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Hidden histories at Sovereign Hill

We had a problem… and then we had a big idea

I work at the Sovereign Hill Museums and for many years we have been aware of a glaring omission in our presentation of life on the Ballarat Goldfields. That being the impact of the gold discoveries on the local Wadawurrung population. Recently we have been working at addressing this problem through the development of a digital tour visitors can access to learn the Hidden History of our local indigenous people.

My presentation will outline the problem we faced, the reasons we decided to use digital technology to solve the problem and a brief look at the final product.

Presented by Marion Littlejohn, Education Officer, Sovereign Hill.



So today I’m talking about education and learning, and how we use digital technology. And remember, I’m the Luddite that Pete was talking about — to solve a problem we had at Sovereign Hill. So we had a problem, and we had a big idea. Right. And we’ve called it Hidden Histories at Sovereign Hill. Is there anyone here that’s never been to Sovereign Hill? Yay. Right. Sovereign Hill is in Ballarat. It’s a living museum.

It’s a museum that tries to recreate the Ballarat world of the 1850s. So our story is from the discovery of gold in 1851 to the arrival of the trains in 1861. So we’ve got a very precise time frame, and we try and tell our story through buildings that we’ve really accurately recreated. Lots and lots of horses.

And because our story is gold, we actually put gold every day in the creek at Sovereign Hill, so when people come they can be diggers. So it’s a bit of a hook to coming, but we are a museum, so we do try and tell what life was like within the constraints. So far so good. Sovereign Hill’s been there for over 40 years, I’ve been there for 20. Hence the Luddite.

The problem we had, and that we have wrestled with the whole time I’ve been there, and we’ve been really, really well aware of is that when gold was discovered in the bush in 1850, it was Wadawurrung land. There were people there. We ignored them. You could walk through Sovereign Hill and not pick any reference to the indigenous people who clearly interacted with people on the goldfields.

And because we are a re-creation and we have staff playing roles, it added to all the complexities of how you interpret this first contact. So over the last 20 years we’ve done a few things. We gave a scholarship to one local historian to do his doctorate on researching interaction with diggers on the goldfield, and he unearthed, of course, a plethora of references to trading, to all sorts of things.

You probably don’t realise, but when gold was discovered in Victoria, Melbourne had 40 policemen. The next day after the announcement of gold was discovered, it had two, because they all pissed off to the diggings. So the first police to arrive in Ballarat were Captain Dana, bringing with him a force of Aboriginal policemen, the native police who didn’t nick off to the diggings.

Who had been set up as trackers, but were the only police left in Melbourne. So there’s lots and lots of evidence of indigenous on the goldfields. So what do we do, what do we do, what do we do? And technology has given is what we think is an answer, and we’ve called it the Hidden Histories. And so what we’ve done is we have created– and again, after probably 12 months of angst and argy-bargy, we’ve decided not to do an app.

We’ve done a website, and the reason we’ve gone website is because apparently, and this is the Luddite who has no idea what she’s talking about, really– once you create an app, it’s in a box and you cannot change it. But if you create a website, you can fiddle with it. And we’re very aware that—N hat once we launch this, it’s not going to be perfect. And we want to get in the back and fiddle.

So we’ve made it a website that looks like an app. So when you call it up on your device, and there will be an information– we’re launch it on the 3rd of July, so it’s actually almost ready. When you come into Sovereign Hill, there will be information on your map and things you get. You can click– we’ve done all the research that Lynda was talking about. I mean, you don’t even really need to do research. You just need to walk around Sovereign Hill.

Everybody’s got a device surgically attached to their hand, like most of you here, that they will die if they’re not using. So when you get on that– luckily I did not link to the web to do this, because apparently the Wi-Fi isn’t working here– when you click on our Hidden Histories, you get a map of Sovereign Hill. This is great fun. We started off using the map we give out to tourists, and trying to get Google to interact with our map.

And of course, our map wasn’t to scale. So we had to send up a drone to take photos. So we’ve got an aerial photo of Sovereign Hill that matches Google Maps. It’s been slightly Photoshopped, because there were too many shadows in it. If you are offsite, because it’s a web site, the advantage of this is it will work everywhere. So for teachers, it will work at school. And there are three versions.

There’s a little version for a phone, a slightly bigger version for an iPad, and a PC version. So back at school, teachers can use it as a resource. If you’re at Sovereign Hill, which we clearly are not, Google will make you become a dot. And your dot will wander around. It’s pretty cool, although yesterday I got stuck in a tree, because apparently if there’s clouds, the Google dot goes a bit funny. But anyway, it’s sort of all right. It was sort of fun being up a tree.
So you can wander around Sovereign Hill, and you can click on any of these sites when you get to them. And the idea is– When you get to this site and you click on it, this site reveals a link to the indigenous people. And the link that when you go into the link, there are then references to people taking photos, there’s collections of early photos, there’s some stories.

So we haven’t sort of had to really do very much around the museum. The only thing we’ve really changed is we’ve found out in our research that those of you that have been to Ballarat will know Ballarat is very cold and damp in the winter. The biggest killer of males on the diggings in the 1850s was pneumonia, because if you get wet and you get cold, and there’s no penicillin, you die.

And the people that didn’t get pneumonia were the Wadawurrung, because they didn’t wear woollen clothes, they wore possum skin cloaks that keep you warm. So we’ve had a possum skin cloak made to put in one of our huts, and that will be the link. I’ve got 6 seconds, and here are some kids trialling it last week.\

And the link at the bottom, if you are somewhere that is connected to the internet, you can actually put in that site, and you’ll get a few 404 errors because a couple of pages aren’t there. But it’s nearly all there. And after the 3rd of July, it’ll be up and going. And that was our solution, and how we use technology to solve it. Thank you very much.




Hidden Histories: The Wadawurrung People


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