Posted by Davina Jackson on 8 Aug 2012

Immersive Heritage modelling of Walsh Bay before European settlement, with wireframes of the contemporary wharves. Brett Leavy/Real Serious Games.

Aboriginal multimedia expert Brett Leavy is exhibiting realistic simulations of Sydney Cove and Circular Quay before the arrival of colonial settlers in the late 18th century.

Using Unity (beta) game engine software, he and a team of modellers, photographers and sound artists have set up at Sydney’s colonial-era Customs House a wall of media screens and a video gaming room to educate visitors about the early vegetation, wildlife, fishing and culture of the original residents of what is now the Sydney business district. (Ghostly wireframes of some of the current CBD towers, and the Sydney Opera House, can be navigated as an overlay to the underlying environmental simulation.)

Virtual Warrane II: Exploring the Sacred Tracks of the Gadigal (Virtual Sydney Cove when occupied by the original Gadigal people) is the second exhibition of this evolving project: an earlier show was held at Customs House in mid 2008, when Leavy’s team was partnered with the now-defunct Australian CRC for Interaction Design (ACID) at the Queensland University of Technology.

The new exhibition has been applauded by senior executives at the Barangaroo Development Authority, Baulderstones and Lend Lease (all developing the Barangaroo site along the north-east edge of Sydney’s Darling Harbour) – and by curators at the National Maritime Museum, which provided help with modelling authentic pre-convict bark canoes. They are eager to support an extension of the modelling to include Walsh Bay and Darling Harbour (west of the harbour bridge) and are discussing potentials for the work to be exhibited at a proposed Aboriginal arts and culture museum to be built at Barangaroo’s Headland Park.

Ultimately, Leavy says, this ‘immersive heritage’ project should be adopted Australia-wide – and involve young indigenous people as modellers learning and developing their skills using the low-budget Unity software.

Originally inspired by a Maori modelling project, Leavy is now discussing how to contribute his latest advances back across the Tasman for a major ‘Big Data’ exhibition at the National Library of New Zealand in Wellington, from November.