A Canberra woman has won a national award for entrepreneurs by using 21st century technology to bring alive the ancient stories of indigenous people, including those embedded in rock art thousands of years old.
Indigenous woman Mikaela Jade, a mother-of-two from Red Hill, has created the free app - Indigital Storytelling - which uses augmented reality, the same technology as Snapchat - to tell the stories to a modern audience, including literally showing ancient rock art figures dancing, singing and interacting with the user.
The technology has been developed in close consultation with Aboriginal elders and 50 per cent of profits are returned to country.
Mikaela, who turns 39 on Friday was named in Sydney on Tuesdayas the winner of the a "New Generation Award" run by Veuve Clicquot.
The award recognises the success and vision of entrepreneurial businesswomen who, the company says, the qualities of Madame Clicquot who took over the reins of the champagne house Clicquot when widowed at the age of 27 in 1805. ("Veuve" is French for widow.)
Mikaela, who has been working on Indigital Storytelling for six years, mostly recently collaborating with Microsoft to use the content on its mixed reality device, HoloLens, felt the award was further validation of her work.
"I'm really excited to say to the rest of indigenous Australia, and particularly women, that we do have a place in this industry and we do have a place in entrepreneurship," she said.
"I think [winning the award] as an indigenous woman amplifies that message out to all the women and girls that want to start their own indigenous-based technology companies, that you can do it."
Her technology uses drones, 4D mapping software, image recognition technology and cultural law to bring the ancient stories alive. While the app is free, the revenue comes from sales of augmented reality t-shirts and cards.
Mikaela started working with Microsoft after an executive saw her give a talk in Sydney. He told her if she could get apply her content to the HoloLens headset within six weeks, Microsoft would promote it. She headed straight for India where her team were based and met the deadline.
"One of the more crazy things I've done. But it worked out really well. We were able to get it in the device and showcase it around the country," she said.
Part of her work with Microsoft is to tweak HoloLens, traditionally used indoors, for outside application.
"The idea is when you pop the device on your head, the [ancient characters] become placed in the environment and are fully dynamic. There's a 360-degree view, you can walk around and interact with them with hand gestures and voice commands," Mikaela said.
"Our plan with Indigital is to bring all the cultural sites around Australia, and potentially world, alive with cultural knowledge systems."
Mikaela, who is a Cabrogal woman originally from Sydney, has lived all over Australia. She spent five years in Canberra before moving to Kakadu with her partner Peter Cotsell, who was manager of the national park. She started the company while in Kakadu.
"That was really tricky because we didn't have much internet. The people I were working with up there hadn't really seen augmented reality before so it was a learning journey for the community as much as it was for me," she said.
The family moved back to Canberra last July for schooling for her daughters Amy, 12, and Jasmine, eight. Mikaela also works in the visitor experience area at Stromlo with the ACT Parks and Conservation Service.
She is proud to be such a dynamic role model for her daughters, one of whom, Amy, is already looking to set up her own tech company. "I think they'll grow up knowing anything is possible."
"Early in my career, people told me it was a dumb idea. Indigenous people didn't use technology. It would never work outside. There were a lot of barriers from people who couldn't see the vision. It was like a double-edged sword, because I could see it so clearly," she said.
"I think just chipping away at it and doing it in a remote community was probably the best thing I ever did because we could just get on with it. There wasn't a whole industry of tech people looking over our shoulder to see what we were doing. We just quietly did our work and made it happen."
And she is obviously from a go-getting family. Her sister Cassandra Rowe is Australia's only indigenous primatologist, working with primates all over the world.
"There's also my ancestor, Lucy Lane, who was believed to be the last Cabrogal woman born on the banks of the Georges River. What she did with her life was just fierce. She was just one of those fierce ladies who just did what she wanted and didn't accept the status quo," Mikaela said.
"So I think I come from a long line of strong women."
The award was judged by Sass and Bide co-founder Sarah-Jane Clark, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia director Elizabeth Anne Macgregor, Dinosaur Designs co-founder Louise Olsen, Red Balloon founder Naomi Simson and Stedmans Hospitality founder Mandy Foley.