University of Newcastle team time travels with virtual reality

TIME TRAVEL: Exploring 3-D images of Aboriginal artefacts in a digital dig site. Picture: Jonathan CarrollI’m virtually standing near the corner of Hunter and Steel streets, on the site of the KFC restaurant, before I sink into the earth, and into another world.

Like a surrealist scuba diver, I’m floating through grids, the colours of their outlines changing as I descend.

More than being submerged in somewhere psychedelic, I’m travelling through the ages, through layers of history; the 20th century, down through the colonial era and into the time before the British arrived here, when the Awabakal people lived and traded with other Aboriginal groups on this land for generations. Before I know it, I’m back more than 6000 years.

Suddenly a voice from the present day drifts into this virtual world.

“Can you see that object over to your left?,” asks Dr Ann Hardy.

There it is, suspended amid a cluster of blue grids, like some sunken treasure. A small stone.

Dr Hardy, the coordinator of the University of Newcastle’s GLAMx Living Histories Digitisation Lab, urges me to use the control grips in my hands to reach out and touch the stone. I can turn the stone and look at it from different angles, as if I’m holding it, and I can use a magnifying glass to study it.

A digital panel has popped up, and ittells me, in an arcane language understood by archaeologists, where I am: “B3 Spit 20”. And it indicates what I’m looking at: an “amorphic stone artefact”.

“Significance: Cultural,” the table declares.

After examining the stone, I look towards the surface and ascend through the grids until I’m back in 2017. I slip off the 3-D headset I’ve been wearing and immediately return to the real world.

I’m actually standing before a large screen in a room in the University of Newcastle’s Auchmuty Library.

But I’ve just been given a peek into the future, and into the ancient past, thanks to an eye-opening, head-spinning initiative called the Deep Time project.

Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council Chief Executive Robert Russell virtually in the digital trench. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

THIS project was born in a race against time.

Following the demolition of the former Palais Royale nightclub in 2008, and before the construction of ’s largest KFC restaurant on the Newcastle West site, an archaeological excavation was undertaken.

In the ground beneath where customers can nowgrab a fast fix of fried chicken is an extraordinary trove of heritage items.

The excavation report declared the survey “revealed an exceptional culturally and scientifically significant site”, uncovering5534 Aboriginal artefacts dating back about 6700 years.

Yet that report’s findings only saw the light in 2011, about a year after the KFC building was constructed. The past had been effectively sealed by the new development, and thatbroke open an outcry.

Gionni Di Gravio, the University of Newcastle’s archivist and chairman of the historical research group Coal River Working Party, was reported as saying at the time, “Aboriginal archaeology is not given any importance, which I find amazing. This material is as significant as anything you would find in Europe.”

All the researchers and the local Aboriginal communitieshad was what had been excavated and salvaged. Yet that was more than enough to cause dismay,as it highlighted to them what may have been lost.

“We only had a chance to get a little bit, it’s one trench,” says Dr Amir Moghadam, the university’s conservator.

University archivist Gionni Di Gravio with the boxes of artefacts. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

The trench that provided thousands of artefacts was only about 16 metres long, three metres wide and little more than two metres deep.

“It’s only a part of that whole place,” Dr Moghadam says. “Imagine how much we could have excavated and salvaged if we could have got access to the bigger site.

“But we understand there are other interests, and we need to keep up with that.”

What was excavated is significant, with the artefacts ranging from small stone tools to campfire remnants.

On this site, different Aboriginal groups used to trade, so stones and implements would be brought from far and wide.

“It’s like a Bunnings of the time,” Dr Moghadam says of the site. “It’s a tool shop.”

Archivist Gionni Di Gravio and conservator Dr Amir Moghadam inspect an artefact.Picture: Jonathan Carroll

For researchers, the sum of artefacts is more than a tool shop; it is a library, a museum, a science laboratory, and a grand repository of knowledge and learning.

The more recent layers close to the surface also held important clues to life in early Newcastle. Colonial artefacts were excavated.

