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Murray River flows music to researchers' ears

Researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) are helping the Murray River ‘sing’ in an attempt to get people to think differently about the waterway. 

The team, made up of scientists from ANU’s Fenner School of Environment and Society and audio specialists from the School of Music, spent the summer kayaking the length of the river, recording sights and sounds as they travelled from Kosciuszko National Park in southeast New South Wales to South Australia.  

They will combine the audio and video captured during their 2500 km journey with a soundscape of the river, which will be created by translating data such as flow rate, water temperature, salinity and depth into sound. 

Researcher Meredith Hope said the end result will be an interactive museum exhibit that aims to showcase the beauty of the Murray River and help reframe discussions about its health.

“It provides water to drink, grow food, provide transport and, of course, supports thousands of species in diverse ecosystems,” she said.

“But the health of the Murray River remains under pressure, despite efforts to improve it … It's crucial that we communicate the huge importance of this system, celebrate its majestic wonder and continue efforts to preserve it."

Hope said an “out of the box idea” was needed to help educate Australians about the river system and ultimately improve the management of it.

“We really want to showcase the river’s central role in regional Australia, and help people all over Australia connect with this extraordinary waterway,” she said.

“There is a risk that the Australian public may not support further investment in river health, due to a lack of trust in government processes and frustration at the cost involved.”

For ANU honours student Xavier Anderson, the best part of the expedition was the privilege of seeing a river all the way from source to sea.

“We’ve been through so many landscapes and have seen how the river connects to them all,” Anderson said.

“What’s made it even more remarkable is the extreme conditions we’ve faced this summer as we’ve made our way down the river.

"We've been through dust storms, scorching temperatures, hiked through knee-deep snow, paddled in smoke and have battled against strong winds approaching the South Australian border."