Ian Wilkes grew up knowing something bad happened at Lake Monger.

The Noongar theatre-maker grew up hearing stories from his father about the history of the 1830 massacre of Noongar people at Lake Monger, Western Australia.

Inspired by this story, Wilkes and artist and filmmaker Poppy van Oorde-Grainger, set out to uncover this hidden history with a lakeside performance Galup during the 2021 Perth Festival.

After sold out performances, they have returned with Galup VR Experience at WA Museum Boola Bardip as part of NAIDOC Week from July 3 to 17.

Both the performance and the VR experience has been created with consultation and assistance from Noongar Elders.

The history of Galup, the Noongar word for Lake Monger, is an important part of history for Mr Wilkes and all Noongar people.

“Uncovering the truth of what happened there is important because it still affects Noongar people today,” Wilkes said.

“As well as it only happening 200 years ago it’s not long ago, we are still feeling the pain and the trauma of those events through our daily life, today.

“And so what people must realise there’s been a huge domino affect of Australia’s history and it begins there.”

Turning a lakeside performance into VR meant Wilkes and Ms van Oorde-Grainger could reach a wider audience with this unknown history.

Ms van Oorde-Grainger said choosing VR was the best option to continue to create an intimate experience for the audience.

“They feel like they are at the lake and they can meet Nan (Doolann) and have more of a body experience rather than just watching something,” she said.

“This was a bit different because it’s not like you’re going to Mars or some obscure place, you’re going somewhere people go everyday.

“But the VR gives them the experience of seeing it in a completely different way.”

Galup fuses modern VR technology with an oral storytelling to convey the history of Lake Monger to audiences.

Wilkes said although the finished product is finessed, it didn’t all just mesh together immediately.

Photo: Rah Studios (Courtesy of Sharon Wood-Kenney)

“Nan’s (Doolann) massacre story is at the foundation of this VR film,” he said

“But VR is such a personal thing…having to not only care for the audience in a way to make sure we’re not too overpowering, or too brutal, or too harsh in our techniques.

“We had to change and finesse a few things in the script and make sure the audience was ok with hearing our story.”

At the heart of creating the Galup VR experience for Wilkes and van Oorde-Grainger was consulting with Elders and listening to the ancestral stories passed down about the massacre at Lake Monger.

The VR experience is guided by a narrative as told by Elder Doolann-Leisha Eatts, who passed away earlier this year.

Wilkes and van Oorde-Grainger said Nan Doolann was adamant this story be told no matter what.

“I feel really proud we were able to do this, Nan Doolann really wanted to share this story.

“She always said since she was ten years old and her grandmother told it to her, she really wanted to share this story and I’m really glad this has happened.

“The fact that she has passed on…it makes me glad that we did that because that’s what she wanted.”

Wilkes said he was driven by Nan Doolann’s wish the VR experience be carried through.

“She was a powerful old woman, she really wanted us to push and drive this story with her voice,” he said.

“She told us not to take a backward step if she was on her way out and that’s what we’re doing.

“So in a way it’s grown more significant but it hasn’t because we’re pushing forward like we would have anyway.

“Nan wanted us to do this.”

Entry to Galup VR Experience is free as part of NAIDOC Week from July 3 to 17.