Here. In a field of what I thought was cows.
The VVG Story.
by Lucinda Horrocks.
“How do you bring a story about technology and water science alive? That was our creative challenge with the Visualising Victoria’s Groundwater film.”
The mud sticks to our boots as we follow the cattle track, our heels sinking into the sodden earth, obliterating hoof prints. Thank God we remembered to bring boots, I think, as I cuddle the camera closer to my chest, my arms awkwardly clutched around the fragile box of plastic and buttons and glass it is my job to keep safe from the muck and the wet. The sky is a dark pattern of clouds but Jary has judged it won’t rain. He strides ahead up the hill carrying the tripod easily over his shoulder.
We’re quite high up, high enough to see the round volcanic hills that dot the plains in every direction. Around and below are green fields and, less common, bare red fields, newly cultivated, getting ready for the next planting, I suppose. It’s potato country here but the farmer who owns this hill grows a white flower called pyrethrum. You can tell the pyrethra fields in the distance by their silver shimmer.
We are following Brendan, a young hydrogeologist, towards a bunch of pipes and a little shed surrounded by a fence, a complicated assemblage. It’s a groundwater pump and we are here to film it. We approach the fence and get ready to put the gear down. A few metres away is a herd of cattle. They are huge and have dark eyes and they look at us.
“Watch that bull”, says Brendan, pointing to what I had thought was a large cow.
I look at the bull. It looks back. It seems alert but I have no idea whether it is angry or just curious.
“I can watch it,” I say, “but what am I actually watching for?”
Jary looks at the bull.
“Just keep inside the fence,” he says.
How do you bring a story about technology and water science alive? That was our creative challenge with the Visualising Victoria’s Groundwater film. VVG is an innovative website which collates and combines groundwater data and shows it visually on a map. Even as I write these words I can feel you, the reader, switching off. ‘Technology’, ‘data’ and ‘web site’ do not engender passion in our souls.
And yet. It’s an important project, which has genuinely helped improve the lot of those working in water and agriculture: researchers, water managers, farmers and agricultural and data consultants all talk with great enthusiasm about this thing the VVG and how it has revolutionised the way they work. And when you speak to the people involved in creating the project, their enthusiasm excites you. You get carried away by the great thing they have achieved.
“How do we say what the VVG is in a way the average viewer (that is, me) would understand?” I asked Jary in one of our many creative development workshops where we were trying to nut out our approach, working towards some treatment which would tie the whole thing together. “I mean, do we have to explain what everything is? For example, what is hydrogeology?”
“That’s not the problem.” Jary replied, “This is a film not a PowerPoint presentation. Don’t fixate on information. The bigger problem is what’s the story? I know what the themes are: collaboration, innovation, technology. But that’s not a story. A story is simple and it has emotion. What’s the story?”
“It has to be about people”, I responded tentatively. “We as viewers connect with the story of people, then it’s their enthusiasm and their quest that carries the story. And people help explain the science.”
“Yep, fine,” said Jary, “But we also need to have some interesting visuals. A story is conveyed through visual elements as well. I’m not filming people in a bunch of different offices working on computers all day.”
Of course, we did end up filming people in a bunch of different offices working on computers. But we also took our cameras to where the science happens. We followed the water scientists as they took their measurements in the field. This is how the story came alive visually.
Peter Dahlhaus, the hydrogeologist and driving force behind the VVG project became our key narrator for the story. Through Pete and his enthusiasm we connected audiences to the story and to the science.
And to show how important the results of this scientific endeavour and data collation is, we found a pyrethrum farmer with a groundwater station and a water authority manager to talk us through it. That’s where Brendan the young hydrogeologist came in, and why we followed him to the muddy top of the hill that overcast day.
Fortunately the bull stayed put. I know because I watched it closely from inside the fence.
And the visuals were great.
Wind & Sky Productions produced ‘Visualising Victoria’s Groundwater’ for the Centre for e-Research and Digital Innovation (CeRDI). It was released on YouTube via a Creative Commons licence in 2014. The film is part of the VVG website and has played a key role in raising awareness of the project around Australia and internationally. Lucinda Horrocks produced and wrote the film, Jary Nemo produced and directed it. For more information go to Visualising Victoria’s Groundwater.
You can watch the film here.
A hydrogeologist is a person who studies the ways that groundwater moves through the soil and rock of the earth.