Google’s Uluru Street View experience explores not just the landscape around the world’s most famous rock, but the local Aboriginal culture, too.
By Simon Webster
Visiting Uluru must be on millions of bucket lists around the world. Not everyone can get to Australia’s Red Centre as soon as they would like, but at least they can visit virtually, now that Google has added Uluru to Street View.
Not only is it possible to take a digital walk around the rock from the comfort of your home, but you can also experience songs and stories of the local Anangu people, thanks to Google’s “Story Spheres” function, which adds an extra dimension to the Uluru Street View experience.
More than just walking around a rock
When Tourism Northern Territory borrowed a Google Trekker camera a couple of years ago, in a bid to capture 360-degree footage and put some of the Northern Territory’s landmarks, such as Uluru, on Street View, it started a project that would become much more than just a virtual walk around the world’s most famous rock.
As the partnership between Google, Tourism NT, Parks Australia, and the local Aboriginal people, the Anangu, developed, it became clear that this was an opportunity to offer a deeper understanding of the traditional owners’ relationship with this sacred place.
“As we spent more time working with the local community, it went beyond just capturing the Street View content,” says Casey Whitelaw, engineering director for Google Maps, based in Sydney. “It was clear that the traditional owners saw this as an opportunity to share aspects of their culture with a broader audience.”
Respect for Tjukurpa law
Google has filmed for Street View in 83 countries since 2007, but Uluru warranted a special approach. Anangu life is governed by Tjukurpa law, based on respect for the land. Uluru Street View respects Tjukurpa by only showing sites within Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park that the Anangu people have approved.
It also delves deeper into Aboriginal Anangu culture by using a technology developed in Australia: Story Spheres. Click or hover on certain spots around Uluru in Street View and you will hear songs and stories from the Anangu.
Immerse yourself in Story Spheres
The Story Spheres turn the Uluru Street View experience into an interactive, audio-visual guided tour, narrated by traditional owner Sammy Wilson, and with song and music by traditional owner and Anangu elder, Reggie Uluru.
“Sometimes visitors come here and they see a beautiful place, but they don't understand the Tjukurpa, the culture and the law and the knowledge and the history that this place holds… It’s the living keeper of our culture,” Wilson says. “We want to teach those visitors about the Anangu understanding of this place.”
Explore Uluru and come back for real
Exploring Uluru online is a stunning experience, taking in the Base Walk, the Kuniya Walk, the Kapi Mutitjulu waterhole, and ancient rock art at Kulpi Mutitjulu (Family Cave). Google’s Casey Whitelaw is confident it will encourage more people to visit the iconic site in real life.
“In general, digitisation has fuelled interest in the world more than it has taken away the desire to visit a place,” he says. “My hope for this project is that it piques people’s interest and helps prepare them for a visit to Uluru so they turn up with different expectations of what it is they’re going to see. I think it could also be a storytelling mechanism: people can come back and say, ‘I walked the Kuniya Trail. Have a look at this amazing waterhole and let me tell you the stories I heard when I was there.'
“I don’t expect this to have anything other than a positive impact on the people visiting, and I hope people turn up with a broader perspective.”
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