With support from Canberra Hospital Foundation, Arts in Health curator Dr Jenny McFarlane approached us to conceptualise and create more than 75 square metres of artwork for the Children's Health Unit at The Canberra Hospital. This project is the result of an extensive series of consultations with children, families and staff about how to communicate that the space is "a safe place for kids".
Inspired by Canberra's lakes, as well as the rivers, wetlands and waterbirds of the Murray-Darling Basin, we created a landscape that invites the viewer to suspend belief and enter a world which captures the balance between something innately familiar and wonderfully comforting. The murals feature local flora and fauna, common to the area but sometimes difficult to see. The goal was to create an artistic narrative that allowed staff an opportunity to develop a rapport with the health unit's children and young people as they made their way along the 14 metre entry corridor towards the reception area.
For this project, Alison O'Toole borrowed from the vast archive of scientific spot illustrations created by award-winning artist and illustrator Marjorie Crosby-Fairall for Australian Geographic magazine, and held by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. The gouache and colour pencil images have been digitally recomposed into a new landscape that is both very local and entirely imaginary.
Follow the trail of bubbles through the landscape, imagining for a moment you’re a platypus. Weave past the Spoonbill and Great Crested Grebes, between the lily pads and around the water dragon. Continue winding your way towards the wise old turtle resting on an ancient rock, surrounded by tiny ladybirds and corroboree frogs. Then dive deep below and enter an underwater world full of rainbow fish and hidden snails. There are ten little snails on each underwater wall. Look sharp! Can you spot them all? Alison O'Toole