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Neomad: A Yijala Yala Project

March 9, 2014

First up, I have to admit that I’m rather challenged when it comes to e-book apps. I did love The Wasteland app which I reviewed a couple of years ago, but it was clearly designed for a, let us say, more staid demographic. Neomad, “a futuristic fantasy” in three episodes, is another matter. Consequently, my aim here is less to review it as a work and more to talk about what seems to be an exciting collaborative project involving 30 young people from Roebourne in the Pilbara, comic artist Sutu and filmmaker Benjamin Dukroz.

We hear so much negativity about indigenous communities in outback Australia that it’s easy to feel the situation is hopeless. However, while we should not forget for a minute that the situation for many indigenous Australians is still dire, things are happening. Not enough, but nonetheless something, and these things can surely be seen as models for further action.

Pilbara landscape, Newman, WA

Pilbara landscape, Newman, WA

So, back to Neomad. Produced as part of the Yijala Yala Project, it’s currently available free from iTunes (or the Apple App store), so I decided to have a look. It’s colourful and infectious. The Facebook site calls it “an interactive digital comic”. Late last year it won Best Game – Multimedia Production in the 2013 ATOM (Association of Teachers of Media) Awards. So what is it? A game? A book? What’s in a name did I hear you say? Fair enough. Let’s not get bogged down in categorisation right now, except to say that it’s an example of what is apparently being described as “interactive fiction”.

Ignoring the categorisation issue, though, the ATOM site is useful for the neat little summary it provides of the story:

Set over three episodes, NEOMAD follows the story of the Love Punks and Satellite Sisters, techno savvy young heroes from a futuristic Roebourne in the Pilbara region of WA, who speed through the desert full of spy bots, magic crystals and fallen rocket boosters branded with a mysterious petroglyph.

The app itself says it is “based on real characters, places and stories that connect people to their country”. This becomes evident when you click “Play” on the Home page, as it starts with a lovely live-action sequence set somewhere in the Pilbara, involving a group of indigenous boys. They are the Love Punks and they feature in Episode 1. They tell us “When you see a star fall at night be sure to welcome it to the land for the star brings new life”. The story is set in 2076 and sees the Love Punks chasing a space robot (oops, space bot) across the sky, only to find, when it crashes to earth, that it bears the image of an ancient petroglyph. What does this mean? Episode 2 begins with quite a different live-action sequence involving indigenous girls, The Satellite Sisters, learning about the importance of their ancestors. Like Episode 1, this sequence progresses into an animated comic, which you can read as text or click on the speech bubbles to hear the characters speak the words.

As an interactive-game-challenged person I wasn’t always sure how much was on each “page”. For example, on some pages extra “things” pop up when you tap to “turn” the page. I presume that you can’t miss anything important, that no matter where or how often you tap or swipe, the app won’t take you to the next “page” until you’ve seen everything on the current page. However, I did find it disconcerting, as pages vary in layout so you never know what might be there behind the clicks! I expect this is not a problem for the people to whom the app is targeted though!

There’s an Extras section, comprising short live-action movies providing background to the project. We hear the kids talk about the meaning – one Satellite Sister tell us “that film is about the Satellite Sisters looking after the country” – and the process, such as how they learnt to use PhotoShop to colour the animation. There is also a “junk percussion” music video in which the Love Punks perform music using found objects such as corrugated iron, old drums and metal bars. I love it!

What is exciting about this project is that, amongst all the glitz and colour, it reaffirms the importance of country. As the name – Neo (new) Mad (nomad) – suggests, it marries respect for tradition with acceptance of change, looking for the points where they coincide:

“You boys need to respect these men and their robots. They’re all part of our community and they’re all looking after our ngurr, our country.”

“Sorry Nanna Tootie.”

This is kids telling a story in their language for other kids – and it is good fun. If you have young children around – and even if you don’t – do check it out. Meanwhile, thanks to E. Teacherlord, as our daughter calls her brother, for introducing me to the Love Punks and Satellite Sisters.

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. March 10, 2014 12:08 am

    LOL I think I would be challenged too but it sounds like a great game. What age group do you think it’s suitable for? (ATOM is mostly secondary orientated, but sometimes they have something for primary schools).

    • March 10, 2014 12:23 am

      My son is reading it with his Year 5 class Lisa, and I think the kids themselves are – or were when they were doing the project – about 11 themselves, so I’d reckon late primary would be perfect.

      • March 10, 2014 12:28 am

        Great, I’ll see if I can download it to my iPads at school:) We studying Aboriginal legends at the moment and a big part of that is locating the ‘country’ that the stories originate from, so it might be just the thing…

        • March 10, 2014 12:33 am

          It could very well be, Lisa – I’d love to know what you think. There are references to stories and relationship to the country.

        • March 10, 2014 12:34 am

          What does it cost?

        • March 10, 2014 12:36 am

          It’s currently free! Or it was when I downloaded last week! Can’t beat that!

  2. March 10, 2014 12:36 am

    Doh, it’s free at the moment, I missed that in the 2nd para. It must be time I went to bed!

    • March 10, 2014 12:37 am

      I wasn’t going to point that out! It was a long post … and it’s easy to miss “stuff”.

  3. chillcat permalink
    March 10, 2014 6:02 pm

    Neomads – I love it. And I think I have just the son who will enjoy this exploration of origin and Love Punks and Satellite Sisters!

    • March 10, 2014 6:29 pm

      Oh good, Catherine. It’s a lot of fun. I’ve “read” one and a half episodes so far, and have seen/listened to most of the the Extras.

  4. March 11, 2014 10:16 am

    Hi Whispering Gums! Thanks so much for taking a look at NEOMAD! We were offering a free download during Feb, as a bit of a back-to-school special, but I should let your readers know that the price is now back to $2.99. The series is available in book form too. What school is your son at? Great to know that it is being used in the classroom – this was one of our hopes!
    Thanks again for your thoughtful post.

    • March 11, 2014 2:34 pm

      Oh, how great to hear from you. I would happily have paid $2.99 for it so am glad you are charging. My son is teaching in Victoria … I’m happy to give you more details if you email me at wg1775[at]gmail[dot]com. He said the kids were enjoying it.

  5. March 12, 2014 6:03 am

    Oh this sounds so interesting! I love hearing about exciting ventures in “interactive fiction.”

  6. March 12, 2014 11:04 am

    Oooh, I just spent the last of my Australian iTunes money and was about to switch over to the Canadian store, but I must try to nab this first!

    • March 12, 2014 11:11 am

      Oh, it may cost now. $2.99. It was apparently a special Back to School offer when I bought it, but I didn’t realise. I’m sure you don’t mind paying that but if you’ve used up your Aus store money you’re not going to want to start up another account that you won’t use for ages are you? What a shame? I wonder if I can buy one to give to you? Does that work?

      • March 12, 2014 11:22 am

        I have no idea. Perhaps I could play on your phone when you’re here? :)

        • March 12, 2014 11:29 am

          You could, though it’s more an interactive book than a game to play. I’d love you to see it though.

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