With a desire to create a truly unique event, the Australian Association for Laser Dentistry (AALD) pushed the envelope by proposing a train journey conference on The Ghan – operated by Great Southern Rail – that would take the group from Adelaide in the south to Darwin in the north.
One benefit for the organisers was that the conference delegates formed a captive audience for the duration of the journey. Forced to stay together as a group, the participants from Australia, New Zealand, Belgium and different parts of Asia formed a special connection with each other over the five-day journey.
“I never thought the concept would be accepted by the committee,” says Dr Paul Rollason, dentist and member of the AALD Conference Committee.
Even after the organising committee had given the green light for the on-train conference, the major challenge was convincing AALD members to try something different. It required a huge mindset change and most people were a little hesitant at first. Matters were not helped by the association’s limited budget, which made promotion of the event difficult.
“Our goal was to have 60 to 100 participants. However, the 37 participants who joined the conference were just the right group size. Everyone had a ball and everyone got along so well,” Rollason says, adding that by the end of the event, people were asking when they could do it again and when the next trip was scheduled.
This was a vindication that the right choice had been made, especially when one of the key obstacles was convincing members to spend a substantial amount while reassuring them it would be good value for money.
The Ghan is an abbreviation of “The Afghan Express”, after the pioneering Afghan camel drivers who arrived in Australia in the late 19th century to help find a way to reach the country’s unexplored interior. The service from Adelaide to Alice Springs started in 1929, with the route being extended to Darwin and the Top End in 2004.
The 37-person AALD group, together with some spouses and children, occupied four exclusive private carriages, including the Gold Service sleeper accommodation. Early bird registrants stayed in these exclusive carriages, which included the Prince of Wales car built for Edward, Prince of Wales when he visited in 1920. The carriage maintains all its original features including Wünderlich pressed metal ceilings, Australian timber, wood carvings and full-length cathedral glass built in into the doors.
Multiple presentations during the four-day conference were held in the train’s special meeting venue called the Sir John Forrest Carriage.
Speakers from Australia and New Zealand shared their laser dentistry experiences, with sessions covering research and clinical techniques. Participants were able to devise solutions for unusual cases, and networking opportunities abounded during the conference.
Upon arrival in Alice Springs, the group transferred to Uluru where they stayed at the Ayers Rock Resort and undertook a full day of scientific lectures. It was not all work for the dentists – at Uluru they were able to stretch their legs on a walk around the base of the huge monolith, and at nightfall they enjoyed a “Sound of Silence” dinner under the stars in the desert.
The next day, they boarded the train again for Darwin, but before reaching the final destination, the train made a brief stop in the outback town of Katherine for a tour on the Katherine Gorge Boat Cruise. Upon arriving in Darwin the same day, the group spent their final night at the Quest Palmerston.
About 12 participants availed themselves of the post-event touring options on offer. These ranged from a couple of extra days up to one week. One family spent a total of three weeks in the Top End on a cruise.
The AALD organisers said The Ghan provided an awesome trip, spectacular scenery, delicious food and top-class customer service from check-in and throughout the entire journey. The annual conference not only delivered continuing education to its participants, but also provided an unforgettable experience amid the spectacular setting of central Australia while travelling in style on the iconic train.
“From the initial contact with Great Southern Rail, through the organisation of the event and the final travel on the train, the staff were professional and customer-focused,” Rollason says. “It was the small details and customer service that blew us away.”
He also gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up to the Sails in the Desert experience in Uluru. “It was very impressive although unfortunately some events were cancelled due to the wet weather. The format of small working groups and networking opportunities, both on the train and throughout the programme, in addition to the formal lecture sessions at Sails in the Desert, provided a perfect event.”
EVENT 2011 Australian Association of Laser Dentistry Conference
VENUE The Ghan train and Ayers Rock Resort in the Northern Territory
DATE July 10-15, 2011
NUMBER OF PARTICIPANTS 37 plus partners and children
ORGANISER AALD Committee