A government farm and cottage wereestablished on this site about 1810.The missionary and pioneer Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld and his family lived around this area in 1825, and it was while here that he began recording and studying local Aboriginal languages. Threlkeld’s studies, and his connection with the area’s Aboriginal people,only add to the significance of the site, according to Ann Hardy.

“There’sthatreal coming together, and of the language being recorded,” she says.

So with the site’slayers of significance, and with boxes filled with Aboriginal and colonial artefacts, a group of archivists andhistorians at the universityconsidered this too important to bekept out of sight and mind of researchers and the community.

The Deep Time project began taking shape.The group resolved towork towards marrying theancient finds with state-of-the-art digital tools.

A digitised artefact, far left, in the virtual trench. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

If the site could not have been saved in reality for further research, then the trench and its contents would be virtually preserved. The plan was to scan each artefact and place that image in adigital trench, exactly where the original was found.

In that way, as Amir Moghadam says, everyone could “do some digital digging”.

Dr Hardy and Di Gravio argue thatit was one thing to have thousands of items in plastic bags, marked with the coordinates of where each of them waslocated, and then grouped together according to what sort of artefact it was. But that didn’t tell enough of the story about the site.

“Even though we knew the individual artefact, where it came from in the trench, it didn’t come in any order,” explains Ann Hardy. “It wasn’t until Gionni applied his archival thinking and got all the artefacts in some order, that we could find them again.”

“Being an archivist, I wanted that original order recorded,” Di Gravio adds. “The spit gave you the depth, and whether they were A,B or C gave you the coordinates of the location.

“From an archivist’s point of view, the kind of thing it is is not as important as the context of how it was located. The layer of how these records come to you tells a story, and you have to know where they were found.”

So the researchers had the artefacts. They had the coordinates. And they had the idea for the digitally recreated site. They just needed the technological know-how to turn their idea into a virtual reality.

They found what and who they were looking for on campus, with the university’s IT Innovation team. Earlier this year, the technology specialists spent about 12 weeks crafting a digital version of the excavation site.

“They were able to create the three-dimensional dig for us,” says Di Gravio.

The IT innovation team also sourced the equipment to scan the artefacts. But the scanninghas proven tobe a time-devouring process.

Student and Wiradjuri man Jason Connor scans an artefact. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

TUCKEDaway in the Auchmuty Library is a door that wears an impressive title: GLAMx Artefact Conservation Atelier.

Yet behind that door is a small, windowless room. This is where pieces of the past are converted into something that can be transported into the future. It is the 3-D digitisation lab, and the heart of the Deep Time project.

On the far wall are shelves stacked with storage boxes holding the artefacts from the KFC site. Just near the door is a lightbox containing what looks like a Lazy Susan.Sitting on that wooden plate is a scanner, which, because of its shape and appearance, is referred to as“the iron”.

Here Ann Hardyscansthe artefacts, one by one. It is a laborious process.

Dr Hardy gives a demonstration. The artefact is placed on the rotating plate, which the historian slowly turns, while she guides the scanner over the stone.

“It’s almost like spray-painting,” she explains.

Hundreds of frames of images are transferred to a computer screen. Those images are then cleaned up and aligned, like assembling a puzzle, to create the 3-D model. The process takes about 40 minutes for each item. Using the archaeologists’ coordinates, the digital version of the artefact is then uploaded into the virtual trench and placedexactly where the original was found.

Yet these pieces are few and far between in the virtual site; so far, only about 30 of the artefacts have been digitised. Which meansthere are thousands to go.

“It can be quite overwhelming, but it’s an example of the longevity of this project,” says Dr Hardy.

The historian needs not just more time but more volunteers to help with the digitising. About 10 students and volunteers have been workingin the lab, and more are trickling in.

Student and Wiradjuri man Jason Connor scans an artefact. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Jason Connor has been helping out to not just develop new skills but to strengthen the bonds to his culture.

Connor is a mature-age student. He left his job as a manager at a supermarket in Muswellbrook to enterthe university’s Yapug pathways program, which helps Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people develop the skills to study for a degree. Connor is planningto study Environmental Science.

He decided to become involved in the Deep Time project to honour his maternal grandfather and family. They are Wiradjuri people. As he holds the scanner over an artefact, this is far more than a physical act to Jason Connor.

