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Sarah Kenderdine, Margo Neale, Cornel Ozies, Curtis Taylor and Lynette Wallworth

MARGO NEALE: I am so thrilled with the speakers we’ve got here today, because they’re making my job very easy, because they are doing all the linkages, notice, through the thing, but we have more to come. And this one, of course, is future-proofing the songlines through technology.

Those who went to the exhibition, you will have seen Curtis Taylor’s famous quote, which basically says, you know, us young fellows, we are dreaming too. We are dreaming with new technologies. New technologies for an ancient culture. Ancient stories with new ways of telling, is basically what he is saying, and for those who are on the tours, you also know that it has 20 pieces of multimedia in the exhibition of varying types, from the digital virtual elders at the front, right through to the dome and the Lynnette Wallworth Room.

We call it the Lynette Wallworth Room — it’s Lynette in a cross-cultural collaboration with the Martu, and she will talk about that, and so, virtually, the question for this session is: how do songlines work virtually through digital storytelling? Is it possible to digitise the Dreaming, or whatever of the multiple terms I have heard today. And what does that mean, or look like?

Now, each person clearly will have their own way of navigating those sorts of issues. I am really — and so should you — looking forward to listening to Lynette. Now, I’m doing what I did before and can’t find my papers. Anyway, Lynette is going to tell you who she is and what she does and why she is important, and then you all have to clap very loudly. And here she is, Lynette Wallworth.

Lynette Wallworth: I’m going to talk, like Margo said — I work with a lot of new technologies, have done for 20 years or so. So those technologies I first worked with are now old technologies, we wouldn’t even call them new technologies, but of course at one point they were. This image is one of those images of a new technology. This is an ochre crayon from the Mirarr people’s area around Kakadu.

This was discovered in a dig, I think it was last year, dating back to 65,000 years ago. This a culture of art-making in this country that dates back that far. This the use of whatever is the available technology to record and to make story, to create story and to make sure that the story is embedded somewhere in the geography of this country, and so that crayon, to me, is a meaningful object in terms of the history that we’re talking about. This is the cave system that that was found in.

So, I work with newer technologies, but the technologies are just the technology at the time, and I really want to emphasise that, because each one of them can create the same impact. Cave works were immersive spaces where song was sung and where dance was done, where stories were told in a dark space, where you were immersed, where you were surrounded, very like that dome that you can lie in out there. And why? So we could get lost in the story. So the story could come inside of us and be held inside of us. Not something sitting outside of us, but something that lies within us, because the way we experienced it, is something like a dream.

The Martu people, well actually the Martu women painters from the Western Desert, made an invitation to me about five years ago, maybe six years ago, a very recent time ago, to come and film them. They sent me messages. They asked through various people, and I said no. I said no, quite a few times. I didn’t know the Martu women, and I know the best work I make is out of relationships with people.

I was worried that I didn’t have enough time to actually do the work that I would need to do. I didn’t know how we would relate. I didn’t know what they would need from me, and that I would be able to give the work in a way that would be meaningful enough, so I said no.

I kept saying no. I kept getting messages. People came to Sydney to ask me to come. People rang me up. People insisted. They said they’ve seen your work, they just want you to come. In the end, the manager of the art centre just rang, and she said, They don’t mind what you do. They just want you to come. They don’t want you to be worried. Just come and go on a trip with them.

And so we did, went on a hunting trip with the Mardu women. Went to Bungle community and then drove for another six hours over sand dunes to get to Wandilla, and then there, the women hunted. First, they burnt the country, and they slept in the country.

[points to image] This is the morning after the burning, when the youngest and the oldest have to be left behind, because the ground is still hot from the fires of the night before. So that was Mabel. She was too old to go out and the puppy’s paws were too young, so they stayed behind, where the women went out, and they hunted.

And these women were masterful hunters, as you can see. This was after two hours of hunting on that day, and they just wanted me to follow them with a camera and hunt, and film as they hunted. They followed the tracks that were evident to them, in the land now, in the sand, because the fire had revealed the tracks of where the iguana were lying.

