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2 – 9 July 2023
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Dr Rhett Loban

National NAIDOC Innovation Award Category
Dr Rhett Loban

Dr Rhett Loban is a Torres Strait Islander man with connections to Mabuyag and Boigu. Rhett is a researcher and lecturer at Macquarie University. His research interests include culture, game-based learning and virtual reality.  

Rhett received his Bachelor of Arts (honours) from the University of Queensland in 2012, and Masters of Information Technology from Queensland University of Technology in 2015. Rhett then received his PhD in 2020 from the University of New South Wales (UNSW). His PhD thesis examined how players might learn about history through engaging with Grand Strategy video games, in particular through the practice of modding. 

Rhett also led the development of Torres Strait Virtual Reality, a game used at UNSW to teach about Torres Strait Islander culture and knowledge. The Torres Strait Virtual Reality provides access and insight into aspects of culture, stories, customs, practices and viewpoint through an immersive process. Rhett’s game has sought to capitalise on the passions and enjoyment of video games held by our younger generation of adults and children to make learning a much more interesting journey.  

Torres Strait Virtual Reality helps promote Rhett’s community and the Torres Strait Islander culture to a wider audience by highlighting untold, and often unknown, unique culture, traditions and history. The game provides teaching material for several different courses that engage both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students to share knowledge and foster understanding of cultural diversity. The game illustrates Indigenous environmental knowledge as well as several cultural aspects and phenomena in the Torres Strait such as the Tombstone Opening, trade between Papua New Guinean people and the Torres Straits Islanders, stories and other traditional practices.  

Rhett is writing a book on embedding Indigenous culture into game design and his design approach in Torres Strait Virtual Reality. The submitted manuscript has received positive endorsements from both industry and academia. Rhett continues to work and research at Macquarie University, researching and designing digital media to promote Indigenous knowledge and culture.  

Some of Rhett’s achievements are listed below: 

  • Rhett won the 2018 CSIRO Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander STEM Professional Career Achievement Award for leading the development of Torres Strait Virtual Reality 
  • In 2023, Rhett was invited by NSW Education to be an ambassador to promote the new computing syllabuses 
  • In 2019, Rhett was a Witness for the Western Australian Parliament for Digital Learning Inquiry 
  • Rhett was part of a team that won the Best Immersive Learning Showcase at the 2020 Immersive Learning Network 6th Annual Conference.  
  • Rhett was awarded the Macquarie University 2019 Department of Educational Studies Early Career Researcher Award and in 2020 was awarded a Faculty of Arts Early-Career Research Fellowship 
  • Rhett was awarded the 2017 Dean’s Faculty Award for Student Leadership (Social Engagement) at UNSW for developing and implementing Torres Strait Virtual Reality 

Rhett hopes that his work has had a deep and meaningful influence on the Indigenous and wider Australian community. He hopes this influence brings about a shift in our views on what Indigenous knowledge is, how we capture it, and how we learn about it. Rhett is likely the first Torres Strait Islander, and one of the first Indigenous Australians, to make use of this new technology to improve and complement our ways of learning and teaching.