ILWS - Charles Sturt University
ILWS - Charles Sturt University

Matt O'Connell

ILWS PhD CandidateMatt O'Connell


Exploring the potential of taxidermy Murray cod mounts to inform past environmental conditions


Animal related objects have been collected and curated by people for a long time. Animal objects that persist have value, create interest, tell, and inspire the telling of, stories. However, how they are curated, what they symbolise, and how they are interpreted changes over time. This research will look into collections of a preserved fish – a ‘fish mount’ and explore, and classify, an Australian example – the Murray cod Maccullochella peelii. Overall, the proposed research aims to explore the curatorial diversity and effects on the utility of Murray cod mounts as an evidence source for past environmental conditions. Specifically, it will look into the spatial and temporal diversity of the predominantly informal collections of mounts; their features, provenance records, their curation and curators, and the perceptions of those who are interested in them. Ultimately, it will explore their potential to be used as a line of scientific evidence about past environmental conditions of the basin they came from, and how similar collections might be used as historical scientific records.


Dr Paul Humphries (principal supervisor), Dr Keller Kopf, Dr Nicole McCasker, Dr Jennifer Bond and Associate Professor Dirk Spennemann


Matt O'Connell, the recipient of an ILWS PhD scholarship who commenced his PhD in January 2017, is exploring the knowledge that can be gained from trophy or mounted Murray Cod. The project is building on initial research done by fish ecologist Dr Paul Humphries who, with the help of the community, identified where some 100 or so cod mounts could be.

Matt is continuing this "citizen science approach" for his research project and has set up a website - - where people can follow and contribute to the research.

There is also a Facebook page - Spotting Murray Cod Mounts with over 250 members. Matt hopes that the community will continue to help with the research by providing many more location leads and photographs of the cod mounts, their catch records and surrounds, and transcriptions of the catch information.

Matt intends to use this information to build an ecologically relevant baseline and come up with some trends on how Murray cod sizes have changed in the Murray-Darling Basin.

These mounts are also objects of community interest and cultural relevance.  To help unpack some of these aspects, Matt will also explore their curatorial display and some of the community perspectives around the mounts.

The project has received additional funding from the Murray-Darling Basin Authority - Stuffed Murray Cod in Pubs. Humphries, P., McCasker, N., Kopf, R.  & O'Connell, M. (PhD student), (2017-2020) MDBA Scholarship grant, $45,000 - and sits under the Institute's Biodiversity Conservation research theme and Environmental Water's  Fish Ecology Collaborative Research Unit.


Bachelor of Science – Melbourne University, Honours - CSU

Research Theme (s)

Biodiversity Conservation  and Environmental  Water  (Fish Ecology Collaborative Research Unit)