Dubai: Several millennia ago, indigenous settlements sprouted across the continent of Australia, which later earned the moniker Land Down Under because of its location below the equator. Fast-forward 60,000 years and Aussies had gone on to invent the first Wi-Fi, flight recorder, cardiac pacemaker, polymer banknote and so much more.
"Australia’s ingenuity has not ended with the invention of Wi-Fi," said Justin McGowan, Commissioner General of the Australia Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, in an interview with Gulf News. "In fact, it has continued to flourish, and we are looking forward to sharing our current world-leading innovations at Expo 2020 Dubai."
Australia’s ingenuity has not ended with the invention of Wi-Fi. In fact, it has continued to flourish, and we are looking forward to sharing our current world-leading innovations at Expo 2020 Dubai. [The fair] provides an invaluable opportunity to promote the best of Australian innovation and ingenuity, cultural diversity, and world-class goods and services on the world stage.
Housed in the Mobility District, the pavilion is a billowy presence at the world fair, exhibiting under the theme of 'Blue Sky Dreaming'. An ode to its multi-cultural societies, the country fits right into the thematic district for having a population that hails from 300 ancestries, one that is historically well-accustomed to the transfer of people.
"Australia is a [country] built on the free flow of ideas, and movement of people is embedded in our ... DNA," he added. "We will bring this understanding to the world and show the power that mobility has to connect minds and build the future."
Blue Sky Dreaming
Oral tradition has always been integral to the history of Australia, where narratives and ingenuity took root tens of thousands of years ago, owing to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In the Australia Pavilion, the country's rich past will forge its innovative future, as guided by a "blue-sky ambition".
Cumulus clouds – tall, puffy white clouds with a flat base – are often seen adorning the Australian horizon, heralding clear weather. Brisbane-based architecture firm Bureau Proberts, plucks the these clouds from the sky to crown the pavilion in hopes of painting a diverse picture of the country.
The cloud-like canopy is an assembly of powder-coated aluminium blades of varying lengths that signify multiple Aussie cultures and peoples coming together. Due to its stacked form, the ‘cloud’ becomes an oscillating spectacle with the changing daylight. While the tectonic blades of the cloud shade visitors during the day, they will also light up at night in a dynamic display.
"At night, the roof comes alight with LED light displays reflecting different mood and weather states of the Australian landscape," said McGowan. "The technology behind the cloud is also reflective of Australia’s collaborative and innovative nature."
Besides aluminium, other sustainable materials such as timber, sourced from eucalyptus trees, have gone into the pavilion’s construction of the facade. The wooden exterior is as jagged as Australia's rocky terrain.
CLTP Tasmania, a timber-manufacturing company under the Victoria-based The Hermal Group, is supplying the pavilion with cross laminated timber panels made from glued layers of solid timber. This technique helps utilise more of lower-quality-but-renewable timber from eucalyptus plantations native to Australia. Visitors will find the timber structures regulating temperature and humidity inside the pavilion by storing carbon from the atmosphere.
Stargaze in a planetarium
Of the three exhibition spaces, a planetarium called the 'Star Dreaming Gallery' will take centre stage as the highlight of the pavilion's 24-minute journey. And this comes naturally to the Aussies since the world's first stargazers and navigators were native to Aboriginal astronomy – long before the Greeks, Europeans and Babylonians looked to the sky. Just as the First Nations People seamlessly wove tales of constellations and galaxies into their Dreaming stories, the Australia Pavilion will honour the oldest astronomers in its own in-house planetarium.
"There is a breathtaking planetarium creating a completely immersive experience of being under the Australian sky," said McGowan. "Guests will be presented with a compelling visitor experience that will give them an emotional connection to Australia."
There is a breathtaking planetarium creating a completely immersive experience of being under the Australian sky. [Visitors] will discover narratives that have been passed down generations through song, dance and oral tradition over tens of thousands of years.
Among the Yolngu people, for instance, the sun is a woman personified, who journeys across the sky with a lit torch from east to west, camps underground then repeats her trek the next morning. Aborginal cultures understood the motions of celestial bodies and recorded their patterns in song, dance and oral tradition; not to mention, they were clearly aware that the earth was, in fact, round – 65,000 years ago.
Upon exiting the Australian planetarium, visitors will embark on 'Annika's Journey' - a cinematic story of a young girl moving through Australia, exploring possibilities of her future.
Indigenous Australian Art Program
As Australia celebrates its diverse indigenous peoples, it will also shed light on their venerable cultures by uplifting their voices through the universal language of art.
Take the entrance to the pavilion, for instance. Representing the Aboriginal peoples of Yorta Yorta and Gunditjmara is the Melbourne-based multimedia artist Josh Muir, whose vibrant street art will deck the interactive ‘Welcome Stories’ tunnel of the pavilion.
Tying in with the country’s technological advances, the tunnel, designed in collaboration with Accolade Event Management, features digital screens to enhance the visual storytelling. "Visitors will be greeted by Australian faces, animals, scenery and landmarks as they wander through the tunnel in a truly captivating experience," said McGowan.
The pavilion's very own curated digital art programme under the title 'Indigenous Australian Art Program' is set to showcase the works of various Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. Headliners include Brisbane-based contemporary artist and illustrator Tori-Jay Mordey, whose colourful pieces explore her Torres Strait Islander and English heritage; Tahlia Palmer of Yuwaalaraay and Gomeroi descent and her black-and-white photography of The Gap in the Torndirrup National Park; Joy Nangala Brown's 'Dreaming' stories or Aboriginal worldview that manifest in patterned paintings and many more.
"We have Delvene Cockatoo-Collins, a Quandamooka woman who lives and works on Minjerribah - North Stradbroke Island, operating her business 'Minjerribah Art Studio and Cottage'. We showcase some of her beautiful hand-printed home-ware collection," added McGowan.
Threads of Aboriginal storytelling have started to stitch into the Emirati fabric as well, and the importance of such art will be stressed by Rikki Dank, owner of indigenous art gallery Lajarri in Dubai. In similar spirit, the pavilion's VIP 'Majlis' balcony bears an art piece born of a cultural collaboration between Emirati artist Khalid Mezaina and Wardandi Nyungar, and Ait Koedal artist Tyrown Waigana.
Ever heard of a snag in a bun?
In the shaded seating of the forecourt, a string of food and beverage options will leave visitors spoilt for choice because only here will they have the chance to try kangaroo meat. The eclectic menu does not stop there when servings also include a snag in a bun, which is colloquial Aussie for a sausage in a bao (or soft Chinese steamed buns).
McGowan further listed prawns, avacado on toast, nostaligia in a packet for Aussie expats Tim Tam biscuits and the Australia-invented chocolate-flavoured drink Milo. He also claimed that the pavilion will offer "the best coffee" on site, brewed by specialty coffee roasters Industry Beans.
Take pictures with Wattle and her buddy Jali
Young visitors will have a pair of special mascots to keep them entertained. Enter Wattle, the friendly koala, and Jali, the free-spirited, curious butterfly, who are to neatly sum up the pavilion journey.
"Children can meet these two vibrant characters as they will be moving about in the pavilion and will be delighted to pose with them for a happy snap," added McGowan.
Since koalas are famously representative of their native land, Wattle embodies the spirit of Australia. This character is often accompanied by her sidekick butterfly Jali, whose name translates to ‘tree’ in the Bundjalung indigenous language.
- The writer is an intern to Gulf News.