Nature Tourism Services is an Australian company that specialises in delivering innovative interpretive and visitor orientation design solutions.

Decades of experience in interpretation planning underpins all our project work. We connect traditional interpretation sign, maps and print media product with interpretive digital products including tourism webapps and PDF smartphone guides.

MUNGO MEETING PLACE, MUNGO NATIONAL PARK

In 2010, we were privileged to be part of team assembled by Epacris Environmental Consultants that was successful in winning the $0.8m tender to undertake a major upgrade of the Mungo National Park visitor centre experience within the Willandra Lakes Region World Heritage Area.

Nature Tourism Services' role in the Epacris project team was to undertake – in close collaboration and with input from other team members - the overall conceptual/interpretive/exhibition planning and graphic design/signage production required for the project.

This approach led to the construction of an outdoor amphitheatre adjacent to the visitor centre that could function as a meeting place where guides could commence and close out their tours with appropriate supporting infrastructure.

This meeting place includes a replica section of Mungo's renowned fossil human trackways - the oldest and most extensive collection of ice age human footprints in the world. The setting was also designed so as to facilitate its use for a range of other interpreted tour activities as well as to serve as a venue where the elders could gather when on site.

A COMPLEX CHALLENGE

A feature of this complex project was the level of expectation and overlapping messages it needed to address. Almost ever since the 20,000 year old human fossil trackways were rediscovered in 2003, plans had been debated about the best way to share and interpret these remarkably fragile and precious relics with the public.

With the location of the trackways a secret, and the trackways themselves covered under a protective canopy of sand secured by shadecloth, an offsite solution was always the focus of attention. Options such as hologram recreations inside the Mungo Visitor Centre had been extensively examined prior to the tender for the upgrade of the Mungo Visitor Centre precinct being opened in late 2009.

Alongside the issue of the trackways interpretation, there also existed the desire on the part of the Aboriginal custodians to recognise not just the trackways, but also the existence of over 40,000 years of Aboriginal culture at Mungo as reflected in the renowned discoveries of the ancient remains of first Mungo Lady, and then Mungo Man in the late 1960s / early 1970s.

Our solution to this complex mix of issues was to successfully propose that the interpretation response not be housed within the enclosed space of the visitor centre, but rather that an open air meeting place be created featuring 3D laser scanned recreations of selected sections of the fossil trackways.

Our focus here was on the fact that such a crucial interpretation challenge should locate the experience in the open air, not within an indoor space with the implicit Eurocentric connotations that any built environment must inevitably bring with it.

A TEAM RESPONSE

If ever a project emphasised the notion that ideas are one thing - delivering them is another thing entirely - it was the Mungo Meeting Place project.

The Epacris Environmental Consultants project team of which were were a part was a five person team embracing diverse skill sets including project management, interpretation planning, graphic design, landscape architecture, video production, planning consultation / photography / scientific writing and technological expertise in relation to web and 3D replica technology.

The client - the National Parks and Wildlife Service - also had from the outset a major commitment to the project in terms of both creative input and day to day management of stakeholder consultation.

When the challenge of building the Meeting Place then took shape they also made major contributions in terms of hands on staff commitment to assist with the process.

Most pivotally also was the involvement of the Aboriginal custodians of Mungo, who worked with the project to ensure it reflected the hopes and aspirations they held for the presentation of their cultural heritage in addition to ensuring their children grow up strong and proud in their culture.

This level of ownership was strongly reflected on the occasion of the installation's opening on a chilly July day in 2011.