They wanted to share this, I think interestingly, in the technologies that I use, which are very contemporary technologies. So this is the thing, they are not caring about the technology. They just want what is current to share the story, to deepen the story within us. You know, they didn’t need to insist upon me going out there, but they did, because I work in immersive technologies, and that means you can have a better sense of what it feels like to be in their country, which is really all they wanted.

So, we did the first work sitting around the campfire that night. I heard stories. We showed that first work, and then we decided to do a next work for Nick Mitzevich’s Biennial, Dark Heart. Nick had invited me to come and do a work for that Biennial, and the women and I were talking about another painting they wanted to do, this one [shows image], Hunting Ground, Yarrkalpa. So I went back, and for 10 days, they painted this. I took a frame every eight second. You can see those white lines, which are the creek beds going in.

The biggest conversation was about those white lines, and once those white lines were in, no one needed to talk any more. I mean they sung, and they sang at different times, and they talked about things that were happening in the day, but they didn’t need to talk any more about what went where for the next 10 days of painting, 10 hours a day. Because those white lines and the distance between them, when they were right and they were correct, told everyone exactly where everything needed to go, and that’s the work you can see here.

Now, interestingly, they wanted the whole history of the painting to be covered, so that you are not seeing just the surface when you walk into this Museum here where, thankfully, this painting is now held, and the video that goes with it.

I only understood why, as I watched the painting come together, because of the layers that are put in that painting as it’s created. Here you can see me scanning across some of the painting. This is Kumpaya Girgirba, so she is talking about her space, her place, and over here panning across satellite imagery of a similar area to the area that the painting is covering.

The women painted layers in this painting, especially, I noticed, around waterholes. And if you watch really carefully, you see near the Seven Sisters area, [name] is painting a waterhole. She puts a colour down. It’s like a brown colour. Then she puts another colour, then she puts another colour. There’s a purple that goes over. There’s green. There’s flowers. At the end, there’s a green that sits on the top.

So what you are looking at is not just what things might appear if you could see them from the surface. What you are looking at is how everything is, all the ways down, all the layers down. And the finished painting carried in that pipe up the top there [points to image], rolled up, and was put in the pipe and then carried in to Adelaide.

So, on that first trip out to Wandilla, singing around the campfire the first night, I happened to be talking about the desert I’d seen in Maralinga, where I’d done some work with Maralinga Tjarutja Trust in 2000 and 2001 and 2002. And I was talking about the painting of the flowers in the desert that the young people especially had painted, and at the campfire, Nola, one of the women, who is here welcoming you as you enter this exhibition, turned to me and said, Ah, so you are here to talk to Nyarri.

Nyarri was her husband. This is him. This is Nyarri now [points to image]. The first time I met him, coming into the painting to give instruction on the painting. There’s an area he is pointing to, the women that they had needed to add something about a digging that happened there. So you see him instructing. But Nola tells me that Nyarri had been walking through a trade route in the Maralinga lands when the atomic tests happened there in the 1950s, and had a story he wanted to tell.

Now, these people have called me to be with them, insisted that I be with them, not knowing I had worked both with Maralinga veterans in 1999, and then with the Maralinga Tjarutja in 2001 and 2002, and about 10 years or 12 years later, they asked me to come and be with them, and there’s a man in this community who has a story, who he’s insisting he will tell to the politicians of our country and world leaders. He’s sitting in Bungle community, having held that story for about 55, maybe 60, years, and he has a belief that he will be able to share it. And I am called into the desert, with no prior knowledge of my background in this area, and I am asked then to meet him, because somehow I am the person who was meant to come.

This is Nyarri in the 1960s, hunting [points to image]. This is around the time he sees a nuclear test when he is moving through the trade route in the Maralinga areas. He told me that what he saw — I asked him, What did you think that was Nyarri? What did you think it was? He said, I thought it was the spirit of our gods rising up to speak with us. Then we saw the spirit had made all the kangaroos fall down on the ground, as a gift, we thought, of easy hunting. So, we took those kangaroos and we ate them, and the people were sick, and the spirits left.

