News & Commentary, Visual Arts

Immersive 3D technology takes you inside the historic and horrific Parramatta Girls Home

| |

It’s impossible for the vast majority of us to begin to understand the experiences of the young ‘children at risk’ who were held at the Parramatta Girls Home up until the early 1980s. Many of those girls were subjected to horrific punishments and sexual abuse during their time living at the facility, which was in operation as a girls home for almost a century.

But a new multimedia art project, called Parragirls Past, Present takes visitors on a virtual tour of the facility, guided by voiceover narrations telling the stories of the young women who lived inside the institution. They challenge the official narratives and tell personal histories about what they experienced throughout the facility.

The 20-minute work is open to the public for the next two months in the University of New South Wales’ EPICentre at Paddington, which houses the world’s highest resolution 3D, 360-degree immersive environment. To experience the work, visitors don 3D headsets, and walk into a chamber with screens on all sides.

Daily Review was given a preview of the project this week, and the experience is immediately confronting and arresting. It’s both literally and figuratively immersive, as the vivid stories and memories of these women combine with the transportive video technology.

Parragirls_past_present_covered_way

Bonney Djuric is a former resident and the founder of Parragirls, a network of women who lived at the facility, and the co-founder of the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct Memory Project. She’s also a historian and one of the artists who drove the creation of this project.

“I first saw this technology in the early days of this particular centre [UNSW’s EPICentre],” she says. “I’d gone in and seen some of the work that was produced and just thought ‘if only we could tell our story this way’. I couldn’t possibly imagine it at the time, because all this technology had to be learnt, and some of the programs hadn’t really been invented.”

The EPICentre (Expanded Perception and Interaction Centre) is a shared facility at UNSW that’s frequently used for science and medical research. This is the first time the facility will be open to the public as part of an exhibition.

Next month Parragirls Past, Present will also be exhibited through virtual reality headsets at the Riverside Theatres, Parramatta.

Djuric has devoted much of her career to telling the stories of the Parragirls through art and ensuring that the true history of the facility is known.

That’s a particularly pressing concern at the moment when the future of the precinct is under question. Although the facilities are heritage-listed, they’re subject to the NSW Government’s Parramatta North Urban Transformation, which could see parts of the precinct transformed or demolished.

Parragirls_past_present

“It was just turning into an absolute derelict site when I was going back,” Djuric says. “It was basically demolition by neglect, and some portion at the back had been damaged by fire and whatever else happened there. I kept thinking that this can’t be, and that we’d have to do something. It was like being rendered silent. We were not allowed to speak when we were there, and it was like there was a conspiracy to be silent and rub out this whole site.”

Artist and writer Lily Hibberd co-founded the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct Memory Project and has worked closely with Djuric on a number of projects related to the precinct. She says Djuric’s art, and the work that’s come out of the Parragirls, has proven a significant force in retaining the history of the Parragirls.

“Bonney recognised a long time ago that the arts was going to be very crucial in the process of assisting people come to terms with their own experiences, but also getting them recognised by others,” Hibberd says.

“How do you explain something like this to people? It’s impossible to convey the complexity of these things, and the emotional experience, and how much of a burden it is for these women to retell all the time.”

Sixteen former residents recently gave public testimony to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2014, but Djuric says almost 200 gave private testimony. Some extraordinary stories came to light throughout that process.

Under the stress of abuse and frequent segregation, many residents turned to self-harm, and some of these stories are recounted in Parragirls Past, Present. Some of the girls would scratch marks into their bodies, and would also scratch marks into the walls of the rooms in which they were locked.

“The building itself is scarred with our marks, and many of the women’s bodies are scarred with the same marks,” Djuric says.

Although many of those markings have since been painted over, some remain and have even been used as evidence in cases of sexual assault.

Hibberd says a big part of the purpose of Parragirls Past, Present is to ensure that the memories of the site aren’t able to be erased as it continues to develop.

“This [Parragirls Past, Present] will endure,” Hibberd says. “Whatever happens to the physical site, this will remain and will continue on. Otherwise, it’s just a written record, and really it’s about the visual, the experience, the space, the memory, the sound, and the full sensory experience. That’s what this can do that we can’t do in any other way.”

[box]Parragirls Past, Present is at the UNSW EPICentre, Paddington from September 20 to November 11. It will also be in Parramatta from October 12 to 21. See full details and opening hours here.

It’s part of the University of New South Wales’ The Big Anxiety Festival.

Featured image by Nick Cubbin[/box]

One response to “Immersive 3D technology takes you inside the historic and horrific Parramatta Girls Home

  1. Hello, I have some time back nominated the “Dungeon” room there as locally significant heritage. … plus other things around Parramatta, including natural heritage. BUT … I can get no response from the ADMINISTRATOR of Parramatta. Can someone/anyone please tell me, here or email me, just what’s going on at Parramatta? Thanks .. I’m keen to see heritage preservation maximised … Dr. J.B. ( john dot mail at ozemail dot com dot au).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *