Highly Commended 2021

Yalinguth

Storyscape / Max Piantoni / The Wurundjeri Council (Uncle Colin Hunter, Charley Woolmore) / Melbourne Community Indigenous Film Collective(Uncle Robert Bundle) / Yarnin Pictures (Uncle Bobby Nicholls, Rebecca McLean) / RMIT University – MAGI (Chris Barker, Kate Cawley) / Melbourne University Design (Janet McGaw, Jillian Wallis)

Yalinguth - Can you hear the land?

Yalinguth (Yesterday in Woiwurrung) is an innovative Augmented Reality experience, expressed entirely through sound. Walking within Aboriginal Story Trail App locations with headphones on, you can access historical stories told by the Aboriginal community and be immersed in soundscapes 24 hours a day. By focusing on sound the app aims to connect people with the places they see around them rather than looking at their mobile devices. This layer of sound and story will transport people to different events in a place through time, deepening their understanding of and connection to places, people, politics and history.

Design Brief

The Yalinguth app responds to the question - How might a loose, yet rich collection of oral histories of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community specific to the culturally significant Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy be re-imagined and represented to a broad audience using digital technologies?

Expected outcomes:

  • Immersion, deepening learning and building empathy, working towards reconciliation.
  • Community connection, celebrating Elders who paved the way for Aboriginal rights.
  • Dissemination of important yet forgotten histories of place.
  • Creation of an extensible platform for future stories within Australia.
  • An intimate and deeply personal experience that integrates the landscape.
  • An Inclusive design strategy where all stakeholders are designers in their own right, and where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders form key roles in the design team.
  • A cutting-edge technological solution that takes a backseat to the place and stories themselves.
  • A layered, multi-vocal, a-temporal and non-linear form of storytelling.

This project was developed by:

Design Process

Yalinguth is an example of a collaborative design process. The iterative cycles of ideation, development and testing that shaped the project were reliant on responses and contributions from a very broad community in collaboration with the producers, designers and developers. This methodology gave offered time and space to deeply engage with the community, stakeholders, developers and designers in an discussion as the work progressed.

Our collaborative design process was primarily a process of engagement. Overseen by a working group of Elders, the design was given both time and space to evolve as the work gathered essential funds, sponsors, community support and engagement. Our story gathering days were often emotionally deep, raw and rich events. Early prototypes were shared and critiqued, talked out, sat with, and iterated, enabling a engagement with the design process that truly acknowledged the ownership and self-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories.

Collaborative Design offers the benefits of flat hierarchies, where benefits flow in unanticipated, or unexpected directions. Non-indigenous team members reported increased cultural competencies, and a sense of gratitude in being welcomed into the community enabled by the process.
The implementation of the design underscores the value and importance of each individual's story - a principle that was carried through the whole design process. The final interface mirrors maps of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language. Up close a singular story offers uniqueness and specificity, while from a distance the collection underscores the cumulative power of a community speaking as one.

The brief has been met, and the design process paved the way for the software to become much more robust as it became clear that Yalinguth could, and has significant support to, extend its reach and breadth across hundreds if different locations across all of Australia.

Design Excellence

he design of the Yalinguth platform came as a response to a very big, and very old idea – that stories and place belong together. To have a story without place, or a place without story necessarily reduces both. The siloed, singular nature of archived storytelling cannot but leave out the flesh and blood embodiment of the whole person in the world.

The design team of Yalinguth used the principles of community engagement, active continuous consultation and collaboration throughout the design and prototyping process. Yalinguth demonstrates its value and public good by taking oral histories back where they belong - out of musty libraries, archives or collections, and right back in the place where they arose, including the community they came from. This is a fundamental change to archival practice, history, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history in Australia, which has been serially blighted by the irreconcilable misalignment of written and oral traditions.

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the idea that place and story are separate has often cost them their voice, their land, and their sovereignty. In the words of Elder Bobby Nicholls, “When we have talked about treaty to lawyers and such they have said ‘you need to have paper to prove yourself,’ and I say, ‘well did you want us to do? While you are attacking us, and our families, do you want me to say ‘wait up, I’ll get a charcoal, I’ll get some bark and write it all up while you wait with your guns over the hill?'’”

As such, the fundamental ingredient to the success of the Yalinguth app is that the real, physical body of the user, interacting in real time within the continuous changes that are memories and places themselves, brings the living history of occupied Aboriginal Australia to life.

Design Innovation

Yalinguth approached the design taking the lead from Augmented Reality. As the primary design team on the software side all came from RMIT’s Master of Animation, Games and Interactivity (MAGI), the collaboration offered the opportunity to apply background research in large scale geolocated spatial sound environments.

Among similar Soundwalks or Audio tours, Yalinguth was the among the first to situate the experience in a real time game engine. This design solution then allowed the team to imagine a rich sound design creation environment – opening the door to creating truly situated, animated, programmable, multilayered, interactive, extensible soundscapes. Unlike similar products, Yalinguth does not merely ‘play on trigger’, but has made significant leaps in situated sound, where designers can work seamlessly across real and digital environments to place, time and animate sound recordings, or record sound in-situ and have it remain in the app. One can ‘walk up to, away from, around and within sounds as we do in the real world. In-app sounds ‘naturally’ respond to the body, proximity and orientation of the user and reproduces a real-world effect employing GPS with other proprietary spatial technologies.

Yalinguth is user-centred from the ground up. The design team wanted to acknowledge that such was the transformative power of the stories from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander contributors, all that was needed from the technology was the simple participatory intimacy of walking, listening and attending. There is no time limit, there is no beginning nor end of the experience, and the user can use the app however they like, whenever they like. The result is that the user feels as if they are walking within and exploring a living documentary, a walkable archive, and judging from responses from the July 2021 launch, this has succeeded to great and affecting degree.

Design Impact

As stated, one of the goals for the project was to increase community connection and to celebrate those Elders who paved the way for Aboriginal rights, to deepen learning, build empathy, and work toward reconciliation. By taking the time to ensure a collaboration-first development and design process, the project has been able to take advantage of a grassroots support network of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from across Australia.

The project has worked with Mission Australia to train young Aboriginal Victorians taking part in their Charcoal Lane Program. Trainees and other young people (nominated by Elders) were employed to interview, record and edit stories. As of June 2020, the project has employed 20 young people, and 23 Elders and community members who were interviewed. Many young people have discovered connections to family, place and history whilst developing new skills in audio recording and editing. Many elders have also come forward to contribute to the project as they came to understand the intent and the particpatory design process. The project has also employed Aboriginal Victorians as graphic designers, artists, spokespersons, for testing and feedback, as well as always operating under the oversight and guiding hand of our working group.

The Yalinguth project is quintessentially Victorian, born from a strong will, a powerful brief, and the goodwill and participation of so many stakeholders. Yalinguth shows that good design is not merely about the excellence of the final product or solution, but covers vastly more broad scope. Good Design from the beginning wills to learn through doing. Good Design must ensure an ongoing commitment to refine and iterate on the very processes of design – a refinement that includes the whole community as it seeks to listen to, understand and include all voices past and present throughout all stages of production and development.

Circular Design and Sustainability Features

As a digital offering that is only accessible via walking, listening and being in place, it is subtle in its incursions into habitual unsustainable processes. However, the Yalinguth app rewards intangible, non-commercial, alternatives to the traditional object-based economies. Without physical participation, there is no way to access the richness of the app, and with empathy and the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices at its heart, it seeks to turn our attention to the land, and its forgotten (or buried) histories. As such, the project asks the user to participate in a grounding turn toward place, listening and respect, the prerequisites of a non-destructive and non-extractive view of the environment and sustainability.

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