History experts spent three months recreating The Great Fire of London 1666 for the computer game Minecraft.
But it took only a dozen or so Ipswich school children to join forces and recreate The Great Flood of Ipswich/Brisbane 1893 in a special Ipswich Libraries project.
The children, aged 8-15, came together for three two-hour sessions per month, from March to November, to remake the Ipswich CBD and then see their hard work destroyed by a virtual flood.
This digital heritage project was the brainchild of Council public program delivery officer Philip Schneider.
Minecraft is a computer game in which you make things out of virtual blocks, from skyscraper towers to entire cities.
It is played by more than 120 million people – mostly young teens – around the world on computers, smartphones, tablets and video-game consoles.
The creative Lego-style construction of Minecraft allows players to build with a variety of different cubes in a 3D procedurally generated world.
Other activities in the game include exploration, resource gathering, crafting, and combat.
Phil had been inspired by the Minecraft recreation of the London fire and thought the concept could be applied locally.
“That was done by professionals in a matter of months. I wasn’t sure how we could transfer it to a program for children,” he said.
“But what they came up with was absolutely mind-blowing.”
The idea was to rebuild, block-by-block, buildings in the Ipswich CBD from 1893 using images from the digital archive, Picture Ipswich, then recreate the flooding.
“The plan was to teach them some of the history of Ipswich using the Picture Ipswich archives. They knew a little bit about the 1974 flood and the recent ones, but not the history behind the 1893 flood,” Phil said.
“The children referred to hardcopy images to construct the buildings. They picked some of the iconic buildings, the Hotel Grande, Palais Royal, Bank of New South Wales, Queensland Country Women’s Association, the Post Office, parts of Top of Town to Queen’s Park.
“They also used images to recreate some of the residential housing of the time.
“I gave them a bit of artistic licence and they did an amazing job.”
The showcase event was held at Ipswich Central Library on 6 December.
Between 3-21 February 1893, the Bremer River reached 24.5m above its usual height. Houses were washed away and North Ipswich became an island, cut off from the rest of the city.
The children were taken back 125 years to the moment the flood waters burst through and flooded the Ipswich CBD.
“All their hard work was destroyed in a few minutes … and they were excited to see it happen,” Phil said.
With the push of a button, he unleased the virtual flood and it swept through the streets and swallowed up the Minecrafters’ buildings.
It finished at the exact same level high up of the Bank of NSW building.
The children sat there in silence watching the waters lap their construction handiwork.
Sisters Georgia and McKenna Kneen, 14 and 12, of Wanora, thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
Georgia said she had never played Minecraft before and was amazed at the process of building and then seeing the flood.
“It was good fun,” she said.
It wasn’t all work and no play. Part of the program allowed the children to down tools once a month for free play in survival mode.
But it was the grand finale, the simulated flooding, which won the day.
“It was an excellent way to develop digital literacy skills and raise awareness of both Picture Ipswich and Ipswich Libraries’ resources and services,” Phil said.
“There is potential for future interactions between technology and history such as VR, AR and 3D printing.”
He said a follow-up project might take students into the future, possibly Ipswich 2093, two centuries on from the Great Flood.
Libraries and Tourism Committee Chairman Cr David Pahlke said it was a fantastic concept.
“This was an innovative digital program bringing local history to the young people of Ipswich via technology,” he said.
“Ipswich Libraries and Picture Ipswich were instrumental in helping the young Minecrafters put their thinking caps on and recreate the CBD before the great flood of 1893, then sit back and watch their work go under water, albeit in a virtual reality world.
“Hats off to everyone who took part in this project and I look forward to the next chapter.”