Telling a story is not like weaving a tapestry to cover up the world, it is rather a way of guiding the attention of listeners into the world.
— Ingold

TOPOGRAPHER began as a research project which was awarded a VICTORIAN CREATORS FUND grant. It was helped along by Aboriginal anthropologist Suzi Hutchings, senior University of Melbourne anthropologist Monica Minnegal and dramaturges Peta Murray and Marcia Ferguson.

Heaps of testing with kids has taken place so far including a weekend workshop at ARTPLAY, 6 sessions at DAREBIN PARKLANDS and a full development project at ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS VICTORIA in May 2019.


Thematically this project is influenced by research around mapping as a reflection of cultural relationship with place and nature. Historically and in different cultures maps have taken the form of songs, stories, and pictorial representations. They are used as an expression of shared history and knowledge of place. Today’s accepted mapmaking styles, however, reduce environments and landscapes to lines and symbols at the exclusion of human experience. Whilst cartographic and digital maps seek to be universal, the forms of these maps reveal the value systems of their makers – humans deeply separated from nature and place.

Topographer is underpinned by a desire to use art as a doorway to different ways of ‘seeing’, and by the empowerment of children as active and respected citizens. It explores different ways of seeing landscapes, which has been deeply modified by adults and Colonial thinking.


Twelve months of research with children in open-air contexts, has laid the foundation for a new interactive sound based project where child ‘topographers’, use their voices to creatively map landscapes for an adult audience. The audience then experience the wild imagination of children as they are led (with eyes both open and closed at different times) through a world of seemingly static elements which come to life with sound and character.

Partnering with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Jessica Wilson has collaborated with radio artist Camilla Hannan, industrial designer Ben Paul and 10 remarkable children from Reservoir East Primary School to explore alternate readings of landscapes that have been constructed by adults and adult logical thinking.

Topographer will result in a public season where adult audience members are led through a small tract of the Gardens and into sound zones, each with very different sound qualities and each triggered by the child. Shedding their mental maps, spatial coordinates and ‘grown-up brain clutter’, the audience experience a dramatic journey of sound and space. They are invited to tune in to the micro and the massive and to see landscape with new eyes.

During this process, each child, with their own recording device and away from the gaze of adults, responds to prompts which enable an anthropomorphising of the environment, the dropping of their own scale, and giving form to ideas which reveal the (sometimes mythic-like) experience of children. Children become antennas of place, transferring their perspectives into inventive site-specific content. This recorded material will spring from content already developed and tested during the May 2019 creative development project which involved 10 child participants from Reservoir East Primary School.

Picture trees with arms that swing to kill, dark tiny creatures hidden beneath rocks, rain with that does not like the dirt it falls on, wind that is kind, ants with fear, a fish pretending to be dead, and predators everywhere you look. All existing in a forest that feels something and knows how to boom!

In a public season across 3 weekends, a new adult audience member can embark every 5 minutes. Audience will assemble at a temporary box-office to begin their 20 minute journey which will take them deep into Fern Gully. Child guides will be trained and within view of positioned supervisors. A cohesive visual aesthetic will be linked to the sound triggering system. For example subtle small glowing red orbs may be the touchstone for RFID triggered sound zones.