Great Southern Land inspiring people to consider their place in the world

Two women interact with Platypus exhibit in the Great Southern Land gallery at the National Museum of Australia.

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The National Museum of Australia's most significant gallery redevelopment ever tells the story of the continent as an ancient land shaped by connected, biodiverse forces. Art Processors created six standout moments throughout the new exhibition, Great Southern Land. They each use technology creatively to immerse people in the Australian landscape, encouraging them to consider their impact on their surrounding environment. 

Enveloped by water as far as the eye can see, you swish your hand side-to-side softly, and a platypus gently swims towards you, mirroring your movement. You hear trickling water, the occasional insect buzz, just a little splash as the platypus dives and a subtly different swish with each stroke of his legs.

It’s such a tranquil, realistic moment that it’s easy to forget that this is a digital experience. The Platypus Interactive is one of six digital exhibits that we developed for the new Great Southern Land exhibition at the National Museum of Australia. Created on an aquarium-like, semi-circular digital display, state-of-the-art motion-tracking technology picks up visitors’ gestures to create a natural interaction with a 3D-animated platypus.

Two women use their arms to direct a 3D motion-controlled platypus at the National Musem of Australia.

Hands-on, participatory and unexpected, all six interactives aim to be immersive and eye opening. “We wanted to give people the opportunity to explore with their hands and discover how all the elements of the environment are interconnected,” explains Jamie Houge, Art Processors’ Project Director. “It’s a kinetic, playful journey that’s also emotive and beautiful.”

Engaging emotion 

Where this moment with the platypus is immersive in its peacefulness, other moments risk sensory overload. At Heartbeat, magpies swoop above and suddenly attack, making you almost reach out to defend yourself. Kangaroos, kookaburras, desert flies and wild brumbies all hustle for attention. 

It’s quite a different experience to Platypus in its execution too. Rather than a digital screen, printed illustrations of iconic Australian wildlife are brought to life by creative lighting and a four-channel stereo mix of real sounds sourced from across the nation. 

A woman enjoys the Heartbeat exhibit in the Great Southern Land gallery at the National Musem of Australia.

But one thing they have in common is that they are designed to be both cognitively and emotionally affecting, reveals Sound Designer, Jason Reinier. “It’s all-consuming—the pulse, the vibrations of Australia, surround you in this compact experience,” he says. “You might think cognitively, 'I'm seeing, hearing and almost feeling a magpie.’ But on the emotional level it goes so much further, connecting you to your childhood or a memory of walking through a forest.” Or even a suburban Australian street.

Playful purpose

Balancing cognitive with emotional moments creates lasting memories and is a key approach throughout the exhibition. There are two touchtable interactives where people use their hands to deep dive into their environment. 

At the first, Pathways, visitors explore how natural elements are linked by intersecting rhythms and flows that characterise Australia and its seasonality. It’s emotional in its intensity and in highlighting the uniqueness of Australia. But it's also a chance to learn about seasonal events, temperature, ocean currents and migration patterns. 

Two women interact with the Pathways exhibit in the Great Southern Land gallery at the National Musem of Australia.

Iconic Species is a collaborative drawing interative that invites visitors, young and old, to find out more about Australia's most well-known species, and share their own creations. 

A woman interacts with the Iconic Species exhibit in the Great Southern Land gallery in the National Museum of Australia.

At Ice Core, visitors look into moments in Australia’s history, including their own birth date, to see the impact of rising temperatures and CO2 levels. Users project forward to test out future scenarios and how their actions may impact climate over their lifetime and beyond. Again, it balances education with being personal.  

Two women interact with the Ice Core exhibit in the Great Southern Land gallery at the National Musem of Australia.

“It works because these exhibits are about how the continent ebbs and flows, the interconnections between landscape, species, but also people,” explains Jamie. 

Creating connections 

Using immersion and participation in this way is not about wowing visitors but placing them within the land of Australia and so opening them up to considering their role within it. 

In the final interactive, Conclusions, a touchtable, projection and soundscape create an impressive, large-scale experience. On a satellite-view map, visitors pinpoint a place in Australia with a personal connection. They customise it, play with it, and share it on a huge projected map for all to see. Featuring other visitors' contributions, the map is a collage of memories and meaning.

Two women interact with the Conclusions exhibit in the Great Southern Land gallery at the National Musem of Australia.

This final piece connects all the other exhibits. Aesthetically, everything is aligned throughout and here environmental sounds from the five previous interactives also subtly remind visitors of what has gone before. “The community of sounds of Australia all come together in this final exhibit to deliver a cohesive and integrated message,” believes Jason. 

“It's a very emotive piece,” adds Jamie. “People might pick their hometown, where they live or somewhere else that has influenced them. Then they hands-on customise it in a way that makes it really personal. That makes it a reflective moment, thinking back about everything experienced throughout the exhibition but also considering: you are a part of this Great Southern Land.”