Brett Leavy is using cutting-edge technology to recreate Brisbane’s past.

Have you ever wondered what Brisbane looked like before white settlement? Have you ever wanted to know what’s under all that concrete? Brisbanite Brett Leavy can help with that, as he develops a role-playing game (RPG) that simulates the lives of the tribes that once populated our city.

His game will use topographical data and 3D modelling to allow you to explore almost photo-realistic simulations of the CBD, South Bank, West End, Fortitude Valley, Bowen Hills, Woolloongabba and other Brisbane suburbs as they appeared before white settlement.

He recently demonstrated the game at the launch of the PIVOTAL Summit, which will bring together world leaders in spatial information technology, sustainability, climate change and governance in Brisbane next month.

“It’s really about mapping Aboriginal knowledge and heritage as it relates to Brisbane,” explains Brett, who describes the game as a “labour of love” (in his day job, he’s the general manager of the National Indigenous Radio Service).

“You don’t hear much about how Aboriginal people actually lived where the cities are now. I just want to show people that was actually the case, and remind them there is Indigenous culture and heritage under the concrete.”

The game’s main character is Dundalli, a real-life figure who resisted white settlement. (He was accused of multiple murders, and in 1855, he was hanged at the site that would later become the General Post Office.)

“Basically, it’s a survival game,” Brett explains. “You’ve got to do everything you can to earn the respect of the clan, and in gaining that respect you’ve got to gather water, food and medicine, and craft weapons. You need your spear to catch a wallaby, you need your digging stick to dig up an echidna, you need an axe to chop holes in the tree to climb up and get a possum. Those are the sorts of things you can do in the game.

“I’ve always liked video games. The one I started playing a long time ago, and I’ve really never moved away from, is World of Warcraft. I mean, I got older and I got busy, but that’s where the inspiration for my project comes from – I’ve created an RPG in that genre, but I’ve based it on real landscapes and history. I’m tapping into the same addictive nature of that game, to make kids want to level up and advance and get better.”

Brett says his motivation to create the game is simple. “Well, first off, I’m a proud Aboriginal fella,” he explains. “My family is pretty well known. One of my uncles is a guy called Michael Anderson, who set up the Tent Embassy in Canberra in 1972. My other uncle lived with a guy called Eddie Mabo. And my grandmother was one of Queensland’s first nurses. She encouraged a guy called Fred Hollows to take his eye health programs to Indigenous communities around Australia.

“Furthermore, my mother’s a foster mother, and she’s had about 87 kids. They’re all Aboriginal kids, and one issue with them is that sometimes they don’t know their own identities. It’s very hard to talk to them about that, and it’s sometimes very sad. But I think it’s worthwhile if you do it in a fun way, which is what I’m proposing to do with interactive games. And if it helps them, it might help mainstream Australia, too. How’s that for a plan?”

Brett hopes to complete the game, which will be playable on PC, by July.