Readers, imagine if you can your own personalised virtual magical history tour in which, travelling in a 2012 ACTION bus, you do some time-travelling back through Canberra's history. Looking out of the modern charabanc's windows you see thousands of Canberra views, events and objects as once they were. Look! There's the Black Mountain Tower in 1975 only half completed! Look, there's the aerial display by funny little aeroplanes at the 1927 opening of the new Federal Parliament. And can that be President Lyndon B. Johnson's grand, bullet-proof limousine parked outside Woolies in Civic in 1966? Yes, it is!
Three young men in their late 20s, Ben Swift, Torben Sko and Peter Davis, all of them proud Canberrans, won important prizes at last weekend's GovHack conference with their History In ACTION creation. You can see it and play with it at www.historyinaction.info although for the time being Swift explains you will need to employ the browsers Safari or Chrome to fetch it.
More of History in ACTION in a moment but first an explanation that GovHack is what Swift calls a kind of ''hackathon''. For the GovHack hackathon government departments and teams of computer-clever people (two of the three members of the History In ACTION team have just completed PhDs in computer science at the ANU) collaborated to look at ways in which usually inaccessible and sometimes dull government data can be made transparent and made gorgeous to play with. More than 40 projects were conceived for GovHack and the judges say they ''we were blown away by the quality, the innovation, the pure unbridled awesomeness that emitted [sic] from both Canberra and Sydney throughout the 48 hours''.
Creations of other GovHack contest teams included meteorological data made into jewellery and a website that gives us the long-overdue democratic right to calculate whether or not any politician we wish to investigate is smarter than a fifth-grader.
What the History In ACTION team did, Swift explains, was to devise a way in which thousands of the National Archives's seldom-seen and quite-hard-to-fossick-for photographs of Canberra can be made available to everyone in an engaging, human way. Lots of us, the three reasoned, travel on buses, and so using real ACTION bus routes they devised a program with which you can go online and chug to and fro wherever you like in Canberra and have archives' photographs of people, things and events associated with the places you trundle through pop up wherever you go. ''It's a fun way to find out what happened along those bus routes'' Swift thinks, adding that you can even ''click on an era'' and so (unlike Dr Who, who never knows where the TARDIS is careering to in time) take an ACTION bus to the time destination of your choice.
Don't expect, Swift cautions, to find the History In ACTION program flawlessly polished, yet. It is a brainwave quite speedily put together, albeit with lots of love because all three men adore Canberra and hate it when ignorant buffoons mock their city.
But Swift does hope (he says there were some government nibbles during the GovHack jamboree/hackathon) that History In ACTION may, when polished and refined, will be part of any kind of suite of online celebrations of our centenary.
Meanwhile, the National Archives gave the Canberra men first prize ($2500) in the prized digital humanities category for their History in ACTION contribution.
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