ILWS - Charles Sturt University
ILWS - Charles Sturt University

Matt O'Connell

ILWS PhD CandidateMatt O'Connell


Exploring the utility of taxidermy Murray cod (Maccullochella peelii) as a historical record

Historical knowledge is fundamental for the conservation and management of priority species and landscapes, yet such knowledge remains scant for many of these species and landscapes. Historic biological specimens in the form of preserved animals or their parts, constitute a high-value form of primary evidence on past environmental conditions and biology. Beyond specimens in formal museum holdings, biological archives can be enriched by accessing non-traditional supply chains. This thesis presents a new perspective on Murray cod (Maccullochella peelii [Mitchell, 1838]) — a large, long lived and vulnerable Australian freshwater fish.


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 commenced his PhD in January 2017 and graduated in 2021.  He explored the knowledge that can be gained from trophy or mounted Murray Cod, Maccullochella peelii. The project was built 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.

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.

Matt explored the curatorial diversity and effects on the utility of Murray cod mounts as an evidence source for past environmental conditions. Specifically, he is examined 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. He explored 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.

Matt continued this "citizen science approach" for his research project with the website - - where people were able to follow and contribute to the research.

Spotted a Murray cod mount?

There is also a Facebook page - Spotting Murray Cod Mounts with over 250 members. The community was able 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.

The project 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.

His thesis has been accepted and he graduates in 2021.


Bachelor of Science – Melbourne University, Honours - CSU

Research Theme (s)

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




September 2021