“It’s such a spiritual experience to be connected to something that happened so many years ago, and it strengthens your own culture,” Connor explains. “You feel more connected.”

“To get a connection, to feel the heritage, the mystery, the emotion, to see the value of our culture. I just wanted to preserve the heritage, because heritage is sacred. We can lose it, or we can learn from it.”

Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council’s Peter Townsend studies a stone implement. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

THISproject, say its creators, is an n first. Indeed, they are unaware of any other archaeological dig of this typein the world that has been digitally recreated.

They emphasise the Deep Time project is the result of a range of skills and knowledge. The “GLAM” in the GLAMx Living Histories Digitisation Lab, they point out, stands for Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums, and each of those disciplines has been involved in some way. The project has been driven by uniting the cutting edge and time-honoured skills.

“It’s a beautiful marriage of the arts and sciences,” says Gionni Di Gravio.

For instance, with artefacts that are too small to scan, pencil and paper have been employed to preserve their image.

Emma Heath, who is studying for a Bachelor of Natural History Illustration at the university, has done about 300 drawings, finely and fastidiously sketching the front, side and back of each artefact.

“It’s good to have these stone tools, and not in a box and forgotten about,” Heath says.

Natural History Illustration student Emma Heath sketches a small artefact. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

But the knowledge that is crucial to this project is that of the traditional owners.

“The ancestors created these things, this is our respect to them,” Di Gravio says. “We really want to invite the communities in.”

The project creators recently held a demonstration for members of local Indigenouscommunities, including representatives of the Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council.Weekenderwas also invited.

In the digitisation lab, small pieces of enormous cultural heritage were taken out of the storage boxes and cradled by the researchers and visitors.

“You can almost feel where your thumb should go,” saidAmir Moghadam, as a crafted stone washanded to the land council’s culture and heritage officer, Peter Townsend. “You can imagine who held it.”

Townsend intently studiedthe stone and rubbedit against the palm of his hand, determining if it may have been a grinder of some sort.

“You don’t find this around here,” he murmured. “I haven’t seen something like this before. My guess is it has come from out west somewhere.”

To help answer those sort of questions, a geologist has volunteered to study the stones and track their source. That will indicate which other groups the Awabakal were trading with.

Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council’s Peter Townsend explores the virtual reality dig site, as Gionni Di Gravio watches on. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

The visitorsmoved from the digitisation lab to thelargeradjoining room, to stand before the screen, put on the headset and delve deep into the past.

“Unbelievable,” saidPeter Townsend of the virtual reality experience. “It’s a modern outlook, and it does bring to life the cultural heritage in Newcastle.”

Having worn the headset and studied some of the virtual stone tools on the screen, Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council Chief Executive Robert Russell saidthis project helpedbuild a clearer picture of a people who were “civilised and exceptionally good traders”.

The researchers say as more knowledge comes to light, they will learn more about individual artefacts. But the project will also fill in gaps on the broader picture, such as trading patterns of the Aboriginal groups and their diet.

Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council’s Peter Townsend explores the virtual reality dig site. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

While the project is yet to be officially launched, Amir Moghadam says the plan is to make “thecultural trench digitally available, so that anyone in the future can get to this digitised site”.

“By linking this to other information and technology, we can put this puzzle together, to find out about things that haven’t been talked about, such as politics and governance [among Indigenouspeoples],” he says.

So more than opening our eyes to a new world, this project could castfresh light on an ancient culture.

Peter Townsend talks with historian Dr Ann Hardy about the digital experience. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

“Virtual reality, and this digital work, is a great way of interpreting Indigenous heritage, and people respectingand learning,” says Ann Hardy.

“I see it as an opportunity for all ns to learn about Indigenous culture. So we do build more respect, and people acknowledge how rich and ancient the culture is.”

Having scanned an artefact, Wiradjuri man Jason Connor concludes, “everyone can learn from this”.

“There’s so much knowledge to be found in there.”

