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

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 Fenner in conjunction with a sound specialist from the SOM are undertaking a voyage that will see them traverse the entire length of the Murray River, beginning in the Kosciuszko National Park in the Snowy Mountains in South East NSW and ending at the mouth of the river in Eastern South Australia.

Over the next summer, this university team will be capturing a range of audio and visual multi-media material to contribute to an interactive museum installation. At its heart, the project will use sonification to translate river data into a soundscape, providing this watercourse with a voice or auditory fingerprint. The project will facilitate contact with this unexpected, invisible phenomenon creating the potential for increased awareness, connection and even emotion.

When this voice is combined with visual footage, the work 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

Xavier Anderson
Xavier is an Honours Student at the Fenner School. Next year, he will be looking at concentrations of microplastics in sediments along the Murray River. He is an avid hiker and paddler, having completed expeditions in Alaska, Patagonia, New Zealand, and most recently, he led a trip with the ANUMC down the Franklin River. Articles of his trips can be seen in Wild Magazine and at We Are Explorers.

He hopes that through this project, he will be able to bring the Murray to people, so that they can see the all the positive projects and challenges for themselves.

Jason MacQueen
As a freelance photographer, videographer and outdoor guide Jason specialises in producing media highlighting wilderness and adventure. Most recently, Jason's work was 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.

Meredith Hope
Meredith is an Honorary Lecturer at Fenner School of Environment & Society. She has worked in the irrigated agriculture sector with CSIRO on the development of a technique for farmers to use to determine paddock-scale water use efficiency.  She has also worked in water reforms and water policy implementation with the NSW Department of Agriculture, the NSW Department of Planning, Natural Resources and Infrastructure and the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change.

More recently, Meredith has also worked in science communication at CSIRO’s Discovery Centre in Canberra where she was involved in the creation of the CSIRO 100 app and the SCINEMA International Science Film Festival study guide. Meredith 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. She is currently working in collaboration with the ANU School of Music to develop a technique to translate river data into sound and create an auditory fingerprint for the Murray River.

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.

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.

 

How you can follow this project

Over the coming months, we will be updating the progress of the journey with a series of blog posts, articles and images. You can follow Jason and Xavier's journey at our Instagram account - Along the Murray.