VR experience at Boola Bardip sheds light on the unknown massacre in Perth

Ian Wilkes grew up knowing that something bad had happened at Lake Monger.

The Noongar dramatist grew up hearing stories from his father about the history of the 1830 Noongar Massacre at Lake Monger, Western Australia.

Inspired by this story, Wilkes and artist and filmmaker Poppy van Oorde-Grainger set out to uncover this hidden history with a performance at Lake Galup during the Perth Festival 2021.

After sold-out performances, they are back with Galup VR Experience at WA Museum Boola Bardip as part of NAIDOC Week from July 3-17.

Both the performance and the VR experience were created with the consultation and assistance of Noongar Elders.

The history of Galup, the Noongar word for Lake Monger, is an important part of history for Mr. Wilkes and all Noongar people.

“Uncovering the truth about what happened there is important because it still affects Noongar people today,” Wilkes said.

“It’s not long since it happened only 200 years ago, but we still feel the pain and trauma of those events in our daily lives, today.

“And so what people need to realize is that there’s been a huge knock-on effect in Australia’s history and it starts there.”

By converting a lakeside performance into VR, Wilkes and Mrs. van Oorde-Grainger were able to reach a wider audience with this unknown history.

Ms. van Oorde-Grainger said that choosing VR was the best option to continue creating an intimate experience for the audience.

“They feel like they’re at the lake and they can meet Nan (Doolann) and have more of a physical experience than just looking at something,” she said.

“This was a little bit different because it’s not like you’re going to Mars or some obscure place, you’re going somewhere where people go every day.

“But the VR gives them the experience of seeing it in a very different way.”

Galup combines modern VR technology with oral storytelling to convey the history of Lake Monger to the public.

Wilkes said that while the final product is refined, it didn’t all come together right away.

Photo: Rah Studios (Courtesy of Sharon Wood-Kenney)

“Nan’s (Doolann) massacre story is the basis of this VR movie,” he said

“But VR is so personal… we shouldn’t just take care of the audience in a way to make sure we’re not too overwhelming, too brash, or too harsh on our techniques.

“We had to change and refine a few things in the script and make sure the audience liked our story.”

At the heart of creating the Galup VR experience for Wilkes and van Oorde-Grainger was consulting Elders and listening to the ancestral stories of the Lake Monger Massacre.

The VR experience is guided by a story as told by Elder Doolann-Leisha Eatts, who passed away earlier this year.

Wilkes and van Oorde-Grainger said Nan Doolann was adamant that this story would be told anyway.

“I am really proud that we were able to do this, Nan Doolann was very eager to share this story.

“She always said since she was ten years old and her grandmother told her, she really wanted to share this story and I’m very happy that this happened.

“The fact that she passed away… it makes me happy we did because that’s what she wanted.”

Wilkes said he was driven by Nan Doolann’s desire for the VR experience to be carried through.

“She was a powerful old woman, she really wanted us to push and drive this story with her voice,” he said.

“She told us not to step back when she was on her way out and that’s what we do.

“So in a way it’s become more important, but it’s not because we’re moving forward like we would have anyway.

“Nan wanted us to do this.”

Entry to Galup VR Experience is free as part of NAIDOC Week from 3rd to 17th July.

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