Giving voice to the unsung heroes of the bush

Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame redevelopment

A woman is standing in an artists studio, she is wearing headphones and listening to The Hugh audio guide

The Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame and Outback Heritage Centre is Australia’s premier outback heritage institution. Bringing to life the rugged landscape of the outback, its galleries tell the incredible and often unknown stories of everyday people—the unsung heroes of the bush.

In 2019, the museum kicked off the largest project in its 30-year history—a $15 million redevelopment of the buildings and exhibition space. CEO Lloyd Mills sought out Art Processors to lead this creative and digital transformation.

Mills and the museum's board wanted to get away from the traditional museum model of dusty display cases and wall text and instead bring the galleries to life with rich sound and visual media for contemporary audiences.

Visitors now embark on an experiential journey of discovery deep into the heart of the outback, told through the voices of the people that make it real. The centrepiece is The Hugh, a location-aware immersive audio experience that’s integrated with the exhibits. Once the headphones are on, it’s like stepping inside a film where the galleries become a stage for the stories to unfold as visitors explore the redeveloped space.

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Interior of the Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame showing display cases and interactive installations

Challenge

The outback is a dusty place, but Mills didn’t want a dusty museum. As he tells it, “We've been in business for 33 years, and we were still telling our story the same way we were 33 years ago.”

The audience and market changes he and the museum's board had seen in the five years leading up to the redevelopment drove the desire to reimagine the bush institution. There was a strong sense the museum was in danger of becoming irrelevant, unable to deliver the kind of interactive experience modern audiences were craving.

Mills and our team recognised the potential to do something extraordinary. The iconic building—designed by Feiko Bouman and described as the 'Sydney Opera House of the Outback’—would remain, but everything else was up for discussion. The aim: to create an engaging and immersive experience for contemporary audiences by using digital technologies to help tell the diverse stories of outback Australia.

Interior of the Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame

Approach

After extensive consultation with Mills and the museum’s board, we knew where we had to go for the conceptual rebirth of the museum: back to the beginning. 

We looked to founder Hugh Sawrey’s vision to memorialise and give voice to the pioneers of the outback. We could think of no more fitting way to honour this vision than have Sawrey guide visitors through the museum, so we called the immersive audio experience ‘The Hugh’. 

Working closely with the museum's staff and bush communities, our content team began an archival dig to unearth the lost and forgotten stories that could sit alongside the museum's existing curatorial offerings. We wanted to make sure that when visitors walked into the new galleries they experienced an authentic representation of outback life.

An important goal was to provide a multiplicity of viewpoints—men’s, women’s, Indigenous, different skill sets, different classes, different roles in a droving team, and the animals themselves. Most of all, we looked for stories that would surprise and resonate with all Australians, no matter their background. 

Authentic and respectful telling of First Nations stories was another key focus. The Songlines and Stock Routes exhibit was produced with the assistance of an Indigenous Advisory Group.

In addition to our curatorial and creative work, a large part of the project was the fabrication and installation of the physical exhibits. To realise the exhibition design, we worked with Melbourne-based Show Works to manufacture the physical components for each exhibit.

Two storey interior of the Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame showing exhibition installations with walking paths between ground and first floor. An airplane hangs from the domed ceiling.

 

Our visitors’ needs are changing and we need to keep up with that. We are reinventing how we deliver stories in concert; how we can deliver digital approaches. Art Processors has a strong history of supporting landmark projects in regional and rural areas and I am excited they are part of our journey.

– Lloyd Mills,
   CEO, The Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame and Outback Heritage Centre

Mills and the museum board identified the need to move with the times. Impressed by our work for other museums, including the Australian War Memorial, Mills sought us out to thoroughly modernise the museum’s digital and experiential offerings.

"We felt a product like ours steeped in tradition and stories needed to be more immersive," he says. "The market had changed around us, and it was our opportunity to get in front of that as a museum. So rather than just upgrading one exhibit or one gallery, we pulled everything out, restarted, and did an end-to-end experience based around digital technology."
 

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Indigenous Australian musician William Barton sings into a microphone at a recording studio

Solution

Over the two-year project, we delivered an end-to-end creative and digital transformation of the museum. This included many different interactive components, ranging from large-scale immersive activations to smaller touch-screen interfaces.

The Hugh is the centrepiece, seamlessly weaving emotive and authentic storytelling throughout the new galleries to bring visitors into the story. The central point of the entire experience is the cinematic quality of the sound, with the exhibits acting as a stage for the all-important narrative. Visitors can select which stories they want to hear or simply enjoy the original musical score and soundscapes created in partnership with award-winning artists Fanny Lumsden and William Barton. Bluetooth beacons placed throughout the Hall allow the audio to seamlessly update as visitors choose their own pathway. 

Children have their own audio experience, ‘The Coil’, a fast-paced treasure hunt led by an interactive digital kelpie.

Visitors are met at the 'Welcome Station' by a virtual drover and his kelpies. Motion-controlled activation and a spatial soundscape put visitors inside an interactive scene from an outback station and has the friendly kelpies racing after their every movement. It’s a living soundscape, mixed so that it intermingles the sounds heard on a cattle station with those heard daily in Longreach.

At the ‘Outback Cinema’ visitors can view films about outback life. A step beyond traditional time-based media displays, it empowers the audience to fully control the films they choose to watch with audio synchronised directly to their headphones and the option for multiple people to watch different films at the same time.

3D render of an outback cattle station with kelpies and a stockman riding a horse