Hotel offers your own penthouse in the Big Apple

The place

AKA Central Park, New York City

The location

Just one street back from New York’s famous green centre, the AKA Central Park is a short walk from some of the city’s most famous icons, such as Times Square, the Rockefeller Centre, Broadway and the Museum of Modern Art. Tiffany and Co. is right around the corner, while the Plaza is across the street.

The space

In an area dominated by giant hotels, the AKA offers a more boutique feel. Designed for guests looking to stay for an extended period, the hotel offers many of the comforts of having your own apartment.

The small lobby feeds into a private bar for guests, while there is also a gym and a cafe on the ground floor. Level 2 offers a business centre, complimentary laundry and a small cinema. There are 16 floors and a total of 134 rooms.

The room

Perhaps responding to the challenge from Airbnb, the AKA chain unveiled its penthouse suites – huge spaces that are larger than many of the apartments people live in around here. Mine features a full kitchen, four-seater dining table, a living area with two armchairs an L-shaped couch large enough for two adults to comfortably lie supine on.

The stylish decor, dark wooden floorboards, grey upholstery and black table tops, gives it a modern, if somewhat business-like feel. The room also offers a large private terrace, offering views down 57th street. The bedroom is completely separate and equally impressive in its size, with a second large flatscreen TV and a walk-in robe.

Given the size of the rest of the space, it’s a surprise to find how small the bathroom is. A sink and a shower with a deep, but short, bathtub and a toilet are tightly fit into the small room. The toiletries are from Bvlgari.

The food

There’s no restaurant, perhaps given the kitchen facilities those who wish to eat in the hotel can cook for themselves. A cafe on the ground floor serves breakfast and lunch and offers your typical New York breakfast fare – bacon and eggs, pancakes, bagels and oatmeal. For lunch there’s a selection of hot burgers and sandwiches.

Beyond the hotel for dinner or lunch, take a short walk to Robert, located at the top of the Museum of Arts and Design (make a reservation – see robertnyc苏州美甲), offering modern cuisine with terrific views over Central Park.

Stepping out

The big question from this location is: where do you begin? Central Park is about one-minute’s walk away, with its vast green spaces. Just around the corner from the hotel is the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). We head here on a wet morning to find it packed with visitors escaping the rain. It’s the perfect place to do so – MoMA is home to one of the greatest modern art collections in the world.

Give yourself at least a few hours to explore the museum and be sure to get a close up look at some of the most famous works from Van Gough, Picasso, Pollock and Warhol.

The verdict

It might not be the Plaza, but it’s doubtful you could find a room as spacious and well-appointed as AKA’s for the price in that iconic hotel. The kitchen and laundry make this perfect for those looking to stay in New York for a week or more (if you can afford it), and in this location a week will not be long enough.


One-bedroom suites at AKA Central Park start at $US445 a night, with penthouse suites from $US785 a night. See http://www.stayaka苏州美甲

The writer stayed as a guest ofAKA hotel residences

Fox Sports paid bribes for soccer rights: FIFA witness

Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Sports paid bribes to win the rights to broadcast international soccer matches as the network sought to expand its audience throughout North and South America, a jury in New York was told.

Alejandro Burzaco, the former chief executive officer of sports-marketing company Torneos y Competencias, testified about the bribes paid by Fox Sports and other broadcasters at a trial of three former soccer executives charged in a wide-ranging international probe of corruption in the sport.

Fox Sports was among several international broadcasters who partnered with Torneos to obtain television rights to broadcast South American soccer tournaments, Burzaco said. All except one paid bribes, he said.

Asked by Assistant US Attorney Sam Nitze what Fox Sports hoped to gain by winning the broadcasting rights, Burzaco replied, “Using the TV rights to expand its Fox signal in all of the Americas from Argentina to the USA.”

Fox Sports didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Shares of its parent company, Twenty-First Century Fox, fell as much as 2.7 per cent to $US27.77 after the testimony.

The claims refer to Fox Sports in the US, not News Corp’s n sports channel.

The allegations further tarnish Fox’s image just as the media giant tries to persuade British regulators to allow the acquisition of full control of pay TV provider Sky.