So, I began a conversation with him, having heard this man sitting here wanting to tell this story. I started to do images like this. Nyarri is this like, we need to show, and we talk about the kind of work that would be able to give a sense of what he wants to talk about. But that was before I had seen virtual reality. When I saw virtual reality, I realised it could do everything he needed it to do. It could bring you into being on the country. You could feel like you were there, and he could tell you his story. He could greet you. He could meet you. He could tell you his story, and you would feel like you were present with him. You would see what he saw. You would stand where he stood.

So, we bring these technologies out. Nyarri looks at the camera. He goes, Oh, it’s got 16 eyes. I said, Yes, it has 16 eyes and 14 ears, so you’re going to have to tell me what it can see, and what it can hear. And he goes, Okay.

So, we used a drone, because your paintings are always from above, so we could see from above, and Nyarri and Muuki, who is also here, would direct where the drone flew too high, so it would see something behind or something to the side that was not able to be seen. And with that direction, we did not film a single thing that we should not see.

We talked about the work. Nyarri meets you, as he does when I come, when you would go. You are met, formally. You are addressed. You are welcomed.

[plays video]: ‘Me, Curtis Taylor, standing by the gate. This is where I grew up.’

Now, you have these generations there. You have Curtis outside that room where the painting is. You have Nola and Muuki welcoming you. You have this generational gathering that is the same thing that happens inside this work. I’m going to skip forward a little bit because I want to talk about the work. So, we are using this technology to create a meeting that didn’t happen.

[plays video]: ‘Some people laughed. Some people cried. Most people were silent.’

A meeting between Oppenheimer and Nyarri. Between the man who was forced at a particular period of time to respond to an urgency of that moment. Apparently this intensity of the moment to actually develop something that then could not be controlled. And Nyarri, who is talking about generation upon generation upon generation who have to live with the consequences of our decisions. And those two things have to go together in one work, and have to go together outside of time, because the meeting needed to happen, and it doesn’t matter that time has passed. Outside of time, the meeting can happen, and that’s what we made.

[plays video]: ‘Two people.’

We took this work, where Nyarri meets Oppenheimer and then he goes on to talk about Martu care of country. Shows the fire burning that protects the country. The mosaic fire burning that keeps everything looked after, so that large bushfires don’t burn across that whole spinifex area.

[plays video]: [Indigenous language]. ‘Look after your young ones. Think about your land, and the ones to follow.’

So Nyarri leaves you not with the story of what happened, but with the thinking of what needs to happen. This is the story that he’s wanting to place in our hearts in this immersive way, as I was saying, in our dreams, so that we hold in them. So, we used this technology and we did exactly what he’d been dreaming he would do all those years, sitting in his community, yelling at politicians on the TV, and telling them that he was going to come and see them.

We took it to the World Economic Forum in Davos, and we showed this work there, and then Nyarri would appear, when people took their headsets off, to the King of Belgium, this is Hans Blix watching it [points to image]. People like Kevin Rudd and Matthias Kormann saw this work in Davos. He would stand there, and he would be present to his story, to this contemporary story. So, he is changing the dream.

This is Nyarri sitting in Acme in Melbourne, waiting for people to take of their headset, when they have finished watching the work there [points to image].

These technologies are powerful, because they’re operating on our memory in a different way, and collisions — the inspiration of that work, which as you know, came from this calling from the Martu. It happened to link and drive other works, and it’s driven the creation of a new work which is in the Amazon. So the Yawanawá chief, Tashka, from the Amazon, saw Collisions in Oxford in England, and said, Oh, okay. We can do this too now. You need to come to us, because we have something we want to send out.

This is the Yawanawá, when they are reduced to 200 people after a period of slavery [points to image]. There’s slavery between 1940s to 1980s. Slavery and missionaries, 1970s this is. By the 1980s, they were reduced to 200 people, but the story they decided to tell, after seeing Collisions, was the story of Hushahu, the first woman shaman of the Amazon.

Now, she is trained because she asks, can she be trained. No woman had been allowed to become a shaman. No woman had drunk the sacred medicines of the Yawanamá, but as the time changes, she has this feeling that she should be a shaman. So, she asks the old shaman if he would train her, and he risks his spiritual authority, and he decides he will train her, and he will see what happens.

