The Great Victorian Rail Trail is Australia’s longest continuous rail trail, with Victoria’s longest rail trail tunnel at Cheviot. The trail spans 134 kilometres from Tallarook, through Trawool, Yea to Molesworth and Yarck to Cathkin and Alexandra.
In 2013 we undertook the interpretive planning and interpretation design for the railtrail entry signage ensemble.
A feature of our design response was to recognise the important role that stations traditionally played in the traveller's experience in a wide open landscape.
In effect they were a doorway - a condensed funnel - through which the passenger passed with a strong sense of both arrival and departure in the process.
In responding to this we designed an ensemble response that addressed both the need for bike rack functionality and also requirement to present a large body of both interpretive and also visitor orientation and safety information.
These two units were carefully positioned opposite each other so as to create the desired sense of passageway for the user as they embarked on a particular section of the trail. The design of the shelter specifically referenced that of a railway semaphore.
Stringybark Creek in the Toombullup State Forest north of Mansfield Victoria is the location where three Victorian police officers – Sergeant Kennedy, Constable Scanlan and Constable Lonigan - were murdered on 26 October 1878 by a group of four men who thereafter became known as the Kelly Gang.
In 2017 / 18 we were employed by the Victorian Dept of Environment Land Water and Planning to undertake the interpretation planning, interpretive research, landscape, graphic and signage design for the redevelopment of the visitor experience at this location.
The central driver behind this need to revisit the site was the need to properly recognise the site as a memorial to the three policemen who were murdered there. The work also needed to address anomalies and inconsistencies then in place on the previous interpretive array installed c. 2008.
Given the high level of community interest in this pivotal site aligned so closely to the Ned Kelly story, the path needing to be found through a labyrinth of competing and often conflicting interpretations in relation to Stringybark Creek was obscure.
Our central response to his issue was to come up with a core interpretive construct based on two key pillars. The first of these was that Stringybark Creek was a heritage location in its own right. It was not there as a stage prop in the narrative that is Ned Kelly.
Interpreting the site and not the man - or indeed any of the men involved on that day - was a central tenet to our interpretive response.
The second key element of our approach was to avoid attaching any meanings or interpretations to the events that occurred there on 26 October 1878.
To do this we carefully constrained any modern day narrative to an exclusively dispassionate account of the facts as generally agreed upon today, whilst then letting the narrative as it was reported at the time be recounted through historic newspaper reports.
The essence here was to provide the visitor with their own chance to review the historical evidence and to attach their own palette of view, meanings and opinions to these.
A sample of this approach as represented in the interpretive signage on site is shown below.
Its success is represented by the fact that following an extensive public review process of all the signage content as undertaken by Heritage Victoria, the material was approved for publication in its original form.
In 2010 we undertook the interpretive design for the Mungo Meeting Place as part of a multi-disciplinary team assembled by Epacris Environmental Consultants.
The focus of the project was to provide an interpretive response to the challenge of allowing visitors to Mungo National Park to connect with the Mungo human fossil trackways - the world's largest collection of ice age human footprints.
The actual footprints are located in a undisclosed place in the Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area where because of their fragility they are covered by a protective layer of sand which is tied down by a material outer layer.
Given the fact that people were not able to visit the footprint site and that no one can now see them without removing the sand, the challenge became how to represent the tracks to the visitor in an offsite capacity.
Initially the thinking around the challenge had suggested the use of holograms positioned inside the existing Mungo Visitor Centre. Our proposal however revolved around the fact that we believed the footprints should be experienced outside in the open space of the wide landscapes that held them.
This proposal was adopted and the project team went on to create the Mungo Meeting Place - an outdoor amphithteatre located alongside the visitor centre.
Here 3D scanned concrete re-creations of selected sections of the trackways are set in the exact spatial relationship as they occur in reality.
This allows people for example to try and hop between the huge steps taken by the one legged running man 20,000 years ago.
It also means people staying in the nearby campground or shearers quarters can wander over and stand amongst the footprints as the sun comes up over the amphitheatre wall.
The landscape design was a remarkable achievment that Rob Fallon was able to deliver to give effect to the interpretive concepts outlined in the interpretation plan.
Richard Delaney from Epacris made the footprint tracks a reality as well as undertaking the overall project management.
The parts all came together on a very cold July day in 2011 when the Mungo Aboriginal community gathered open the new resource to the public and to remember and honour their ancient cultural connection to Country.
In the wake of our interpretive work on the Mungo Meeting Place in 2010, we were invited back to Mungo National Park to tackle the challenge of interpreting the park's European pastoral heritage.
This included our proposal to create a pastoral heritage Loop Walk connecting the Mungo and Zanci woolsheds in a 8km round trip outing.
The focus of our interpretive concerns at this time were to conserve the essential ambience of the Mungo Woolshed that we had expereinced first hand during our time on site as part of the Meeting Place project.
Whereas the Zanci Woolshed is a relatively new structure with little innate sense of presence, the Mungo Woolshed's origins in the 1880s and its continued use in the life of the working property up until 1979 when the national park was created make it a place apart.
When the shearing wasn't on, the shed was a vibrant hub in the life of the local community and many a dance and wedding celebration was held there.
Then also there were the countless quiet afternoons when the children would have played in and around the echoing chambers of the shed.
This sense of quietude - of ghosts queitly stalking the boards was something that was very precious to us to try and protect.
While there had been discussions as to what array of museum style interventions could be imported into the space to created a multi-media interactive space, we argued successfully for a minimalist approach that opted rather to preserve the sense of empty down tools that accompanied the end of its working life in the late 1970s.
