Indigemoji is Australia’s first sticker set of Indigenous emojis made by young people in Central Australia - featuring faces, roo tails, troopies, plants, animals and local hand signals, now available in both the App Store and Google Play.
Overseen by a group of Arrernte linguists and elders, Joel Liddle Perrule, Veronica Dobson Perrurle and Kathleen Wallace Kemarre, each emoji has an Arrernte name, the ancient but endangered language of Mparntwe/Alice Springs. It enables a new means of communicating on digital platforms using signs and signifiers from Arrernte culture and language - a small but significant step towards improving the representation and inclusion of the many diverse cultures and languages of Australia in digital technologies.
Developed during the International Year of Indigenous Languages, the 90 emoji designs were designed by at-risk young people at the Alice Springs Public Library. Over seven weeks of workshops, 960 young people participated - drawing, designing, making, experimenting and discussing language. Many had never used an iPad before. They were mentored by a group of talented Indigenous artists Graham Wilfred Jnr, Phillip McCormack, Emma Stubbs and Colleen Powell, who were in the space all summer thanks to support from inDigiMOB, a digital inclusion partnership between First Nations Media Australia and Telstra.
The Indigemoji app was launched on 22 November 2019 with a BBQ at Alice Spring Public Library and Indigemoji Disco at Brown Street Youth Drop-in Centre. It was the number one social networking app in the App Store upon its release and was downloaded 40,000 times in its first week. It received honourable mentions at both the Webbys and Ars Electronica in its Digital Communities category in 2020.
Goŋ dalu lakaramirr
Goŋ dalu lakaramirr is a cyber-physical system prototype that makes it possible to communicate with an operating system using hand gestures that grew out of a conversation with Graham Wilfred Jnr, a Yolŋu artist and designer currently living in Mparntwe/Alice Springs. Coded in Python, the system is trained using Google's machine learning platform Teachable Machine, to learn and respond to a set of Yoŋlu hand signs, part of an endemic sign language of Graham's people, the Yolŋu people of North East Arnhem Land. He asked "why couldn't I communicate with my computer using hand signs?"
Indigenous sign languages exist across Australia in different states of use. Yoŋlu people describe theirs as “Dhiyal djorra’ŋur ga lakaram dhärukpuy ga nhatha ŋuli limurr bäki”, or “the language we use to communicate with each other when we don’t want to speak” (James, 2019). Sign languages like this one are stand-alone languages, meaning that they are not signed versions of spoken language, in this case Yoŋlu Matha, but are complete, alternate languages used traditionally in a range of contexts such as hunting and to communicate over distances (Bentley, 2019). These languages are evidence of the complex “bimodal-bilingualism” these cultures possess - the ability to be fluent in both auditory and visual languages, an ability which is rare globally (Adone and Maypilama, 2014).
Goŋ dalu lakaramirr is a Yoŋlu phrase roughly meaning “contains the attribute of the hand, in action, telling”. It was suggested as an appropriate name for this prototype by a group called SAVE Yoŋlu Sign Language (SAVE YSL), a team of elders collaborating with the linguist Dr Bentley James, and whose ongoing work aims to preserve Yoŋlu hand signs. While there are at least 1800 signs in use, these languages are severely endangered due to their highly contextual nature and the ongoing forces of colonisation that are changing people’s lives so dramatically (Garrick, M., 2019).
Technology is another significant colonising force disrupting the way people communicate and the way languages are used and shared across the world. These systems are overwhelmingly English centric and underpinned by dominant Western organising ideas. As writer Imamu Amiri Baraka understands a telephone to be just “one culture’s solution to the problem of sending words through space” he argues that “it is political power that has allowed this technology to emerge, and seem the sole direction for the result desired” (1970). This prototype system explores what other directions may be available to us. It asks: If we were to centre a different knowledge system, what could that actually look like? And how might that change the physicality or the feeling of communicating with a computer? How would it change the power dynamics or the user’s sense of control? Could such a system provide a new context for the use of these kinds of languages, languages that have as much right to be on the internet as any other?
Darwin: A Tale of Four Cities
In Darwin, every corner has a story. But its history can be hard to see. Destroyed four times by cyclones and war, Darwin's been rebuilt over and over. Yet in between the shiny high-rise are all sorts of secret historic spots to discover.
Darwin: A Tale of Four Cities is a first-of-its-kind, immersive, self-guided, audio walking tour that takes you to ten of these locations around Darwin's CBD. It is delivered to your mobile device or tablet via an app and headphones.
It was meticulously researched from Northern Territory collections and oral histories, the tour also features the extraordinary personal story of narrator Charlie King, a legendary Northern Territory broadcaster and campaigner and was funded by the Northern Territory Department of Tourism and Culture’s Live Darwin Arts program.
Sound is a powerful way to transport you. In an Australian first, this walking tour is recorded binaurally. It was recorded using a special microphone that features human-shaped ears with little microphones in them. It creates immersive 3D stereo sound, so when you listen, things are happening to your left or your right, or above you or below you. You can feel exactly where they are. It creates a strange sort of augmented reality, where it's hard to tell what's real and what's not. I wanted to see whether this technology could be used to create the sounds of the past, to transport you back in time.
For it to work, the binaural sounds needed to be real and needed to sound like Darwin, there was no way of faking it. Therefore the soundscapes are all pieced together from hours and hours and hours of recordings made across the Territory over many months. Hundreds of locals were involved in the recreation of these historic soundscapes. People rode bikes and horses from left to right and back again till the effect was just right. I waited in carparks for hours to get a single recording of a curlew. The Deckchair Cinema played particular 1930s tunes mentioned in old oral histories in their crowded cinema so that I could re-create the sounds of the old Star Theatre. A local aviation family flew their 1930s biplane (one of only a few left in the world) over my head at East Point to help bring a certain story to life. Bar staff clicked glasses, friends lit fires (safely) and let me break into their chook pens at 5am in the morning to record the roosters crowing.
The tour won the 2018 Interpretation Australia National Award.