Tyama, the new, multi-sensory and reactive digital exhibit that opens at Melbourne Museum tomorrow, might at first seem like just another light show. But its extravagant and considered approach to inclusive knowledge sharing is an evocative and fascinating journey into the nuances of the nocturnal world through full-sensory engagement and play.

Pronounced “Chah-muh”, the 1000-square-metre, six-room display is an immersive, interactive and visually stunning exhibit that blends scientific rigour, First Peoples’ wisdom, sweeping Disney-inspired soundscapes that incorporate natural sounds, and impressionistic digital animations that respond to your movements. The net result is an experience that hits a sweet spot you never knew you were looking for: somewhere between a rave and a school excursion.

The 40-minute, 360-degree journey into the nocturnal worlds of some of Victoria’s least charismatic, but most interesting, creatures – our moths, bats and fish – offers a chance to understand and embody them through reactive animations and dazzling use of light and sound. Echolocation, pheromone sensitivity and innate spatial perception are visually translated into lavish, synergistic scenes that allow visitors to experience first-hand these otherwise imperceptible processes going on around us all the time.

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The word tyama is the Keerray Woorroong language verb “to know”. But the word doesn’t just describe the information we hold in our minds. Tyama is about holistic understanding – knowing with our whole being. Both the word and the exhibit “recognise that knowledge is not something to be taken, it is to be earned through truly engaging with the world around us”, according to the project’s collaborators.

“When we ‘koopa’ sit, ‘ngakee’ watch and ‘wanga’ listen, we awaken our ‘toom-toompa’, our awareness to our heartbeat,” says Yoolongteeyt Dr Vicki Couzens, a Keerray Woorroong citizen who collaborated on the project.

Lead experience developer Miriam Capper says that pairing First Peoples’ knowledge and ways of learning with Western scientific understandings and pedagogies offers visitors new ways to engage and learn. “It’s moving away from the traditional idea of an exhibition where you see objects and learn facts,” Capper told Broadsheet.

As you make your way through the space in groups no bigger than 20, vibrant animated renderings of the nocturnal habitats swirl around you on towering screens, some seven metres high. The creatures and natural elements depicted are impressionistic and not intended to be photo-realistic – but that’s not to say they aren’t accurate. Every detail has been scrutinised by the museum’s researchers to ensure they’re scientifically truthful. Hidden in side rooms dotted throughout, the exhibit’s glass cabinet displays give you a chance to investigate more traditional museum specimens.

Through a towering textural kelp forest and into the cavernous final chamber the expansive 27-metre-long screens reveal the songline of the southern right whale’s delivery of life to Victoria. Narrated by Yaraan Bundle, a proud mother of three belonging to Gunditjmara and Yuin Nations and keeper of the Couzens’ family clan story, it’s an origin tale never-before shared with the public.

“Being a Whale Dreamer is one of the biggest honours and privileges of my life,” says Bundle. “It means so much to me on so many levels, being able to share part of the cultural creation story with everyone is a dream come true.”

“It’s that modern connection—bringing the ancient to today” And here, this sacred story is delivered with the timeless cinematic drama of Fantastia.

It’s held by some First Peoples of Victoria that when you share a sacred story the ancestors will send a rainbow of gratitude to remind you to keep on sharing them.
Capper says she hopes the exhibit’s final mirrored walkway will help visitors “reflect on their experiences and their own stories of nature – to be reminded to share them, to go out and experience all Victoria has to offer and find their relationship with country”.