Tecnología e innovación

Minecraft and augmented reality helping Indigenous elders keep stories alive for the next generation – ABC News

Kelvin Garlett remembers when his dad used to tell him stories about the emu, passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years.

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Growing up in the Wheatbelt, the Noongar elder was taught how to hunt and collect eggs, tracking the animal backwards to find the nest.

“My father used to tell us ‘just take what you need and don’t take too many, because next year there’ll be no emus then’,” he said.

“That’s how we’d manage our resources, so we couldn’t wipe out the animal.”

A student sits in front of a computer screen with an animation of an emu on the screen.

Mr Garlett’s retelling of the ‘weitj’ — emu — is one of the stories that has been brought to life in Australia’s first Indigenous digital skills training program.

Using Blender, Paint 3D and Minecraft, students at Governor Stirling Senior High School in Perth have constructed animated worlds from local elders’ stories.

With the click of a button in an app, visitors can scan a QR code and stories like the ‘weitj’ spring up in augmented reality.

“That’s something like a dream come true, to see something like that there in modern technology,” Mr Garlett said.

“We’ve known about [these stories] since we were kids, and to see it on a screen, the students have done really well — I’m proud of them and I’m proud of my ancestors and my stories.”

Reconnecting with culture

The program is the brainchild of Cabrogal woman Mikaela Jade, now living in Canberra, who first stepped into tech after years working as a park ranger.

“I started Indigital because I was disconnected from my own cultural heritage when I was growing up, and I saw the potential for technology to be able to help us reconnect with our elders and share our culture,” she said.

A woman holds at iPad that a man looks and points at.

After cold-calling companies around the world in the technology sector, a person from the UK agreed to help Ms Jade learn the skills she needed — she would work as a park ranger during the day, then delve into augmented reality at night.

After creating the first version of the application in Kakadu national park, Ms Jade moved into education technology and has since partnered with major companies to build the Indigital Schools platform.

“It was really important to me that we see more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the technology sector, because there’s a lot of technology being built right now for the future that these kids will graduate into,” the Indigital chief executive said.

‘A partnership made in heaven’

Indigital’s first foray into schools brought together 20 students from Follow the Dream — an academic and leadership program for Aboriginal students run by the Graham (Polly) Farmer Foundation and the WA Education Department — and Governor Stirling Senior High’s specialist ‘Artsmedia’ program.

A boy wearing a polo shirt with a school logo on it smiles at the camera in front of two computer screens.

For student Sheldon Pickett, it meant not only learning new digital skills, but narrating some of the stories in Noongar language.

“It was good, so other people and other races could understand our ancestors and us now, how we believe Australia was made, and how we did our work,” he said.

Follow the Dream coordinator Ewen Lawrie said the combination of the two programs had been “a partnership made in heaven”.

“The Follow the Dream kids had a chance to really learn from the Artsmedia kids in terms of tech, and the Follow the Dream kids had a great chance to put in cultural perspectives,” Mr Lawrie said.

Opening doors with Indigenous stories

Artsmedia coordinator Lizzi Phillips said the project had opened new doors in showing educators how to engage with indigenous stories.

A close-up photo of Lizzi Phillips wearing a black long-sleeved top.

“This is the first time I’ve been able to work with new tech and cultural engagement with First Australians’ history off the book,” she said.

“We had a living elder tell the story of his life and experience to our students … and then he gave them permission to create from that.”

Artsmedia student Haley Slater said hearing stories direct from elders had been her favourite part of the program.

“My group did the djidi djidi [willy wagtail], I liked having to research what they did, where they lived and how they interacted with their environment so I could put it into Minecraft,” she said.

Tech program expands nationally

After its first steps in Perth, the Indigital Schools program is starting to spread around the country, and has just been rolled out in Muswellbrook, in New South Wales.

“It’s so exciting, it never gets old to me,” Ms Jade said.

“Seeing the kids’ excitement when they create a three-dimensional character, then put it through augmented reality into the real world using language and drawing on Indigenous knowledge is so exciting.”

A group of students sit at a bank of computers with a teacher.

For elders like Mr Garlett, sharing stories to the next generation is vital.

“It’s very important, because if we lose our stories and our culture, we cease to become Noongar,” he said.

“I thought that maybe [the next generation] weren’t interested in the culture, because they’ve got all the modern phones and computers and different distractions.

“But they wanted to hear about the real stories that are passed down.”

This content was originally published here.