It may have started with dunking the IPWEA President in a tank with a man-eating crocodile, and finished with a puppet insulting the NT Minister for Infrastructure – but the social program at the 2013 IPWEA International Public Works Conference in Darwin was without doubt a roaring success.
"One of the important things we aim for at a conference is to make it a total experience," said IPWEA CEO Chris Champion.
"Whenever you come to a conference it’s important to network with your colleagues. We give heaps of opportunities for people to share their experience and knowledge at the technical sessions, but also network and have a bit of fun at the social functions."
Welcome Reception, Sunday, 11 August
The Welcome Reception, sponsored by TechnologyONE, took place at Crocosaurus Cove on Darwin's lively Mitchell Street on the eve of the Conference. Preceded by a gathering of international delegates and under-35s, delegates were welcomed to the Conference with drinks and canapes, surrounded by pools of crocodiles big and small. Khaki-clad and eager young Crocosaurus Cove employees also mingled amongst the crowd, offering the opportunity to cuddle a reptile – more enthusiastically taken up by some delegates than others.
The crowd of public works professionals was addressed by IPWEA President Paul Di Iulio and Darwin Lord Mayor Katrina Fong Lim before the key objective of the evening took place.
"On the Sunday night at Crocosaurus Cove I was dunked with an 800kg man-eating crocodile, which was quite exciting – and a little uneasy, to be honest, when I first went in," explained Di Iulio, who was volunteered to take a dip (in a Perspex cage) with Chopper, named as such because of his multiple injuries – including no front legs – caused by fights with no doubt worthier opponents in the wild.
"As the time went on, I could see [Chopper] wasn’t that interested in me, and I started to enjoy it," Di Iulio said. "He did actually snap a couple of times, which made me jump a little bit. I was thankful when I was pulled out safely."
Experience Darwin Dinner, Monday, 12 August
It was difficult to manoeuvre past the hordes of awed delegates and their raised cameras and smartphones, as they arrived after their first day of technical sessions at Darwin's Sky City Casino for the night's social function, sponsored by COMPLETE.
The scene was indeed impressive – and promised a fantastic night ahead. White paper lanterns were strung over tables and chairs spread across the lush green lawns, market-style marquees offered up a mix of cuisines, while acoustic classics played on cello and guitar by local band Take2 drifted through the balmy air – all backdropped by one of Darwin's famous sunsets painted over the Arafura Sea.
Komatsu Gala Dinner, Wednesday, 14 August
A highlight of the conference, the final gala dinner, held in a transformed hall of the Darwin Convention Centre, was held thanks to Platinum sponsor, Komatsu.
The E.J. (Ted) Hooper medal for best paper was announced at the dinner. "The paper is judged on factors including relevance to the conference theme [Explore New Territory], national applicability, originality, potential benefits to public works engineerings, and the author's presentation, ability to hold the audience's attention and to stimulate and answer questions," explained IPWEA National Director of Infrastructure Management, Leon Patterson.
Next up was the auction of a tie, made famous when it was cut in half and restored to whole at a previous IPWEA Conference. With proceeds going to RedR – a humanitarian organisation that sends highly skilled aid workers to disaster relief operations around the world – the tie was returned to Brighton Council, Tasmania, for a generous $3600.
The evening's entertainment came in the form of ventriloquist comedian, Darren Carr, who not only managed to "mention the war" and transform an unsuspecting delegate into an Elvis impersonator, but also to insult the Northern Territory Minister for Infrastructure, Peter Styles – who turned out to be a very good sport. The crowd was in stitches.
Delegates and partners then wasted no time heading to the dance floor when local function band, Silverback, took the stage. The dance floor remained well-populated into the night, ensuring sore feet and possibly a few headaches for the technical tours – which offered delegates and their partners a day to see various public works sites in and around Darwin – the following morning.