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority is looking into issues of corporate culture at Fox, including its handling of sexual harassment allegations at Fox News by stars such as prime time host Bill O’Reilly and its late former boss Roger Ailes, as part of its review of ??11.7 billion ($18.6 billion) bid for the rest of Sky.

Other companies implicated include Globo and Grupo Televisa, Full Play Argentina and Traffic Group in Brazil. Televisa in Mexico and Traffic declined to comment on the testimony. Full Play couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Globo’s press office in Brazil denied the allegations and any wrongdoing. The company said it doesn’t “make or tolerate any bribe payments.” Globo conducted internal investigations and concluded that no payments that hadn’t been specified in contracts were made.

“Globo Group will make itself fully available to the American authorities so that everything is clear,” the company said. “For Globo, this is a question of honour.” FIFA scandal spreads to Asia

Jurors at the trial were shown what Burzaco called a “sham” $US3.7 million ($4.7 million) contract that was actually a cover for bribes. Torneos and its partners used the money to pay FIFA officials like Julio Grodona, head of Argentine soccer, to extend broadcast rights from 2015 to 2018, Burzaco said. Grodona died in 2014.

Torneos avoided potential competition with the contract extension while Fox Sports “gained leverage and the rights to broadcast and distribute its signal from the US to Argentina for four more years and to launch Fox Sports 2 and Fox Sports 3, and other signals,” Burzaco said.

The 2008 contract was signed by James Ganley, whom Burzaco identified as a Fox Sports official who was aware of the bribes. Ganley, former chief operating officer of Fox Pan American Sports, was named in a 2016 US lawsuit in which Fox executives were accused by a US-based television channel, GolTV, of paying tens of millions of dollars in bribes to FIFA officials.

Michael Davis, a lawyer for Ganley, didn’t immediately return voice-mail and email messages seeking comment about Burzaco’s testimony. Handing out cash

Burzaco was the head of Torneos from 2006 until his arrest in 2015. He’s the first of several cooperating witnesses who’ve pleaded guilty and are seeking leniency by testifying for the US in the trial in Brooklyn, New York.

A former Citigroup banker, Burzaco said he started investing in media broadcast companies in South America in the early 1990s, raising his net worth to about $US30 million.

He told the jury that he regularly paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars — sometimes as much as $US1 million a year — in bribes to South American soccer officials. Burzaco said the money was funnelled to accounts in Asia and Switzerland. Sometimes, he said, he handed out cash, with US dollars tucked into an envelope or stuffed into a bag.

The three men on trial were among the recipients, Burzaco said, pointing out the defendants who are accused of taking bribes and kickbacks.

The defendants are Jose Maria Marin, 85, the former head of Brazil’s federation and once on FIFA’s organiaing committee for the Olympics; Juan Angel Napout, 59, a Paraguayan and former FIFA official who was president of South American soccer’s governing body; and Manuel Burga, 60, a Peruvian soccer official and former member of FIFA’s development committee.


Sydney’s first apartment block for sale

The NSW government is continuing its run of selling off public housing in the historic harbourside suburb of Millers Point, with the latest batch of now-empty houses and apartments being listed for sale.

Among them is what local historians believe is Sydney’s first walk-up apartment building.

With a price guide of $9 million to $9.5 million, it would be the second most expensive Millers Point sale, after a block of 12 apartments at 44-48 Merriman Street and 56-62 Bettington Street sold for $12,300,000 at the end of November 2016.

It was built in 1900 for the musician and publican John Michael Stevens as a high-class boarding house, on the site of the former “Live & Let Live Hotel”, according to the property’s heritage listing.

The director of Pidcock Architecture, Caroline Pidcock, is Steven’s great granddaughter, and her family lived in the area between 1819 – 1912.

“It was built as a replacement to the pub, as it had burned down”, she said. “They decided to replace this building with this – the first apartment for workers in – and a terrace.”

The building was one of many taken over in Millers Point by the State Government after the outbreak of plague in 1900, and Stevens lead a strong and eventually successful campaign to stop his new building being demolished.

A total of 159 properties have been sold so far as part of the NSW government’s controversial program to offload its public housing assets in Millers Point.

