Parragirls, Past, Present. Trailer 02:30
Trigger Warning: Audio of traumatic experiences.

Parragirls, Past, Present is a collaboration with Parragirls, (former residents of the Girls Home) and media artists that rewrites the public history of the former child welfare institution, unsettling myth and memory.

For the Parragirls, it is an important recovery project and a chance to tell the story of the site in their own terms. Returning after 40 years, the Parragirls seek out traces to substantiate what really happened here.

This groundbreaking immersive experience premiered at the EPICentre at UNSW, Paddington, the worlds highest resolution 3D immersive cinema was accompanied by an online sound work, a self-guided audio walk at Parramatta Girls Home and a Virtual Reality display at The Big Anxiety Parramatta Riverside Hub. A related work, The Public Secret, appeared at UNSW Galleries. An external video mapping projection appeared on the outside of the EPICentre building.

The project advances the aesthetics and social impact of the genre of virtual reality/immersive media at the nexus of human rights. It empowers the women to attest to the embodied experience of contested memory. The immersive environments give audiences an exceptional insight to a space of confinement as experienced by Parragirls.

Parragirls Past, Present is a deeply moving immersive experience, presenting former residents’ visions of the Parramatta Girls Home today. A collaboration between five former “Parragirls” and a team of media artists/researchers, this work is the first ever 3D immersive film production to address childhood experiences of institutional abuse. Developed during the last two years of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Parragirls Past, Present literally unlocks memories of institutional ‘care’ that have until now been considered unrepresentable, giving voice to the ‘unspeakable’ history of Forgotten Australians and Stolen Generations. Part research project, part recovery project, the work is innovative in its form, content and social impact. More than a digital media memorialisation of national trauma, it promises systemic change in the future care of children; as Jenny McNally encapsulates at the conclusion of the film: ‘We can’t fix the future if they don’t recognise our past’. Commissioned by The Big Anxiety festival and premiered in the world’s highest resolution immersive cinema (UNSW EPICentre) in 2017, the work has since been selected (in virtual reality form) for prestigious international film festivals such as SXSW.

The audience visited the EPICentre, UNSW Galleries and sites in Parramatta. Viewers in Parramatta and elsewhere watched a Virtual Reality version and accessed audio online.

An Exit Survey by Urbis found people felt a high degree of empathy and sympathy. 100% of participants surveyed stated they would have conversations about the festival event with people they know, 72% would try to change someone’s mind about mental health/wellbeing; 63% would get involved in an activity aimed at improving community attitudes to mental health.

Parragirl Jenny McNally: “I think that’s the most amazing thing.. that I was believed. To go to the University and to have my first born son who was taken from me through Parramatta say ‘Mum, this is stunning and now I understand your story. I understand who you are. It gave me back my reality…”

Visitor Anuradha Kapur, India: “It is possibly one of the most extraordinary experiences I’ve had. The most amazing intersection between art and science which opens up, and embodies the trauma of the past. I shall remember this for a very long time.” (online visitors book)

This project has been assisted by the Australian government through the Department of Communication and the Arts’ Catalyst—Australian Arts and Culture Fund.

Parramatta Female Factory Precinct Memory Project is supported by the NSW Government through Create NSW and is assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.

Lily Hibberd is the recipient of an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Research Award Scheme.

Art Director and Production Design: Volker Kuchelmeister
Sound Design/Editor: Alex Davies
Writer/Editor: Lily Hibberd
Writer/Narrator: Bonney Djuric, Jenny McNally
Narrator: Lynne Edmondson Paskovski, Gypsie Hayes, Denise Nicholas
Co-producers Jill Bennett, Bonney Djuric, Lily Hibberd
Commissioned by the Big Anxiety Festival 2017 (Jill Bennett)

Produced by Big Anxiety Festival Sydney 2017
UNSW Epicentre Expanded Perception & Interaction Centre. With special thanks to Tomasz Bednarz, Rob Lawther, Damien Leonard, Doug Kidd, Kathy Yeh.

Today is not Tomorrow: PTSD Understories, Umbrella Studio, Townsville. 08/11/2019 – 15/12/2019.
Art after Hours. The Big Anxiety virtual reality station., Art Gallery NSW, Sydney. 16/10/2019.
Horizon Festival. Deconstructed breakfast, Festival Central, Maroochydore. 23/08/2019 – 01/09/2019.
360 Vision, Create NSW, Carriageworks, Sydney. 16/11/2018.
Co.Lab. Landcom and UrbanGrowth NSW, Parramatta Girls Home, Parramatta. 22/11/2018 – 22/11/2018.
Beyond Festival, ZKM Centre for Art and Media, Karlsruhe. 03/10/2018 – 07/10/2018.
Adelaide Film Festival, GU Film House, Adelaide. 10/10/2018 – 21/10/2018.
Haifa International Film Festival, Haifa, Israel. 22/09/2018 – 01/10/2018.
Melbourne International Film Festival, Melbourne. 02/08/2018 – 19/08/2018.
Revelations Perth International Film Festival, Perth. 05/07/2018 – 18/07/2018.
ISEA International Symposium on Electronic Arts, Durban Art Galley, Durban, South Africa. 23/06/2018 – 30/06/2018.
IX Symposium on Immersive Experience, The Conquest Of Reality, SAT Society for Arts and Technology, Montreal, Montreal. 29/05/2018 – 02/06/2018.
Australian Heritage Festival, Parramatta Girls Home, Parramatta. 19/05/2018 – 19/05/2018.
Sydney Film Festival, Sydney Town Hall, Sydney. 06/06/2018 – 17/06/2017.
South by Southwest SXSW, Austin Tx, Austin. 09/03/2018 – 17/03/2018.
Check-in Lounge, Parramatta Riverside Theatre, Parramatta. 12/10/2017 – 21/10/2017.
The Big Anxiety Festival, Expanded Perception and Visualisation Interaction Centre, UNSW Art & Design, Sydney. 20/09/2017 – 11/112017
TheMHS Learning Network Inc, Hilton Sydney, Sydney. 31/08/2017.
International Initiative for Mental Health Leadership & International Conference, Hilton Sydney, Sydney. 02/03/2017.
Growing Up Digital, invited by NSW Mental Health Commissioner, Town Hall Sydney, Sydney. 28/02/2017.