In 1899 the first known recording of an Aboriginal woman took place into a crackly Edison phonograph. It was at a time where the Aboriginal communities of Tasmania had suffered at the hands of colonisers, to the point where Fanny Cochrane Smith referred to herself as ‘the last Tasmanian Aboriginal’ (she thankfully wasn’t).
As Fanny stepped up to the recording device I have no doubt she fully understood the importance of what she was doing. She told her own stories, in her own language. Over the course of 4 years she spoke into the technology of the day in her tongue, outlining the oral history of her People.
You can hear her recordings 120 years later on Vimeo and it makes me weep every time I listen. She is forthright, almost wailing the stories of her ancestors – crying out to the future to not forget. Do not forget our tongue. Do not forget our Law. Do not forget our Land.
If we forget our past, we compromise our future. Unfortunately for many of our Peoples’ our tongues slip away within a generation and the richness of our community glue – our culture – starts to unravel.
It is no less painful for my own people – the Cabrogal – than others. We know the full extent of the loss of land, the loss of language and the loss of our culture. It grips us 7 generations on from the time where only 2% of our people survived genocide.
Of all the pain, we still remember with pride that in our tongues lays humanity’s spoken history of planet earth. In our bodies the dances of our creation ancestors. In our minds the answers to at least 80,000 years science experiments (although our Peoples’ know this to be much longer).
What I do for work continues along the journey of Fanny Cochrane Smith and the many others who’ve followed her. I’m not alone in the journey of waking up the stories of the past to help us face the challenges of the future.
I’m thankful to live in a time where I’m not working with wax cylinders of the Edison phonograph. I’m working in mixed reality through Hololens.
At Indigital we’ve dedicated the past 6 years to pushing the technological boundaries to bring Indigenous mixed reality to life on Country, in remote places, without the internet.
We are driven to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to create their own stories on the platform in the vein of Fanny Cochrane Smith. We will not forget our tongues, our laws and our relationship with our lands. We use science to keep the results of our timeless science experiments.
We are meticulous when it comes to digital IP, and ensuring communities aren’t placed to ‘record and forget’. We know digital technology is no silver bullet. We having been building the capability of Digital Custodians along the way – the people we need in our communities to make new technologies work best for our Peoples’.
In 2017 we created the first Australian Aboriginal stories in hololens, from the People of Arnhem Land. Of all the platforms, we’ve selected Hololens to focus on and are grateful for the support of Microsoft in our journey. We chose hololens because it allows all our community to have a collective experience of the same story at the same time. It allows presence with each other, like our old ways, and it allows this to happen on Country without the internet.
With hololens, for the first time, all our community can see three cultural stories on and off Country. We can hear the language, the music. We can see the movements, and even be taught cultural dance by Senior Traditional custodians. We can understand the right way to apply the ochers that bind to our skins, transforming us across time and space.
We’ve had massive impact already, no just when people are wearing the device. The magic of the technology starts after the hololens is removed. I’ve watch cultural learning across generations recently. I’ve been brought to tears when community members have requested permission from Senior Elders for their cultural markings from caves to be tattooed on their skins after seeing the content.
It is my vision that in 7 generations, our descendants will have not crackly recordings, but knowledge systems digitally built in to our cultural places. That in 2214 our decedents will visit our cultural places and hear our tongues, our songs and see our dances and body paint. They will be able to interact with us and hopefully we have the answers to some of their questions.
Some say to me that we are creating the ghosts of the future. I prefer to think of it as our cultural University being built on Country and in the digital ecosystem.