Virtual Bankfoot wins national museum award

Sunshine Coast Council

Sunshine Coast Council took out the 2021 Museums and Galleries Association Award for ‘Interpretation, Learning & Audience Engagement’ in Canberra last night (9 June) for its First Nations’ digital experience at Bankfoot House.

The winning entry, ‘First Nations at Bankfoot House’, is based on a virtual reality (VR) and interactive app that uses state-of-the-art artificial intelligence to create an authentic First Nations visitor experience, set prior to European settlement, at the Glass House Mountains.

Community Portfolio Councillor Rick Baberowski said the new digital VR experiences were made possible thanks to the Sunshine Coast Council Heritage Levy.

“Visitors who engage in the virtual experience are no longer an observer or part of an audience, they are an active participant immersed in a virtual world,” Cr Baberowski said.

“The VR interactive app experience is located at state heritage-listed Bankfoot House Heritage Precinct—the ideal location due to its proximity to significant cultural First Nations sites.

“This is an excellent example of how our Heritage Levy enables us to find new ways to engage with our region’s history and truly celebrate and raise awareness of the unique intersections of history and culture on the Sunshine Coast.”

The project was a collaboration between council’s Cultural Heritage Services and the First Nations social enterprise, Bilbie Virtual Studios.

Coordinator Cultural Heritage Services Peter Connell said Local Kabi Kabi and Jinibara peoples were paramount to the development of the project and provided valuable cultural and environmental insights.

“By incorporating story-telling and the voices of local Elders, the project bridges time, culture and place,” Mr Connell said.

“Artificial intelligence allows the participant’s character to interact with the land and the First Nations people around them. Users can run the through bush, jump across creeks and find food.

“Elders share information about hunting and gathering and then, depending on the user’s decisions about where they travel or what they do, the experience will vary each time.”

Mr Connell said the project had been successful in demonstrating the use of digital technologies by providing a range of contemporary channels to interpret, celebrate and increase the awareness of Sunshine Coast heritage.

“The technology uses geotagging of the terrain to incorporate markers from cultural mapping and site-specific locations around the Glass House Mountains,” Mr Connell said.

“For visitors and students, this experience increases their understanding of First Nations cultural and sustainable practices prior to European settlement.

“The technology enables lifelong learning for all members of the community by delving into the wisdom and knowledge of local Kabi Kabi and Jinibara traditional custodians.

“The virtual experience has created a window into a landscape in and around Bankfoot House Heritage Precinct – the oldest surviving post-settlement house in the Glass House Mountains region.

“By researching and matching local flora, fauna and topography, the First Nations virtual experience becomes an authentic, immersive and educational experience.”

The interactive technology is now operating and complies with the heritage precinct’s COVID-safe plan.

Bankfoot House is a Sunshine Coast Council owned house museum located at 1998 Old Gympie Rd, Glass House Mountains. The precinct is open Wednesday to Sunday 10am – 3pm.

To book a group tour or find out more about the extensive program of activities visit https://heritage.sunshinecoast.qld.gov.au/Bankfoot-House

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