The Yawanawá had lost their rituals. They had lost a lot of their songs. They had lost a lot of their cultural knowledge, but she is initiated as a shaman. She is 15 months just doing her training, largely in her initiation practice, and in this process, taking this initiation, she begins to hear songs and see patterns. She comes back, and she says to the old shaman, I heard these songs. She hadn’t spoken Yawanawá before. She sings him the songs. He says, Oh, that’s the anaconda song that we lost. The songs came back through her, and with the songs came the patterns and the stories.

This image here is from the 1980s, and the black and white one, that’s from today. Cultural rejuvenation through these immersive practices, which then the Yawanawá decide, we want to share that with this new technology. This is Hushahu, training as a shaman inside the VR experience that we launched last month.

[plays video]: [foreign language]

So, I think I could tell you much more about this process, but I just want to say this, and I feel like I should finish here. You know, these stories and songs, as everyone has been saying, and my meagre knowledge of being with the Martu, the small amount that I’ve been told and understand, is that everything is alive. These are all alive. These songs have gone nowhere.

I love film. I make film. I don’t know if any of you have seen the film The Usual Suspects. It was from a long time ago. There’s a strange quote at the end of that, which the filmmaker must have written. It’s saying, ‘The greatest trick the Devil ever played, was to convince the world he didn’t exist.’

Now, I don’t believe in the Devil, or in that thought. But let’s flip it another way. If I tell you everything is historic, if I tell you everything is from the past, if I tell you everything was what was here before, but isn’t here now, then you can’t feel it, and you are not going to look for it, and you won’t be able to sense it when it’s pressing on you, and trying to communicate with you. If you think it’s historic, then you have no urge to communicate and understand and be with it now.

That’s the thinking we have to change in this country. We aren’t talking historic. We are talking current. We are talking the lived history of this incredible nation, with the generosity of this kind of work that enables us to learn a small amount of what is here to be known, because we have a responsibility to know it.

I spend my whole work trying to make the invisible visible via these tools. These tools are very powerful tools. I’m going to flip through [shows images]. This is what’s coming after [inaudible]. The Mongolians have called for the same technology in there. They are saying, Can you come and film these special horses of ours? They were lost, but they are coming back. These are our spirit horses.

This is one that’s had to be bred up in Prague so that it can be returned to the Gobi Desert. And here are those horses arriving for the first time in their homeland, but they, too, are of the history. Their black mane, their little black-stockinged legs — they belong to a history of 17,000 years ago of art-making. This is current. The tools change, but the stories persist, and it’s our role now to share them with new technologies, to learn them, and to make sure they get passed on. Thanks.

MARGO NEALE: Thanks Lynette. Lynette’s job may be to make the invisible visible, but she has made me speechless, and that’s pretty [crosstalk]. She’s rendered me speechless.

Anyway, so, I’m not going destroy that beautiful little bubble by my thoughts on it, but we’ll get to that at the end. But what I am going to do, is introduce you to another amazing person in this area. A younger person, so male/female, we got the gender transfer happening here, Corneal Ozies. Where are you, Corneal? Oh there you are!

So, Corneal — I’ve got eye problems too. He’s a man from the Kimberley. He’s based in Sydney. I came across him by seeing that film — little film festival we had here one night, and go out in the Garden of Australian Dreams, there’s a film there, Footprints, and I saw his name under that, and chased him down, and had a little chat with him, and found out that he does a lot of short films on commission from NITV and SBS. So clearly he has a lot to say about this, and he has told us the stories that he will tell you today. He picked up, oh, this one here, she got an Emmy, her and Nyarri and the mob got for that VR that she showed you in Collisions. Clap for that one. I didn’t know we had award winners. I didn’t factor that in.

In 2008 Corneal picked up an international award for the Jarlmadangah, is it, dream? It works in so beautifully with what you [Lynette Walworth] are talking about, and it’s our dream, our reality at the Cherokee film festival in America for the best documentary, and there’s lots more.

