48th National Conference of Gerontology 2015

EVENT HIGHLIGHTS
  • The successful event has set the bench-mark for all future conferences
  • The Indigenous “Welcome to County” and Smoking Ceremony set a unique tone for the event
  • Over 80 oral presentations were delivered during the three day conference by Australian and international speakers
  • 170 of the delegates were first-time conference attendees and it was believed that the destination appeal and the strong Indigenous content of the conference programme
Attendance 403 delegates
Host City Alice Springs, Australia
Venue Alice Springs Convention Centre
Date 2015 - November

ABOUT THE CONGRESS 
The Australian Association of Gerontology (AAG) is Australia's peak national body linking professionals working across the multidisciplinary fields of ageing.  Members include geriatricians, academics, researchers, nurses, policy makers, allied health professionals, social workers, consultants and other specialists.

For many attendees, this was their first visit not only to Alice Springs but also the Northern Territory, with the conference providing the perfect excuse for delegates to make the journey.

170 of the delegates were first-time conference attendees and it was believed that the destination appeal and the strong Indigenous content of the conference programme assisted to attract many of them, particularly those who specialise in Indigenous ageing and aged care.

Reflecting the characteristics of living and working in remote Australia, the conference theme was “Place, Spirit, Heart - Exploring Experiences of Ageing”. This theme was carried through all aspects of the conference. The conference programme was designed to deliver a uniquely Northern Territory experience, incorporating a range of arts and cultural activities.

Reason for selecting the event destination/venue
The process for choosing the Northern Territory for the 2015 national conference had its genesis back in 2012. The AAG Conference organiser attended the NT Convention Bureau’s annual roadshow event in Melbourne that year and met various NT suppliers and learned more about the destination. At that time, the NT division of the AAG had only recently formed, so exposure to the possible idea of the NT becoming a host destinationwas extremely timely.

Subsequent participation on famils to Darwin and then to Alice Springs, as part of the annual ‘Alice Stampede’ mega-famil, helped to finalise the decision-making. Key factors were the Alice Springs location, the highly relevant experiences available and the amazing cultural exposure.

Staging the conference in Alice Springs also assisted the AAG to raise awareness of ageing and aged care service delivery challenges which are specific to regional, rural and remote areas. Hosting the conference in the newly established division also provided an opportunity to reinforce AAG’s commitment to supporting and growing the gerontology community in the Northern Territory.

CONVENTION BUREAU SUPPORT
As a result of staging the 48th National Conference in the Northern Territory, AAG membership in the NT has already grown by over ten percent.

Organisers indicated there were many highlights, from both the association and delegate perspectives, and said that the event had set a very high bench-mark for all future conferences.

The traditional Indigenous ‘Welcome to Country’ and Smoking Ceremony, conducted by the local Arrernte Elders at the start of the conference, set a unique tone for the event and included a healing ceremony component very relevant to the gerontology field.

The open-air Arts Market set up outside the Alice Springs Convention Centre as part of the Welcome function in the convention centre’s courtyard, was very well received by delegates and provided an excellent opportunity for social interaction.   

It featured live music performance including the local children’s group Drum Atweme, as well as market stalls with hand-crafted goods available for purchase.

Being permitted to put up a conference ‘welcome’ banner at the Alice Springs Airport, an opportunity not always available in capital city destinations,was very much appreciated by the organisers. Special mention was made of the very helpful support provided by the destination in general and especially the Alice Springs Convention Centre and the NT Convention Bureau.

The Execution
The three day AAG conference program included presentations and discussions led by experts in the field including respected researchers, academics, policy makers and practitioners. The program explored the various experiences of ageing, with a special focus on people living in rural and remote locations and working with Indigenous communities. The start of the conference

was ‘tweaked’ to accommodate flight arrivals into Alice Springs.

Over 80 oral presentations were delivered during the three day conference by Australian and international speakers, including an opening address by the Honourable Michael Kirby AC CMG. A number of Northern Territory-based speakers took part in the Program and included Professor Alan Cass, Director of the Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin and also Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, who was the Northern Territory Australian of the Year for 2015.

A range of half-day pre-conference workshops were also held and included a unique pre-conference off-site visit to the remote Indigenous community of Waltja Tjutangku Palyapayi, where a workshop was also held. Poster presentations and a trade exhibition also formed part of the conference.

The conference dinner was staged as an informal outdoorbush BBQ at the historic Alice Springs Telegraph Station,located just five minutes from the heart of town. The dinner theme was “Priscilla meets Dundee” and provided scope for delegates to dress up or dress down creatively in either feathers or khaki. The dinner featured legendary NT personality, Ted Egan and included a show-stopping surprise performance by drag queen artist, Anita Mann. Local Alice Springs band ‘In Tatters’ kept delegates on the dance floor till midnight. 

An early morning ‘Breakfast with the Stars’ was provided for the Student and Early Career Group attending the conference and this was held at the ‘Splash Poolside Café’ at Lasseters.

The farewell drinks event on the final evening of the conference was held at the Alice Springs Golf Club. Australia’s only desert golf course is located just adjacent to the convention centre and the two official conference accommodation providers, Lasseters and the DoubleTree by Hilton Alice Springs. The evening also provided an opportunity for would-be golfers to try out the course or test their skills at mini-golf.

A number of delegates also undertook pre and post conference touring, with many continuing on to Uluru where they stayed at the Voyages Ayers Rock Resort. The AAG partnered with tour specialists, AAT Kings, who were appointed the official touring company and offered delegates a special discount on their tours.

Special NT touches
Whenever possible, the conference showcased Indigenous culture and provided opportunity for engagement with the local community.

The visual identity of the Alice Springs conference featured Indigenous art. Alice Nampitjinpa is a local Indigenous artist who is associated withIkuntji Artists, a member-based, not-for-profit Aboriginal art centre. Alice created a work titled “Rockholes at Talaalpi” which was featured on all print materials and online presentations. This was key to the overall conference strategy which was to ensure engagement with the local community at every possible touchpoint.

The Western Desert Nganampa Walytja Palyantjaku Tjutaku Aboriginal Corporation, known locally as ‘The Purple House’, participated at the AAG conference dinner event, with older Indigenous woman cooking kangaroo tails in the traditional style. The Purple House is a non-government not-for-profit organisation which is primarily a dialysis centre based in Alice Springs. It services dialysis patients and their families who have had to relocate to Alice Springs permanently for lifelong dialysis treatments and also offers a range of social support services, Indigenous traineeships and a social enterprise project. 

A local Alice Springs radio station also conducted a live broadcast from the conference Welcome Reception and Arts Market event, which also contributed to community engagement.

Most memorable aspect of the entire event
Special mention was made of the way in which the AAG delegates were able to make such a close, ‘grass roots’ connection with the local Alice Springs community. This was achieved through interaction at the conference itself, the various functions, art market, the community visit and via the local radio broadcast.

OUTCOMES
“The NT Convention Bureau was very helpful in gathering quotes for us and provided an excellent ‘one-stop-shop’ overview during the planning process for the 2015 AAG Conference in Alice Springs. They were very accommodating of our various requests and often went well beyond the call of duty – if they didn’t know the answer, especially those specific to our sector, they would find out!

“My post-Alice Stampede famil comment made back in 2014 clearly summed up my impressions of Alice Springs – ‘Love it, love it, love it – it’s an amazing place - rich in culture, fantastic people and modern facilities.’ In essence, Alice Springs offers an emotional connection, unlike any other destinations.”
Savio D’sa Marketing and Stakeholder Relations Manager
Australian Association of Gerontology

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