A Property NSW spokesman said the timing and grouping of the remaining properties was “commercial in confidence”.

Once the sell-off is complete, Property NSW will have sold about 290 government-owned properties in Millers Point. The sale proceeds are to go to providing more public housing stock, with about 58,000 families on the waiting list in NSW.

“So far, the Millers Point sales program has delivered over $467 million in gross proceeds to fund new social housing dwellings”, the Property NSW spokesman said.

The final eviction notice to government housing tenants in Millers Point was issued earlier in the year, with some residents fighting to stay in their homes.

As of October 27 this year, 572 of the 579 public housing tenants in the Millers Point area, including those living in the Sirius building, had left or were planning to do so shortly. Related: Millers Point sell-off acceleratesRelated: Millers Point terrace highly-rated AirbnbRelated: $35 million windfall from social housing

The evictions have incurred criticism from political figures such as Sydney Greens MP Alex Greenwich, who described it as “social cleansing”, and Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, who said the “community of Millers Point deserves better than this”.

The evictions were also met with protests earlier in the year and opposition from community groups like the Millers Point Residents Action Group.

Comprising 11 apartments in total, the The Stevens Building had enjoyed a strong inquiry rate so far, said agent Richard Shalhoub of Sotheby’s International.

“They’re certainly in need of a cosmetic upgrade,” he said of its apartments. “But the facade is beautiful, it has a lot of character.

“I expect we’ll see interest from the larger scale investors as well as the developer market.”

Another eight Millers Point properties are also being sold by Property NSW at the same time, and are scheduled to go to auction on December 6.

The fate of the nearby Sirius Building is still uncertain, with the NSW state government opting against granting the brutalist apartment block heritage protection in October. It was the second time the building was declined heritage status, after the first decision was overturned by the Land and Environment Court.

The building was recently added to the World Monuments Fund’s 2018 watch list of endangered buildings.

Historic Mona Farm in Braidwood up for sale

A country lifestyle in beautiful open plains, a place where life moves slow and you can actually enjoy a freshly brewed cup of coffee while watching the horses graze.

A place that feels like another time.

Straight out of 1800s England, Mona Farm in Braidwood is just that.

Surrounded by picturesque scenery sprawling across 124 acres, Mona Farm boasts a number of historic buildings and award-winning gardens.

One of the main attractions of this property is an old-style arch bridge, which spans across a lake filled with frolicking platypuses.

Founded in the mid-1800s by Braidwood’s namesake itself, Thomas Braidwood Wilson, Mona Farm has lots to offer.

Knight Frank Prestige has just listed the property and its head of prestige residential sales, Deborah Cullen, said the home is a rare gem.

“It’s one of those really rare iconic rural properties that don’t come to market very often,” said Cullen.

“You feel like you’re a million miles from anywhere when you are there, it’s a very emotive property.”

Although one may feel a million miles away, Mona Farm is close to the centre of Braidwood so one can pick up a freshly baked loaf of bread each morning, adding to the idyllic country lifestyle.

“It’s right of the edge of Braidwood town, which means everything is so easy for access to get anything you need,” said Cullen.

“It’s really in a lovely little pocket to have a great country lifestyle.”

The current owner, Rose Deo, who bought the land three years ago, has completed extensive renovations on the property.

“Our current client has invested a lot of money into the property,” added Cullen.

“Everything has been beautifully touched by her, she has a really great eye.” Related: Character or contemporary? Which is best when buying a home? Related: Location, views and lifestyle: A winning combination for homebuyersRelated: Lonely Planet’s third city Canberra also a leader in property

Mona Farm is currently being used for both residential and commercial purposes with the estate boasting a function centre, a guesthouse and an equestrian centre.

Its tranquil location is an ideal weekend stay and its setting makes the perfect backdrop for wedding photos.

Cullen said the property has already attracted a great deal of interest.

“We’ve only been on the internet for three days but I’ve already had quite a decent amount of inquiries and inspections booked,” she said.

“It’s one of those really beautiful properties to be entrusted with.”

Knight Frank is currently taking expressions of interest.