[applause]

There you go again. Look at you. You’ll be able to go home and not talk soon. In 2011, look, I think there’s so much good stuff in here, I’d rather you hear it from him than from me, so I’ll put up this stuff on the web, more about his background and history and so on. So, thank you so much, Corneal, for coming down all the way from Sydney to talk to us today.

CORNEAL OZIES: I would first like to acknowledge the Ngunnawaal people and the opportunity to speak on their land. I’m a Saltwater man from Broome in Western Australia in the Kimberley region. I am a Djungun man, with cultural ties and family ties to and Yaoro, Djaberadjabera and Garadjeri nation in the Kimberleys. So, saltwater right up to the freshwater inland.

A bit about myself. I am a filmmaker that sort of specialises in telling stories from our region. Brought up in a filmmaking family. My mother was a filmmaker for 30, nearly 40, years, so been in and around the film industry for a long time. Grew up with it. Didn’t think I would be a filmmaker, but times and opportunities arose and I became a filmmaker.

Started my career in Broome as an editor. So I was locked in a dark room and made all these stories, of other people’s stories, and put their stories together and I felt the need to start telling my story. So, I got out there and started directing films, with the emphasis on telling stories from our region, not telling anybody else’s stories, but ours. And so that led me on the path of becoming a filmmaker and getting out of the room and exploring the world.

I am now based in Sydney and working at the University of Sydney, and creating educational content for the university and for open learning courses that people around the world can use. So, what I am going to speak about is a film that I made in 2016 which is called Footprints. It was part of an initiative called Songlines on Screen, which was an initiative that Screen Australia and NITV co-collaborated on, and it was an archiving process of songlines. So, the first initial round, there was 10 groups of people from around Australia. You had to submit your story, and if it fit with Screen Australia’s initiative and what they wanted to get out of it, then you were selected to do it. I was lucky enough to get it.

Originally, when I first submitted my submission for funding to do my story, I wanted to do a story on my neighbouring tribe, the Bardi tribe, up in the One Arm Point in Dampier Peninsula area, because I thought that my tribe had no stories and songs, because we were a part of that first sort of contact in the Kimberley and a lot of our stories and elders passed, and with the passing the stories had gone. So, here I am, wanting to do a songline of the neighbouring tribe, and so I go and I start doing my research with them, and sitting down, talking to all the different elders.

And one of the elders, as they do, they ask you, who are you, who are you connected to, who are your people, who are your family, who are your mob, and he starts connecting the dots, and he says to me, I’ve got a story. I’ve got songs and dances for you.

So, an elder from the neighbouring tribe has been holding onto songs and dances of my tribe that we thought had been gone. So, my whole world kind of flipped upside down, and it became not a story about them and their songlines, because they were culturally strong and they kept their tradition alive. It was about a reclamation story. It became a journey of my reclamation of these songs and dances, and bringing them back to our mob.

So, I thought, Okay, I can’t do this by myself. So I pulled in all the family, and we started getting the younger generation involved. So, I got a lot of my nephews, cousins and uncles to participate in learning the dances and the songs, and recording them. So, a part of the initiative is to archive the songlines and stuff for the region, but a by-product of that is a short film. So we have a lot of culturally-sensitive dances and songs that were ceremony and stuff that couldn’t be shown. So that is archived and stored but, of course, because NITV was involved, they needed an element, so a by-product of it was the film Footprints. I’d like to show you an excerpt, just a short clip of it.

[plays video]: ‘This is the story both of our creator and of my people’s reclamation of their culture. It begins, like all our stories, in the [Indigenous word], the Dreaming. When our creator emerged from the ocean and stepped onto our land, he left his footprints forever embedded in the landscape of my homeland, Djungun country, on the Kimberley coast of Western Australia. The creator brought with him our law and culture, the songs who gave my people our identity, taught us the boundaries of our land, and the rules we must live by. From Djungun country, he travelled north to other tribes, leaving a trail, a path of knowledge, a web of songs. These songs stretch from Djungun country thousands of kilometres into the Northern Territory and beyond. Our songlines have been passed down through the generations and connect us to other tribes along the songline trail.’

So, this old man, who is on screen right now, is that old man who told me the story. Sadly, he has now passed away, so we will refer to him as Old Man Wigan, not by his first name. So, he married into our tribe and his wife was one of ours. So he was, as a young man, around our culture, and he heard the songs and dances, and he’s a songman of the Bardi tribe, so for, I think it’s 50 years, he had these songs stored in his head, and had this knowledge, and no-one was aware of it. By chance I happened to come across him at the right time, and so I got the boys involved and we started learning the songs. I think it was for four months or more with him, and he would come every day.

Also, he taught us how to make the artifacts that go along with the dances, but we also modernised them as well. We used modern materials, so he taught us the traditional way to make it, and then we improved on it so that the artifacts would last for not just one dance. It would be able to endure.

We would pick him up every day and he would impart small amounts of knowledge. He didn’t give us the whole lot until we were ready for it, so it was a long journey, and some of the young guys was getting impatient, because they just wanted to get it over and done with. But he did it on purpose because it wasn’t just us learning the culture, it was him being able to connect with us, and have that connection, and having family around him was, you know — He didn’t have much family or visitors that would come to him, so it was his way of feeling alive again. It was a two-way street. It wasn’t just a one-way relationship.

So, it was sad that he had passed, but he got to see the finished product. It was like a month or so later that he passed once, but we actually performed this dance at Parliament House across over there, in 2017. Yes, so it was pretty amazing that we went from these dances not being performed for 50 years, more than 50 years, to being performed at the capital. And the boys, you could see the pride and the overwhelming sense of achievement or — I don’t know how to describe it, but you could see that they were much more confident, and they held their heads higher, knowing a bit more about themselves, which I did too.

SIt put me on a journey of discovery. I learnt a bit more about myself that I did not know, and a bit more about my culture. All right. So, I’ll just show you another clip.

[plays video]: ‘Well, you see this cultural dancing and singing is very, very important for Aboriginal people. It’s got the meaning of how they lived in the past and what you lived for and how you lived by it and spread your [inaudible], and share respect with all your cultural language, or whatever you do.’

So, with that knowledge came a lot of new things for the younger generation. We learnt a lot about the designs we had to put on our body, what that meant. The way you dance the song, the way you sing the song and how it’s meant to be pronounced, and then enunciated. And we now — the boys and the men that were part of that process — have a responsibility to tell that story now. So, that’s given us a new look on our responsibility, and our role in keeping the songlines revitalised, going, continuing.

So, we are storytellers. Our culture is a culture of storytellers, so I saw digitising this into the video form as a natural progression of storytelling, because our history was an oral history, and if it isn’t spoken, it’s lost. So, if we didn’t capture Old Man Wigan and his stories, that’s a possible nine songs and dances that would have been lost. That’s the importance of what we do as filmmakers and people who archive those songlines, is that any day those elders who have those stories could be gone, and that’s a part of that songline lost.

This whole process of having the young men involved in this process gave, I guess, a new sense of self-importance and it’s now archived for us, so that when the next generation says, I want to know about my culture, it’s there. It’s not just read in a text book, it’s actually spoken by the old man. It’s spoken in a way that is almost as if he’s there with us. It’s now his legacy in those videos.

The frustrating thing about it was, there was so much content that I would have loved to put into the film, but it’s culturally sensitive. There were these amazing dances, and amazing artifacts that go with the dances, and as a filmmaker you are like, Oh, that would be great!

I was mapping out how I would film the dance sequences and stuff, and then I’d go to him the next day and go, Okay, so when do you want to film this dance? And he’d just, No, no, no. You can’t show that one.

So, I had to go back to scratch. And he’d show us a new dance and go, Oh no, no, no. You can’t show that one. And so it was this whole process of going, Okay, I need a dance to show in the film, because NITV and Screen Australia are expecting something. A lot of pressure, but I realised after the process that he was drip-feeding the information so that I would stay longer with him, which I now value. That process and that journey, because I understand what he was trying to do. He was trying to capture as much of the information because I think he was scared that once I had that information, I would go, and I would never come back.

