Virtual Dreamtime Springs to Life

28th June 2005

For immediate release

Australians of all backgrounds will soon be able to experience an authentic Aboriginal dreaming, witnessing the landscape and its significance through indigenous eyes.

The experience is the result of a remarkable fusion between cultural knowledge dating back 40,000 years or more and 21st century virtual reality technology.

Developed by the Australasian Cooperative Research Centre for Interaction Design (ACID), researchers James Hills and Brett Leavy have taken the concept of 'virtual heritage' - a visit to some ancient place, monument or event - a large stride further.

Their Digital Songlines project is a narrative that allows the viewer to follow an Aboriginal songline through the landscape, encountering the legends, lore, totemic items and practical issues of day-to-day living as a traditional person would.

Designed primarily to help Indigenous Australians to retain their cultural knowledge and share it with their descendents, the project also offers people of non-indigenous background a unique window into how the continent's first inhabitants saw and experienced it.

Early on, initial partners who formed ACID identified the opportunity for an experience that could offer a different approach to virtual tours on offer at museums and sites around the world. ACID CEO Jeff Jones and Indigenous community member Brett Leavy quickly saw the need for a different approach, more in tune with the Indigenous perception of landscape as an unfolding story or songline, blending spirituality with reality.

The project aims to protect, preserve and promote Australian Indigenous culture, its practices, myths and legends, expanding and re-vitalizing it through the visualization of its most prized asset - the land.

It is building a virtual landscape of oral histories and mythological stories based upon the eternal sense of land and spirituality understood by the Aboriginal people, where feeling, knowing and touching the country, kin and spirit can be experienced.

"It's simply like being there, as an Indigenous person," Brett Leavy explains. "The experience is that of a person who is owned by the country, not a person who thinks they own the country."

"For example, you might go down to the river to catch a yellowbelly. On your way you encounter various keepers of knowledge, from the elder who instructs you how to do it, to the Creator of the River who explains how it came to be."

Hills and Leavy are using a computer game engine for the simulation, creating an easy-to-use virtual world that individual Indigenous communities can populate with their own landscapes, cultural memories, legendary figures and items of significance.

The first two pilot projects feature the Carnarvon Gorge area in Queensland and the Mill Stream area in the Western Australia Pilbara region. Other projects in Arnhem Land and Far North Queensland are also being discussed.

Their approach fuses topographical data gathered by satellites from outer space with cultural objects and traditional memories that may be thousands of years old into a living story line which the viewer participates in. It contains animated dreamtime stories and avatars - virtual representation's of the participant.

"You can be a wedgetailed eagle and soar above the landscape. You can be the hunted kangaroo or the indigenous hunter who pursues it. You can view the landscape from the perspective and speed of an echidna. You can follow the cycle of the seasons as you travel from one water source to another," Brett Leavy says.

"The whole project has been carried out in very close consultation with traditional owners. It's designed so they can retain their own cultural and sacred knowledge for their own community and update it themselves - or create their own experience of landscape and tradition to share with others."

The ACID team's goal is to create an authentic experience of landscape that has been validated ethnographically, and a versatile set of tools, methodologies and protocols that allow people to create their own.

The prototype of Digital Songline is almost complete and interest from investors and participants in the pre-production phase is strong, James Hills says. "We hope to have the first product available commercially in one to two years.

A key goal of the project is to help improve indigenous communities maintain their culture and identify, which will lead to improved quality of life. Outcomes of this project will be export opportunities for the presentation of arts, culture and heritage using the virtual Songlines toolkit.

For more information:
Jason Pickersgill, ACID. T: 07 3337 7929 or 0432 163 886. E:

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