Science Week in the Red Centre

Tanya Ha reports from the desertSMART EcoFair

Tanya Ha and Costa Georgiadis in a garden at the desertSMART EcoFair

desertSMART EcoFair guests Tanya Ha and Costa Georgiadis

I love National Science Week. This year, I got to attend the desertSMART EcoFair in Alice Springs, an initiative supported by an Inspiring Australia grant. Along with other environmentally-minded guest speakers, comedians, students and workshop organisers, it gave me the chance to ‘preach beyond the converted.’

The EcoFair has become Central Australia’s premier sustainability event, giving the local community a chance to engage with local scientists and visiting sustainability experts and speakers. It’s organised by the Arid Lands Environment Centre in partnership with the beautiful Olive Pink Botanic Gardens. I was one of several visiting green guests this year, along with comedian and climate change commentator Rod Quantock, Australian Youth Climate Coalition Indigenous Youth Leader Amelia Telford, and academic Bill Gammage, author of ‘The Biggest Estate on Earth’. The ever-popular and effervescent Costa Georgiadis, from the ABC’s Gardening Australia, was also in town for the EcoFair, running ‘The Science of Gardening’ workshops.

A small bird perched on a metal emu in a bird-attracting garden

Demonstrating bird-attracting gardens, the pretend bird attracts a real one.

When I arrived, EcoScience Schools Day was in full swing, with students taking part in hands-on energy, water, waste, science and technology workshops. The experts who ran the workshops were real scientists from organisations like Engineers without Borders, Land for Wildlife and the Department of Land Resource Management. It was great to see school kids learning science is so much more than what they see on The Big Bang Theory. The kids’ enthusiasm was infectious, with many later saying, “I want to be a scientist when I grow up!”

A dome-shaped tent serving as an outdoor classroom

Dome-shaped outdoor classrooms for hands-on learning

Next was Café Scientific, the National Science Week Launch, live and on the airwaves via a 783 ABC outside broadcast. Rod, Costa and I had chats with presenter Brendan Phelan about science, climate change and hope. The outside broadcast included a science quiz, with locals testing their knowledge to compete for great prizes, such as a telescope.

783 ABC’s Brendan Phelan chats with Jimmy Cocking at an outdoor broadcast

783 ABC’s Brendan Phelan chats with Jimmy Cocking from the Arid Lands Environment Centre

Rod and I were guest speakers for the desertSMART Gala Event dinner, which also saw the launch of desertSMART Roadmap 2013-2015 – a sustainability blueprint for Alice Springs. It’s a crucial time for eco-efforts in Alice Springs. They’ve come to the end of funding from the Alice Solar Cities and Water Smart initiatives. These funds have put solar panels on the roofs of buildings, improved the energy efficiency of the hospital, trained Energy Champions, implemented water efficiency retrofits and more. The Gala Event was a great opportunity to recognise and celebrate past successes, and to refocus on future challenges.

Solar photovoltaic arrays on the roof of the Crowne Plaza hotel

Solar photovoltaic arrays on the roof of the Crowne Plaza hotel

My talk was about communication and collaboration, recognising that we can’t assume the people we engage with think in the same way we do. Funding has put great programs and technology in place in Alice Springs, but it is people power that will drive it to a more sustainable future. We wish them all the best!

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