I’ll just show you another clip that will illustrate what he was — Okay, while that’s happening, in this next clip you kind of hear from his point of view what the process meant to him.

Yes. Sorry.

SPEAKER: Close your eyes everyone.

SPEAKER: Close your eyes everyone!

CORNEAL OZIES: And so part of the process was the archiving, and it was —

[plays video]: ‘A few months ago I was a bit sick, worrying about the life that people live, and everything that is being lost, I suppose, until I was surprised to see some young fellows draw up. They said, Can you teach us a few things? I understood that they wanted to learn something, so I agreed with them, and helping them helps me to carry on not forgetting anything at all. And I’m teaching the boys the same songs as I had been taught by these elderly people. There’s not one of them left now, so I’m sorry to say. I wish there were.’

And so, it was a collaboration with a lot of family members to get it to a point where the film could be shown publicly, and behind the scenes we also had a lot of community involvement. So, I had the family involved in making, as you can see in the stills. So it was a tool or a vehicle that enabled a community — it was there, but not truly existed — to get together again and start, not formalise but shape, what it means to be Djungun person. Because all we know — much about the Djungun people is what we read about in text and stuff. I’m Djungun but I am also Yaoro, and a lot of people know the Broome region as Yaoro country, which is true, but a lot of people don’t know the Djungun history, because it’s a history that’s not taught, or it’s a history that’s not spoken about.

So, like I said, if we don’t speak, the history is lost. I wanted to take it one step further and make it more concrete, so that if I am not around to speak about it, the video will do it for me.

Does anybody want any questions?

MARGO NEALE: Thank you. So, the next one is Sarah Kenerdine, who is coming on a pre-record. She is in Lausanne now, and she’s the lady who is responsible for the dome post-production work. She’s a world leader in embodied musiography and dome media, and she’s currently setting up a centre — I’ll probably get the accent wrong — the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne. So that’s my Australian version, and she’s also interesting, like with her, she was here some years ago. She was doing the rounds on Dome Lab and this musiography, and the Museum, the then director, brought her over here for a lecture. After the lecture, I said right at the very early stages of this, I said, ‘Boy, have we got something for you!’

So then I sort of flipped to the whole Seven Sisters songlines idea before it had even gone anywhere but it was clear that that absolutely had to be there — a dome to transport and immerse everybody into that space. So, we’re very lucky, and she fortunately saw its value as well. So, one thing led to another. She was in Hong Kong, and then UNSW, and now Lausanne. She has a great background, because her background is as a maritime archaeologist, a museum curator and has done a number of books on shipwrecks. So like a lot of them here, they are eclectic.

She’s been in Hong Kong, director of various things, various science or technology centres, oh, MIT. Like Lynette, she’s zapping around the world constantly — Turkey one day, Bangladesh the next. I’d describe her as I would Lynette, sort of that they are global gurus in their own thing, and they’re women, so very appropriate. So she obviously has to get off a plane after one of these Turkey, Bangladesh-type experiences and realised she hadn’t done this gig, and so did it in the middle of the night. I haven’t seen it, so we will all see it together.

SARAH KENERDINE: Arcade dome theatres are typified by the rock art caves found throughout Australia, some of the oldest painted arcades in the world. These ancient caves, where etchings and paintings were animated by fire and moonlight, represent the beginnings of a cinematic imaginary. They are arguably the first immersive experiences created by humankind that continue to endure.

One of the focal points of the exhibition is a dome experience conceived to immerse audiences in the sacred sites of Kungkarangkalpa. This digital sanctuary simultaneously expresses this fear of the world around us, the sky above and the ground below, enveloping viewers in depictions of the Seven Sisters, as they travel through country avoiding the unwanted attention of the lustful Wati Nyiru.

As these creation beings travel, they leave land formations in their wake — Cave Hill, and in the Southern night sky, the constellation of Pleiades and Orion. The architectonic form of the full hemispherical dome provides an ideal spatial canvas, inviting viewers inside to lie down and look up, to travel Kungkarangkalpa.

