By Zona Marie Tan

From the big screen to the web, the Yolngu people of Ramingining now have a place on the Internet following the launch of the 12 Canoes website today.

The 12 Canoes site gives the world access to an immersive and engaging view to celebrate the culture, art and history of one of world’s the oldest existing people – the Yolngu – whose homeland is the town of Ramingining and the Arafura Swamp of north-central Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory.

Ten Canoes director Rolf de Heer, new media producers Molly Reynolds and Marshall Heald in association with the Ramingining community spent almost five years to produce this project, which didn’t begin as a multimedia presentation.

“It was one of those projects that has evolved,” explains de Heer. “The initial idea was going to be a lattice-type framework, where everything interconnects – because in their culture everything connects to everything. But ultimately it wasn’t practical. Then Molly came up with the idea of 12 tone poems being the central part.

Ten Canoes was also something the community achieved successfully, so it [12 Canoes] needed to be more cinematic because it was something that they already knew and appreciated and understood.”

Besides that, the team also found piecing together the boundless amount of information as the biggest challenge.

“With online, it’s potentially infinite – there are no boundaries,” concedes media practitioner Molly Reynolds. “To be able to create the boundaries and define what the project would become was very, very hard. It could run the risk of becoming highly encyclopaedic, educational and instructive. We had these enormous bodies of knowledge, and asked ‘How do we best tell it?’ So that’s when we decided to do the short films and create a pyramid structure to access these extras.”

The main sections of the website, designed and built by Wanted Digital, is built around twelve filmed “visual poems” describing and illustrating many aspects of Yolngu history, life and culture from Creation, Our Ancestors, The Macassans, First White Men, Thomson Time, The Swamp, Plants and Animals, and Seasons, to Kinship, Ceremony, Language, and the community’s contemporary life in Nowadays.

Other features also include artwork galleries, music, language and common terms, and photographs that capture life in the region.

At the launch event last night at Paddington’s Chauvel Cinema, Djon Mundine OAM, Campbelltown Art Centre indigenous curator and member of the Bandjalung people of northern New South Wales, commended Ramingining representatives Peter Djigirr and Gladys Womati for their efforts in producing 12 Canoes.

“He recognised Djigirr and Gladys as two very powerful, courageous people from two very strong families in the area, and commended the Ramingining community,” says Reynolds. “And he was right in doing so because they are very progressive.”

View the 12 Canoes website here.

A two-disc DVD version of the 12 stories and selected video extras will be released through Ronin Films. A study guide for schools is also available.

Twelve Canoes was produced with the assistance of the Christensen Fund, Screen Australia, the South Australian Film Corporation and the National Film & Sound Archive.

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