Rachel was selected by the Murrumbidgee Local Health District (MLHD) Arts Strategy Panel to transform 140m2 of space in the Wagga Wagga Rural Referral Hospital Children’s Ward into a healing and hopeful environment using graphic vinyl. The artwork allows staff, patients and visitors to step inside a giant children’s book and follow a timid malleefowl named Mallie on his adventure. Mallie’s story unfolds as you move through the ward, with animals representing doctors and nurses helping him on his journey.
Rachel drew on her own experiences as an eight-year-old in hospital for surgery and as a mother of a sick child when creating Mallie’s story. To create a healing and hopeful environment for the hospital’s youngest patients and their parents, Rachel turned to the malleefowl – an endangered native animal known for being shy and wary. Mallie begins his story feeling afraid and alone but grows to understand his new environment, mirroring the experiences of children who are treated at the hospital.
Rachel’s eye-catching and unique concept was selected by the MLHD Arts Strategy Panel and she has transformed hundreds of metres of blank canvas into a bright, geometric-inspired landscape. Staff, patients and visitors will feel at home with the vibrant colour palette, which represents the four distinct seasons experienced in region. A number of icons from the Wagga skyline are included, such as the Pavilion Hotel and the old 2WG building on Fitzmaurice Street. The artwork also reflects Rachel’s experiences growing up in the area, whether it’s the colours, seasons and landscapes or more subtle hints to enrich the story for families who will use the hospital.
Rachel’s daughter Matilda went from observer to creative director, often sitting on her mum’s lap while Mallie’s story took shape. Who better to talk to when you’re designing a Children’s Ward than a child? Matilda would share her thoughts and feelings on everything from the storyboard to the colours used or where Mallie should be placed in a scene. Some of the artwork on the west corridor is even designed in collaboration with Matilda. Rachel would create the scene in in line with her daughter’s own drawings and her vocabulary progression over the span of the project. As well as getting the story right in the spaces throughout the ward, Rachel and Matilda were mindful of the heights of little people and wanted to ensure they could experience the artwork in their own way. Under the handrails in each piece, there are elements to the story that maybe an adult would miss due to the level at which they are placed. The Murray Cod with stethoscopes, for example or the curious sheep, or the activity in the distance of the landscapes. There’s also a height chart, so little people can see what height they are in comparison to Mallie, or a sheep or a kangaroo.
The story starts when Mallie is chased by a fox away from his home and up into the safety of a tree. It’s when his little hearts stops beating so fast that he realises he’s in an unfamiliar place and doesn’t know where to go or who to trust. When it’s safe to come down from the tree, he finds himself on the banks of the Murrimbidgee River. Here, Mallie is helped across the river by a Doctor Kangaroo and Nurse Echidna under the watchful eyes of a school of Surgeon Murray Cod. Once Mallie feels safe and welcome, he ventures away from the Murrumbidgee River and those who helped him and onto a farm. He meets a mob of curious sheep and wonders what lies beyond them in the farmhouse in the distance.
At the farmhouse, Mallie meets Matilda a little girl dressed as a dragon, who’s just finished flying her kite in the paddock. There are some feral cats hiding in the loose decking of the verandah who are keen to meet Mallie themselves but Matilda instinctively takes Mallie under her wing and into what she believes is the safety of a bird cage.Once Matilda is asleep, she keeps Mallie close by. Little does she know, Mallie’s family has found him and are on watch by the moon lit window waiting for the right opportunity for a rescue mission. Together, they lead Mallie to his diverse community and the safety he remembers where he tells the tale of the adventures he’s had.
Meanwhile, Matilda comes to grips with Mallie’s disappearance and she scrawls letters to Mallie, wherever he may be. Her letter, ‘come see my garden, I grow carrots and cheese,” is one she especially hopes is received.
The integration of site-specific art into health facilities is increasingly prevalent world-wide and there is growing research showing many benefits to patients, staff and visitors resulting from integrating arts and creative activities into healthcare. This project has been made possible with the assistance of fundraising by Wagga Wagga’s International Hotel.