Our apprach was accepted and this then left us with the need to create a discrete, sensitive display unit for integation into the space in a way that told the essential woolshed story without detracting from its overall sense of purpose as a working yard. The solution adopted is shown below in a photo taken soon after its installation. The cypress pine boards in the display stand are now weathered in to more closely blend in with the aged cypress pine structures that surround it.
The Gully Aboriginal Place at Katoomba recollects the way in which an entire Aboriginal community was evicted from their homes in the late 1950s in order to make way for the construction of a motor raceway circuit around this upper valley on Katoomba Creek.
This was a tragic event for the people who had congregated here in the previous decades as European settlement in the mountains forced them to adopt sedentary lifestyles on the fringes of towns like Katoomba.
After being made to move out of their homes, the community could only watch in sadness as a bitumen loop was laid around the gully edges and motor events were held for the next decade before the ad hoc sub standard quality of the enterprise led to its early closure.
Today the racetrack remains in place as a pedestrian / bicycle loop and it was this very feature that proved the greatest challenge to the successful interpretation of the cultural significance of the Aboriginal Place.
We became involved in this project in 2012 when Blue Mountains City Council and the Gully Traditional Owners were well into the rehabilitation of the precinct by way of building a 1 km paved walking path into the core centre of The Gully Precinct.
Initial interpretive efforts to define how to respond to the project had been rejected by the Aboriginal community as inappropriate.
Our immediate focus was how to take the raceway out of the equation as the dominant focus.
We did this by recommending that no interpretation be placed along it. Rather the only experience to be promoted on site was the central core path which was upgraded to form an meaningful interpretive loop.
This involved the construction of three core nodes along its length which interpretive information could be concentrated in such a way that Aboriginal family groups could congregate, sit and share the messages in place there with their children.
Other visitors to the site were by inference also invited to share in this process.
The location of the nodes was in fact carefully chosen so as to help distract the visitor from the raceway.
Approaching this junction some 300m into the walk they are presented with a strong visual feature of an interpretive node with a shelter just across on the other side of the track.
This draws them across with no doubt as to where the point of interest lies or any doubt as to where the path leads.
Rather than being celebrated, the raceway is treated as the sad intrusion that it is.
The success of this project today rests on the extent to which the Gully Traditional Owners embraced this solution and contributed both their stories and creative energies to bring the precinct to life.
Our work on the entry precinct for the Wallaces Heritage Trail on the Bogong Plains commenced in 2009. Parks Victoria needed some interpretive planning and design assistance in relation to the upgrade of a series of roadside nodes in place across the High Plains.
This work was being undertaking in conjunction with the sealing of the road across from Falls Creek Alpine Resort down into the Big River valley to the east.
The biggest design challenge we faced with this precinct is evident from the photo above showing the approach from Falls Creek.
This is the 500m of sealed side road leading up to the gate which marks the start of the Wallaces Heritage Trail. This is a very prominent and deadening feature defining the approach.
The expectation at this time in relation to the upgrade of the precinct was that parking facilities and other amenities would simply be placed alongside the road edge leading down to the gate and that the visual impact of these would be minimised.
Our recommendation which was accepted by Parks Victoria was to opt for a much stronger statement at this location by intervening with a lookout node placed mid way along the entry road.
By cutting across the dominant longitudinal axis then in place and opting for an elevated shelter option a sense of arrival in keeping with the significance of the site was developed.
The shelter structure we designed used stone elements which referenced the familiar chimneys found in cattlemens mountain huts, whilst the sweeping arcs of the roof referenced the arcs in the surrounding rolling landscape ridgelines.
A smaller version of the shelter was also designed for location at the lesser node of Watchbed Creek some 3km up the road towards Falls Creek.
This diagram from the strategy reflects our approach to interpretive planning. It embodies the importance of good landscape design principles in underpining good interpretive responses. It ensures that the right messages are being delivered in the appropriate settings relative to the visitor's stage in their overall trip experience.
People's first need in arriving in an unfamiliar setting is to orientate themselves to their new surroundings. "Where am I relative to where I have come from, where do I go from here and where are the nearest toilets?".
In essence orientation material is the "need to know" content that a visitor must have in order to execute their trip plan safely and in accordance with park regulations.
Interpretation by contrast involves "want to know" content. Where visitor orientation materials deliver the experience, interpretive media help the visitor ascribe value and meaning to their undertaking.
This understanding is an essential underpinning of all good interpretive planning. It avoids the problem of placing content in inappropriate places.
This system recognises that an integrated cross-media platform should be able to deliver consistent messaging. Content presentation should not change fundamentally from one delivery platform to another. This is especially apparent in the case of maps.
Reliance on simple off the shelf mapping packages from providers like Google to drive digital platforms means that the maps people see on their phones when out in the field are different from those they encounter on the signage.
This is not only confusing, but it also discounts the fact that the most effective maps people can have in terms of nature tourism experiences are custom built products. These are devoted solely to prioritising and cleanly presenting the "need to know" information as determined by the manager - not the computer programmer.
Things like differentiating sealed vs unsealed roads, management trails where bikes are allowed from walking trails where they aren't, locked gate locations and seasonal closure conditions for example are all standard fare for conventional mapping platforms.
One sees the value of this every day out in the field when users pull out their phone to take a photo of the map on the trailhead sign before setting off. This approach simply takes an extra step to deliver users a more nuanced and meaningful way of connecting with this core mapping product.