U3A DARWIN CONFERENCE August 2008
who’s ever been involved in organising a major event for just 1 day,
let alone 5, will know the work involved. Arranging the venue, the speakers,
morning and afternoon teas, lunches and more, all go to make a mammoth task.
Yvonne Forrest and her committee at U3A Darwin did an amazing job and triumphed
over some serious problems. The venue was a brand new hotel on the edge
of Darwin’s CBD. In fact, the hotel is so new, it’s still being
built. Unfortunately the property changed hands 3 times during the conference’s
organisation, with amended conditions being imposed by each new management.
Sadly, no one was prepared to honour the original deals (like lunches being
provided by hotel catering and discounted accommodation charges for delegates
who wished to stay there).
The conference spanned 5 days. The first 3 were given to various keynote speakers and presentations with the final 2 days, following a weekend break, being taken up with local cultural, environmental and historical visits. About 80 people were involved including speakers and guests. Other than those from Darwin’s own membership, there were U3A members from New Zealand, Tasmania, Victoria, Queensland and, not least, New South Wales.
What did we get for our $225 Conference Registration Fee? Obviously there was the use of the venue. Every delegate was given an Aboriginal designed cloth “goodie-bag”. It contained a U3A Darwin Coffee Mug, a wealth of local information but most of all, full details of the programme including pen portraits of all the speakers. The hotel donated pens and notepads. Morning and afternoon teas and lovely cold buffet lunches were provided – the latter being delivered by alternative outside caterers. Privately hired buses took us on the various visits, one early morning start included a full Aussie breakfast, and finally there was a splendid dinner at The Trailer Boat Club with a magnificent ocean sunset. Each speaker was presented with a small bouquet of orchids or a bottle of good wine. You can guess how those were gender related.
The conference was entitled “A Life to Live” and attempted (very successfully) to paint a balanced picture of the development and current life-style conditions in the Northern Territory. By “balance”, I’m referring to the relationship between aboriginal groups and western culture. Did you know there are 120 different Aboriginal language groups in the Top End? We heard about life from the inside – out and the outside – in. No one tried to brush major issues under the carpet or claim that life in the top end of Australia is all sweetness and light.
We heard from an Elder of the Larrakia people, on whose land Darwin is built, followed by some NT political history, including both South Australian and Commonwealth influences. Who better to talk about some of that than a retired NT Administrator, Hon. Austin Asche? This was followed by a discussion on “Self Government” and “Statehood” ~ Territory -v- State. Missions and Missionaries played a huge role in the development of the Top End and we learned how the whole area was divided between the major denominations and what each achieved over the years. For us Europeans we were amazed to be told of the huge Chinese influence throughout the territory’s history.
Attention turned to Darwin’s Multicultural Development. This relatively small self-contained modern city of 100,000, with its tropical feel is buzzing with a multi-racial/multi-cultural population. As far as the modern bit goes, remember Darwin was flattened once in WW2 by Japanese Bombers and then again, on Christmas Day 1974, by Cyclone Tracey. The Keynote Speaker on day 2 was His Excellency Mr Hieu Van Lee, Lt. Governor of South Australia, who, with his then girlfriend and now wife, were Vietnamese boat people over 30 years ago. His talk on their escape from Vietnam and the reasons for leaving was riveting.
A young lady from the education department of NORFORCE gave a composite picture of how the military is changing its training techniques with aboriginal soldiers, who work on border security, so they improve literacy, numeracy and communication skills through practical work-related activities, but continue to bring their cultural skills, such as observation and tracking, to the job.
We were told of the story of one Chinese family and how it worked so hard to become successful in business and then became major community workers. A round table discussion explored the experiences and hopes of Darwin’s Italian, Greek, Timorese, and Indian communities.
“Water, water everywhere – so what’s the problem?” began the environmental day – a superb presentation given by a Scots engineer, who commutes between Australia and UK travelling on a NZ passport. The statistics of water availability and consumption across the globe are fascinating.
Dr. Glen Whiteman talked about his team’s work with Aboriginal communities documenting and publishing plant details and their value for Aboriginal medicinal purposes. There is real concern that, with the attempt to westernise the indigenous communities, cultural traditions and practices will be lost forever, especially as the older generations die.
We heard about the growth and production of tropical fruits and finally the story of how a young English girl, now in her 80’s, came to Australia for 2 years, but, by an accident of fate, came to Kakadu and helped set up what, beginning as no more than a tin shed on the Old Jim Jim Road cut off by floods during the wet season, is now an important tourist resort in the National Park.
So why go to a U3A Conference involving over 8,500km of driving? What was in it for us? What might the benefits be for Mudgee U3A members?
For us the answer is easy. We have experienced a mega learning process from both journey and conference perspectives. The conference gave us some in depth knowledge of the history and life of the Northern Territory. We realise now just how complex are the issues involving the many aboriginal groups.
For U3A, open discussions with other U3A group members has focussed our attention on common problems and potential solutions. Issues such as membership fees, use of premises and (for some groups) premises rental, printing and postage charges and how to get this all for free when the local council is sympathetic to needs of the ageing population, use of the internet for those with the facilities and the organisation of group activities which did vary from group to group. We shared our annual programme with conference delegates, which they agreed is impressive. We came home feeling confident that Mudgee District U3A is a well organised group having a high rate of membership compared with population. Our membership fee compares well with most and is lower than some. However, there are a number of issues which Mudgee District U3Aneed to address. Hopefully, during the next months these will be discussed and appropriate modernisation implemented.