prototype concept centres on the larrakitj, a hollow log coffin used by the Yolngu of north east Arnhem Land in the funerary rites. Yolngu artist and project leader for Gong Wanhurr, Tommy Riyakurray Munyarryun said: “The designs on the larrakitj were a symbolic assertion of the Wangurri clan rights over its traditional estates.”

These estates are also known as homelands.

Unlike bark paintings, which were introduced by missionaries as a way of commercialising Indigenous art, the larrakitj is one of the few traditional cultural objects made by the Yolngu for public display that involves painted sacred designs.

The mixed-reality environment is used to explain the meaning and significance of the designs and give the viewer the feeling of being right in the community through the virtual environment and the immersive sound track. 

“It is a new way to tell stories that can help build the young ones' computer skills and become more bilingual by being able to tell our stories in both languages,” Riyakurray said.

Creative Director for Gong Wanhurr productions, Djakapurra Munyarryun is a highly acclaimed Yolngu performing artist who has been involved as a lead artist, creative collaborator and cultural consultant for numerous national and international projects including Bangarra Dance Theatre and Australian Ballet. 

Djakapurra said he wanted the project to give the young people in his community learning opportunities.

“I want to plant a seed with this project that grows into something that helps young people. Alongside our work we have workshops that involve telling stories based on cultural objects and the places they come from,” he said.

“They learn to perform and record songs and dances in new ways. We film in 360VR; we capture dance with motion-capture. We paint and design virtual worlds. All the aspects of this project we are working on.”

Dean of the College of Indigenous Futures, Arts and Society, Professor Ruth Wallace said there was a great opportunity for CDU to help with capacity building at community level.

“We are looking at how we can support this project with higher education and skill-based VET training,” Professor Wallace said.

“Virtual and augmented reality is technology that opens up new opportunities for communication, learning and understanding and this project is an example of that. We are exploring opportunities to help the GWIC develop skills in their young people as this work progresses,” she said.