‘The lowlands flood’, the Booroborwongal clan warned the invaders. We settled anyway; floods regularly devastated the Hawkesbury colonists from 1780. In Dyarubbin Baragula VR [Dharug for Hawkesbury Floodtide], users in a CGI night-time flood-scape stand in rising and ebbing waters. Grasping luminescent pre- and post-contact objects suspended in the swirling darkness, triggers tales from many perspectives.
Floods are artistic and unconscious/dream metaphors for great forces sweeping away eras and structures, the turning-upside-down of the known world, the fear and horror of what lies beneath, of being dragged under and swept away. Invasion swept away so much of the culture, lives, crops, hunting and infrastructure of the Booroborwongal. The colonists’ destruction, clearing and ‘farming’ exacerbated flooding, the great river takes its revenge over and over.
Aesthetically, Dyarubbin Baragula is dark waters, atmospheric, mesmerising. Illumination comes from an aesthetic and design strategy in which local natural materials (bark, insects, fish scales, minerals, fur, cotton) are scanned using confocal microscopy which captures their natural bio-luminescence and bio-flourescence (minerals, such as quartz which were deployed extensively by the Dharug). This bio-luminescence will be used to animate, texture and bring alive the night-time flood-scape and objects. The bio-luminescence represents the life forces of objects made from natural materials and that of the land itself. The water is made volumetric by swarms of fish and/or smaller debris.
The user experience is to stand thigh-deep in the edge of the ebbing and flowing waters, feeling their force with the racket of the flood in your ears, the waters stretching into the dark infinity. There is a forest behind, sentry-like. In the water, you can spot suspended objects, alive with bio-luminescence, bedevilled by water spirits, flowing towards and slipping away from you. An indigenous tool, a nightdress, an old tin, a school pin. We touch the objects; they touch us. Using the emotionally immersive, innovative potential of VR, Dyarubbin Baragula aims to increase curiosity, empathy and understanding of an iconic Sydney site, it’s histories and post-contact relations. The project mobilises Post-Colonial Gothic aesthetics and themes to enliven and re-imagine intertwining connections between local Indigenous and non-Indigenous “environmental narratives”[i], using objects as reliquaries for stories.
[i] Karskens, G. 2016. Floods and Flood-mindedness in Early Colonial Australia. Environmental History, Vol. 21, No. 2, pp. 315-342. The University of Chicago Press on behalf of American Society for Environmental History and Forest History Society.