On 30 November 2018, 200 years to the day of the first Macquarie lighthouse being lit, we launched a digital heritage resource at a civic event next to the lighthouse as well as on our website and the Trust’s website so that everyone in Australia (and everywhere else) can experience this important heritage site.

Professor S. Bruce Dowton with a VR headset on

Professor S. Bruce Dowton tries out the VR Lighthouse experience at the Lighthouse itself

For the past few years at Macquarie, we have been developing and honing our skills in 3d scanning and imaging, 3d printing, and 3d web delivery – enabled by a combination of generous support through Learning and Teaching grants and some dedicated and talented individuals with the foresight to see where it could go. This is evident in the wealth of items now freely available on Macquarie’s Pedestal platform as well as the wonderful use of these resources by high schools through the Object Based Learning platform. confirmed at the Knowledgeable Object Symposium in November.

During development, we initially focused on the objects in our Macquarie history museums (ancient and modern), then gradually expanded our repertoire to include palaeo teaching samples, anatomy samples, biology specimens, geology artefacts, sites in Egypt, and even a set of caves in China!

3 Macquarie logos

Our crest in the middle flanked by the pre-2009 logo on the left and our current (post 2014) logo on the right

However, for some time, my chief longtime collaborator, A/Prof Yann Tristant (Dept of Ancient History), and I had our sights on something bigger and more iconic to the university: the Macquarie Lighthouse featured proudly, once again, as a centrepiece to our logo. If you didn’t know, the lighthouse has always been the symbol on our “crest” (and must be through a University by-law) and was reintroduced to our “logo” by our current Vice-Chancellor in 2014 to great acclaim.

When prompted by several people, including A/Prof Jane Williamson from the Department of Biological Sciences earlier in the year to discuss work on photogrammetric drone digitisation (she was interested in the sustainability coal loader at Bradley’s Head at the time), we thought now is the time to both improve our skills further and come together as we do at Macquarie in a multidisciplinary way to create a set of digital assets for the University as well as the people of Australia. We met with the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust in May (who also at the time asked us to investigate and hopefully find the entrance to an old WW2 emplacement on the cliff) and what followed was an ongoing period of serendipity that brought together government departments, museums, startups, students and the media.

photo of 3d printed lighthouses

A variety of 3d printed replicas in resin, titanium and pla plastic (biodegradable of course!) thanks to Optofab

A/Prof Craig O’Neill from Earth and Planetary Sciences came on board to initially fly the drone and in the first meeting asked “Do you want to see underground as well?”. We brought on Jane Thogersen of the Australian History Museum to manage the historical enquiry side as well as a general organiser of a set of enthusiastic technologists. We invited students and tutors Olivier P Rochecouste and Jacinta Carruthers to help us document the process and also PhD student Kevin Lucas who was undertaking a VR outreach project for Widening Participation and really needed access to the Lighthouse for that.

team from Macquarie preparing equipment in front of the Macquarie lighthouse

The initial on site safety briefing early one cold morning in July

After a whole bunch of permits later, as a team, we went to Vaucluse very early one morning in July. We photographed, we scanned, we radared (that is actually a word!), we droned (…uuh, a word but the wrong word). It was quite windy that day so we couldn’t get too close to the cliff but all in all, it was a successful first day and we started to put together some 3d assets (with the help of my Pedestal 3D collaborator Peter Reeves).

We then planned another outing where we would employ a terrestrial laser scanner (operated by Rory Williams from the Dept of Environmental Sciences) to get a higher fidelity mesh of not just the lighthouse, but the entire surrounds as well. At this stage, we were beginning to drown in data so in comes Will Farebrother (also from the Dept of Environmental Sciences) with some super computing resources at his disposal to crunch away at many millions of points and polygons. We also brought on board Matt Cabanag, VR expert (and architect of the REIM  trolleys soon to hit a classroom near you) to help us with an immersive VR experience.

VR setup inside Macquarie lighthouse

Jane Thogersen demos the VR experience setup inside the Macquarie Lighthouse engine room using a REIM Trolley developed by Matt Cabanag (pictured with headset)

Then, after all this work, the Lighthouse was given a fresh paint job so many of our photos were now out of date! So, I called on Joanne Stephan from Central Marketing to come over and fly the drone to get another set of photos of the new paint job, get a better set of pictures of the landscape and to further investigate the tunnel on the cliff. This prompted a media storm a few weeks later… this news.com.au article is my favourite and most accurate of all the coverage as well as the things we found from the community partially captured in this story the next day. I also reached out to the wonderful Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences as they had a few relics from the lighthouse in their collection and we wanted to add them back to location digitally.

After many thousands of photographs and scans later, now that we had all the “digital source stuff”, I worked on the 3d models; Matt and Peter worked on the VR experience; Joanne, Olivier and Jacinta pulled together a video doco; and we got the awesome folk at Optofab (Ben Johnston and Peter Dekker) to do a huge amount of 3d printing in various materials for the Sydney open tours and anniversary event and everyone pulled together to plan and manage the events.

photo of Michael Rampe and S Bruce Dowton

Michael Rampe (project lead) launches the digital resource with Macquarie University Vice-Chancellor Professor S. Bruce Dowton

In early November we did a trial run of the VR experiences inside the lighthouse itself and gave away 3d printed replicas to all guests and on the 30th of November, it was wonderful to showcase the final package to the delegates at the civic event including (among many important people) all three levels of government and the delightful Dame Marie Bashir (who served even longer than old Lachlan as governor of NSW!)

Looking back from the privileged position of a successfully delivered project, I had many exciting moments but my personal highlight was the wonderful outpouring of social history from the community when we first released pictures of the tunnel to the media. To me, that really showed the power of the outreach approach of heritage digitisation to spark important conversations and further discoveries.

…oh yeah, and we found the entrance to the tunnel but that is another story!

Check out this great video put together by the team:

Along with all my collaborators, I would like to particularly thank the tireless and amazing Jane Thogersen who really did keep the whole show on the road right to the community day on 1 Dec where kids got to paint little 3d printed lighthouses. Jane is now also Chief Investigator on our “3D Digital Heritage: Capturing Sites and Stories” social history research project which puts this technology use into a situated academic context moving forward. If you have personal stories about the Lightstation you would like to contribute, please contact us.

Now, time to start again and do something bigger!

Posted by Michael Rampe

Michael has been a Senior Learning Designer at Macquarie for several years working in, around and between many faculties and is now permanently placed in the faculty of Arts. With a career focus on graphic design, video, photography and 3D media, he is a technologist, an innovator, and recently an entrepreneur. He developed the Pedestal 3D platform and commercialised it as a start up company through the Incubator. His current research is focussed on object based learning, 3D digitisation for learning and ways VR can intersect with learning.

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