22 December 2016

David Attenborough virtual reality tours at NMA from Boxing Day

| Suzanne Kiraly
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David Attenborough during the reef dive for Atlantic Productions. Photo: NMA

I was most privileged to have access to a preview of the newest innovation from the team at the National Museum of Australia this week. It involved the launch of the David Attenborough Virtual Reality Experience for Canberra, which starts on Boxing Day, though please note, bookings are essential and the exhibits are not recommended for children under the age of 13.

I accepted the invitation without a second thought because David Attenborough and I go way back (not that he knows that … alas). When I was teaching on Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean in the late 1980s David and his film crew flew in (along with a number of international film crews), to film the famous migration of the red crabs. Whilst there, my daughter got his autograph on the back of a coaster at the Christmas Island Club, which she still has to this day. David kindly regaled the locals from Canberra (mostly teachers, police, and nurses at that time), with stories that captivated and fascinated, as is his wont to do.

Let’s face it, David Attenborough is a supreme storyteller. He tells the stories that matter to a large proportion of the planet’s population who care. And millions would agree with me that as a wildlife warrior, naturalist, and educator, he rocks!

The acclaimed naturalist presented the “First Life” and “Great Barrier Reef Dive” virtual reality (VR) experiences at the National Museum (aided and abetted by the very capable NMA staff), to some of his awe-struck fans ahead of the official launch. It’s a first for Canberra and was a first for me (as an ex-teacher in a previous life), to see the very future of education unfold before my eyes. It was an awesome and exciting experience, to say the least. I was gob-smacked.

The two VR experiences come to Canberra following a premiere, sell-out season at London’s Natural History Museum.

According to the National Museum of Australia’s Director, Matthew Trinca, virtual reality is an exciting way to explore our global environmental history and to better understand the animals and habitats around us.

After this morning’s foray into VR, I tend to agree with him.

If you come to undertake this extraordinary experience (and you should), you will be equipped with headsets to help you to explore the natural world in brilliant, 360-degree, cinematic life through two different adventures.

You will get to accompany David Attenborough personally (as if you were there with him), as he descends via a state-of-the-art submersible never before seen in Australia (another first), into the vibrant coral of the Great Barrier Reef. You will be mingling with darting fish, deadly sharks, and the great natural wonders that lie beneath the ocean’s surface. Attenborough guides you through this adventure across over 3000 reef systems and you will come face-to-face with the diversity of this underworld we still know relatively so little about.

The abundance will take your breath away and raise the awareness of how scientists and researchers are using corals to predict how the reef will react to environmental changes. If you weren’t a greenie already, this is enough to turn you. We must protect this natural wonder of ours – a gift from Mother Nature – at all costs.

In the second of the two adventures, David travels back through time with his “First Life” experience, where he explores how the planet’s life forms began and went through a metamorphosis over centuries of time. You are introduced to the world’s earliest inhabitants, such as the whimsically built Opabinia, the fearsome looking Anomalocaris and the spiny, worm-like Hallucigenia, as you explore ancient oceans. Where else could you have such an experience such as this, I ask you?

Atlantic Productions and Alchemy VR (great name, don’t you think?) are thrilled to bring this experience to Canberra.

So dear Canberrans, I recently wrote an article asking if we were spoilt? The answer is a resounding, “yes” when we are presented with such groundbreaking experiences by the National Museum of Australia. Oh, by the way, if you haven’t yet see the other great exhibition there, “The history of the world in 100 objects”, from the British Museum, then there’s another reason to visit the museum this summer.

The VR experience will be open to up to 200 visitors at a time, but there is a ‘health and safety warning” that you must be 13 years of age or over, and bookings are essential. You can see the Museum’s website for further details.

For more information and to make a booking, visit nma.gov.au/virtualreality.

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