Helping the River Sing - an innovative approach to communicating river health

This project has partnered with the International Year of Sound global initative.

The Murray-Darling river system is the life-blood for millions of Australians. For our towns, cities, farms, and Indigenous communities, it provides water to drink, grow food, provide transport and of course supports thousands of species in diverse eco-systems.

Yet artificial regulation of river flows and commercial farming methods have created a set of environmental challenges that threaten the health of the Murray River.

National water reforms, designed to return water to the river, have been slowed by political in-fighting and poor river stewardship, reducing public goodwill and trust. There is a risk that the Australian public may not support further investment in river health due to a lack of trust in government process and frustration at the cost of attaining on-ground improvement.

It's crucial that we as a society communicate the huge importance of this system, celebrate its majestic wonder - and continue efforts to preserve and encourage river stewardship for future generations.

A new way of seeing the river

‘Out of the box’ communication solutions that cut through this negative political space and improve river stewardship are needed. These solutions need to capture hearts and minds, foster connection and above all deliver fundamental public education about system-wide river health.

As part of this, the Health of the River Murray project was born. This project aims to harness the latent power of the Murray River’s voice to foster connection, river stewardship and public awareness about the importance of river health. The project is a collaborative effort between the Fenner School of Environment and Society (FSES) and the ANU School of Music (SOM).

Scientists from The Fenner School undertook a voyage to traverse the entire length of the Murray River over the 2019/20 summer. This remarkable journey was sandwiched between the devastating bushfires and the COVID pandemic. The team began the trip in the Kosciuszko National Park in the Snowy Mountains in Southeast NSW and ended up at the mouth of the river in Eastern South Australia.

This university team captured a range of audio and visual multi-media material to contribute to an interactive museum installation.

At the same time, the project began the process of sonifying river data and have created a draft soundscape of this iconic river system.

The work, it its final form, will have the capacity to show both aurally and visually the whole river from source to mouth and the impact that dams, tributaries and off-take points have on this river in terms of flow, salinity, temperature and depth; and showcase the river’s central role in supporting ecosystems, communities and commerce across vast tracts of inland Australia.

About the team

Meredith Hope
Meredith is an Honorary Lecturer at Fenner School of Environment & Society. She has worked in the water sector in various state government roles. She currently works as a casual sessional academic each year assisting Dr Sara Beavis teach Fenner’s Water Management course. A large component of this course focusses on the ethical management of water both globally and in Australia. Meredith has a keen interest in the use of the arts to convey and communicate important science in meaningful ways.

Sara Beavis
Dr Sara Beavis is a Senior Lecturer at the Fenner School of Environment & Society at the Australian National University where she convenes and teaches courses in water science, water management and island sustainability at undergraduate and graduate levels. She has published extensively on the impacts of natural and anthropogenic processes on water quality and water security, and water management. Current research includes: the transport and fluxes of heavy metals associated with artisanal mining in eastern Indonesia; the implications of climate variability and change on water and sediment quality in inland and coastal aquatic environments; river extraction industries in the Pacific; and, examining the ethical dimensions of water resources management in the Pacific and Pacific Rim.

Michelle Leonard
Michelle Leonard OAM is the founder, Artistic Director and conductor of the and the nationally awarded Moorambilla Voices program and the Leichhardt espresso chorus. In both roles she actively collaborate with composers, choreographers, ensembles and artists to create music and performances that connect people to country. Michelle was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for Services to the Community and Performing Arts in 2017, in 2018 the Sydney University Alumni of the year award for services to the arts and presented her first Sydney TEDx talk that year. In 2019 she was named in the Australian financial review top 100 women of influence. Michelle has an undergraduate degree in Music education from the Sydney Conservatorium of music, a masters in Communications management from UTS , and four fabulous young children.

Alec Hunter
Dr Alec Hunter is the composition convener at the ANU’s School of Music. In 2014 he relocated to Canberra to take up a lecturing position at the Australian National University School of Music. Hunter has taught composition, theory and history, and founded the ANU Experimental Music Studio. Hunter’s current performance-led research is based on collaborative multimedia works, most recently with visual artists Mike Parr, Martyn Jolly (Former head of ANU Photography and Media Arts), Ngaio Fitzpatrick (ANU Climate Change Institute), Andrew Quinn, John Carolan and Janet Meaney; and dancers Jack Riley and Liz Lea. His latest work, “Requiem for a Reef” marked a successful collaboration with glass-artist, Ngiao Fitzpatrick and was premiered at Mount Stromlo in November 2019.

Xavier Anderson
Xavier traversed the entire length of the Murray River from source to sea during the 2019/2020 summer collecting field sounds as part of the river sound project. Some of these sounds have been incorporated into the soon-to-be opened exhibition titled “Great Southern Land” at the National Museum of Australia. He has completed numerous expeditions in Alaska, Patagonia, New Zealand, and the Franklin River. Articles of his trips can be seen in Wild Magazine and at We Are Explorers.

Jason MacQueen
Jason was the photographer and videographer for the trip down the Murray River and was responsible for capturing high quality 4k and 360-degree footage at over 30 sites at both river and birds-eye level. His work captures this iconic river in its various forms from source to sea during the 2019/202 summer and includes shots of the smoke haze from the devastating bush fires.  Jason’s work has been showcased in two feature articles and cover shots in Wild magazine. His short film “Mel” featured in numerous international festivals, while also touring Australia and New Zealand.