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New virtual reality website shares First Nations history

Callan Morse -

A new interactive website is utilising virtual reality to take viewers on a journey into Australia's First Nations History.

The public-facing cultural gateway, Global Encounters, provides viewers with an opportunity to explore the reframing of digital history through immersive maps and 3D models.

Designed by interdisciplinary researchers from Monash University, Professor Lynette Russell and Dr Tom Chandler, the website showcases historical sources of encounters around Australia that are visually linked to geographical locations.

Professor Russell said Global Encounters reframes Australia's national story by placing British encounters within a deeper history of global intrusion and exploration, developing narratives that are not just about colonialism.

"Rather than a British colonial history which problematically begins in 1770 with Cook 'discovering' Australia, this will be a history that documents over 1000 years of encounter and interaction, where Indigenous people exert their agency and respond to newcomers on their own terms," Professor Russell said.

"The eighteenth-century British arrival will then be contextualised as part of a much longer tradition of dynamic interaction and transaction."

Global Encounters includes a virtual reality component that reconstructs the spaces of historical encounters, allowing participants to visualise the ecology and soundscapes of pre colonial landscapes.

"Virtual reality means people can become an eyewitness to one of the most famous voyages in Australian history," Professor Russell said.

"You will be able to stand on the ship and see the shore coming towards you, but you'll also be able to stand on the shore and see the ship."

The website showcases the potential of novel ways to interact with historical data and is also scalable, meaning it can be accessed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people wishing to add their own stories.

Having led the team developing the interactive website, Dr Chandler said viewers will be able to engage in immersive landscapes that take them into an altogether different reality.

"This digital mapping of history invites exploration with complex constructions composed of layers of meaning and process," Dr Chandler said.

"The dynamic elements of the virtual reality model, such as the animation of landscapes and creation of soundscapes, add depth to the historical context.

"For example: The 1606 encounter between the Dutch on board the Duyfken and the people of the Cape Keerweer Region in far north Queensland. This was a dramatic and violent encounter that reveals misunderstandings on both sides."

Global Encounters is funded by the Australian Research Council Laureate Scheme as part of the Global Encounters & First Nations Peoples: 1000 years of Australian History project, with support from Monash University.

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