Murray Darling Association: bringing native fish interpretation to Mildura

There are 41 native fish in the Murray-Darling Basin, one of the world's largest river catchments. When we were put the challenge to develop an interpretive display in the most awkward of spaces, we thought it might be fun to squeeze them all in!

Anyone who has been to the Mildura Visitor Information Centre will recall an eclectic collection of displays and interpretive media. It was this environment we were invited into by the Murray Darling Association, a community organisation focused on the river basin from local perspectives. This interpretive project needed to tell the story of Australia's world-renowned Native Fish Strategy and communicate the plight of many fish that are under threat. It needed to be bold and really stand out in a busy visual environment.

In planning the interpretation, we worked on four main themes: ‘all fishes, great and small’, ‘native fish – past, present, future’, ‘getting around from Hume to sea’ and ‘what’s good for native fish is good for the river’. We needed to tell the story of the Native Fish Strategy succinctly, being mindful to write for a range of audiences, including international visitors and, as is always the case with our work, balance the relationship between written and visual content and ensure various stakeholders and communities were considered and consulted throughout the process.

We then set some serious challenges for ourselves: how might we represent 41 very different fish species, communicate the strategy, respond to the significant space restrictions, integrate digital audio and video, and create a display in the most responsible manner possible?

Once we visited the site and took measurements, it was clear there was no wall space available... anywhere! We were determined to produce the installation as sustainably as possible, being keen to trial directly printing on an 'ecoply' timber composite, minimising our use of materials and print media. We also focused on cleverly integrating audio-visual technology inside the display to enable the client to present a range of media on screen and extend the interpretation beyond the first year or two. After much 3D design work, we settled on a partially fabricated polygonal design that could be transported in pre-assembled form to Mildura and put together in a non-intrusive way.

After working through a range of conceptual approaches to the interpretive display, we decided to represent all 41 fish species at actual-size (ranging from millimetres to over a metre), illustrating and designing a frieze display ‘wallpaper’ pattern of fish silhouettes, each species 'swimming' around the space, encouraging people to circulate in the visitor centre. Each fish is accompanied by short pieces of information, including icons summarising ecological and other threats and a legend to broaden out these themes. This visually arresting feature encompasses a breadth of information for every fish and visually refers to a nearby display for the Living Murray (one Ecocreative created using salvaged doors!).

Two other sides of the display panels set out a broader context, including local historical, Indigenous and river-related stories overlaid on a ghosted fish background. The final wall of the display is actually a hidden door and houses a monitor with DVD player showing live scenes of native fish swimming about (with the facility to present pretty much anything else!).

As with anything we've done where we have had to respond to the quirks and limitations of a place or space, the journey to the end result wasn't easy and, as with anything that isn't straightforward, we were really delighted it came together so well. We are sure this helps connect people to the wonderful freshwater and estuarine ecosystems of the Murray-Darling and, we're hoping, enables everyone to better appreciate and care for our native fish species; all 41 of them!

Client

Murray Darling Association

Services delivered

• Research
• Project management
• Creative direction
• Design
• Illustration
• Writing
• Editing
• Production management

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