A NUCLEAR explosion was the first contact Martu elder Nyarri Nyarri Morgan claims to have had with the outside world.
The aftershocks of colonisation were slower to infiltrate the remote desert land he calls home, so Morgan’s country remained relatively untouched by western influence until the mid 20th century.
Growing up, Morgan had no knowledge of western culture and had never laid eyes on a white person.
During the 1950s the isolated town of Maralinga in South Australia was used as the base for a series of nuclear tests conducted by the British army.
As radioactive dust fell on Australia’s remote regions, Morgan — without any knowledge or concept of western culture — perceived these extraordinary atomic explosions as the manifestation of God.
“We thought it was the spirit of our gods rising up to speak with us,” he says.
“Then we saw the spirit had made all the kangaroos fall down on the ground as a gift to us of easy hunting.
“So we took those kangaroos and we ate them,” he claims. “And people were sick. And then the spirit left.”
Collisions is a virtual reality/art experience that transports the viewer to the Pilbara desert where Morgan now lives.
The exhibition is an innovative project by acclaimed Australian artist Lynette Wallworth, whose award-winning art and film pieces have been showcased around the world.
“These Maralinga Tjartuja were largely removed off the area that was taken by the British for testing but there was a trade route through this area that Aboriginal people from other groups moved through,” she says.
“Nyarri was moving through such an area with two family members when he saw the test.”
The film stunningly encapsulates the “dramatic collision between Nyarri’s traditional worldview and the cutting edge of western science and technology,” says Wallworth.
“Nyarri has waited a very long time to tell his extraordinary story. We’ve used the newest technology to talk about something that is ancient in this country.”
The virtual reality headsets break down the passive boundaries of storytelling, and transport the viewer to a 360-degree view of the outback as Morgan takes us on a journey of his homeland.
“The powerful sense of presence in virtual technology makes everything personal”, says Wallworth.
“You’re present, you’re not standing or sitting outside the film, you’re actually inside the world that is being shown to you”.
The piece illustrates the impact of destructive technology on the earth and how this resonates today as Morgan protests against the government’s plans to build a uranium mine on Martu land.
“The film is a gift sent from a private world. It contains an old story held close till now”, says Wallworth.
Collisions is screening at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art in Northbridge until April 16.
by JASMINE KAZLAUSKAS