Cultures from around the world have long turned to the dome of the heavens to understand the cosmos. As this perceived curvature has manifested architecturally throughout the world, domes have been used to enclose the most sacred environments of many cultures. The rounded enclosures are often being used as canvases on which to represent the psycho-cosmological constructs, painted with artistic renderings of incorporeal ideals.

From Buddhist stupas to Christian cathedrals to Islamic mosques, these structures have been used as places of ritual indoctrination and transcendence, with both internal and external surfaces often steeped in visually symbolic and geometric meaning. Domes have artistically and architecturally represented the world views from which they arose and were meant to sustain.

In the 20th century it became possible for the first time to radially extend mental images onto the dome screen, using projections of light, made possible by advancements in engineering, mechanics and electronics. The ability to completely immerse the visual field of the audiences in a mediated environment was seized upon by numerous pioneers in a wide range of contexts.

In any discussion of new technologies a little media archaeology puts everything in perspective. Many of the pioneers involved in conceiving dome experiences from the 1960s onwards believe that spatialised multi-sensory embodiment made possible in a dome would enhance the capacity and speed of human cognition, and ultimately a sense of presence, or being there.

Buckminster Fuller was the polymath best known for his icosahedron-based geodesic dome, originally conceived in 1948. In 1962 Bucky, as he was known, published plans for what he called the geoscope, a giant 200-foot diameter miniature Earth, the most accurate global representation of the planet ever realised, he said. Instead of internal projections, he proposed that the massive geodesic display be covered with miniature light bulbs to be controlled by a computer, enabling real-time visualisation of the world of data.

Like their predecessors, the modern multi-sensory sanctuaries of full dome continue to reflect the cosmologies and motivations of their creators, subtly affecting the evolutionary trajectory of the cultures from which they emerge.

Traveling Kungkarangkalpa invites viewers to enter two distinct journeys: one is witness to Cave Hill, with its ochre-painted ceiling giving an animated canopy of the songline. The cave was photographed in three dimensions for the first time, allowing visitors intimate views of the stories contained in its sandstone folds.

The Dome provides a modality of visitor experience suited to maximise the senses of kinaesthetic embodiment, audio-visual concentration and emotional engagement. Entering under the suspended Dome, visitors lie down on their back, supported by a circular couch, to look up into the hemisphere.

This reclined position immediately relaxes the body and focuses the receptivity of the viewer to the visual vault that envelops their view. The prone body position effectively associates this installation experience with others that might be familiar to the viewer, that of sleeping, where dreams take place, of lying on the ground and looking up into the night sky, of camping in the desert and gazing at the sun. All of these embodied memories serve to amplify the receptivity of the viewer.

This encompassing perceptual feel is complemented by the Dome itself, which acts as a visual and acoustic cloak, amplifying the all-surrounding sonic architecture of the work. Environmentalist Paul Faulstich describes the importance of the Aboriginal world view fundamental to this art work. He says landscape is fluid. It flows around us and encompasses us. It is not external to the individual. Landscape is an assembly of sensory information which generates a seen and felt experience of the world. It is a symbolic constitution of the environment within which humans exist.

The other journey immerses visitors in a series of projected art works of this songline, following the Seven Sisters as they travel. In the final scene, three-dimensional models of the extraordinary trussed grass jumpy figures are seen taking flight, prefiguring their final destination in the night sky. As Setha Low says, embodied space is the location where human experience and consciousness takes on material and spatial form.

Traveling Kungkarangkalpa converges technological and artistic forces invoked by the songlines’ curatorium. It is an amplifier for Anangu elders and collaborative art-making adventure that expands the canvas into an architectonic space with an infinite horizon. As the philosopher Vilem Flusser says, we live in two worlds: one that is given, and the other that is provoked by the attention that we pay to it.

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This is an edited transcript typed from an audio recording.
The National Museum of Australia cannot guarantee its complete accuracy.
© National Museum of Australia 2007-19. This transcript is copyright and is intended for your general use and information. You may download, display, print and reproduce it in unaltered form only for your personal, non-commercial use or for use within your organisation. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) all other rights are reserved.

Date published: 28 February 2019

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