Darwin’s Croc-Infested Conference

In May 2012, the Northern Territory Convention Bureau (NTCB) rolled out the red carpet for the influential Australian Institute of Company Directors. Given the thumbs-up by the Company Directors’ in-house organisers, NTCB and local operators quickly got busy ensuring the “Top End” lived up to its reputation as Australia’s ultimate outback experience.

To reinforce the attribute, the annual conference adopted as its theme: “The view from the top”, and set out to show how Australia can benefit – as the Northern Territory’s vibrant economy has shown – from the dynamism of its Asian neighbours. The roster of leading industry sector presenters included Harvard University’s Niall Ferguson, National University of Singapore’s Kishore Mahbubani, corporate sustainability and diversity issue expert Lord Michael Hastings, and futurist author Mark Pesce.

Whilst the main sessions were held at the Darwin Convention Centre, the programme also incorporated a number of unique offsite settings expressly picked to showcase the city as well as the balmy weather conditions. A quintessential “Top End” welcome included a meeting with the region’s most notorious reptile – the saltwater crocodile – from a safe distance, of course. This took place at Crocosaurus Cove in the heart of Darwin’s CBD. The venue houses the largest live “salties” in captivity, as well as a 222,000-litre freshwater aquarium and a display of many North Australian reptiles. It was here guests were amused to spot a diver holding up a “Conference, Welcome” sign.

Various food stations were set up, encouraging the delegates to munch whilst animal handlers were strategically stationed throughout the park to facilitate interaction between them and the wildlife. Adding to the thrills, a conference delegate was later selected to enter the “Cage of Death”, a purpose-built, clear acrylic capsule that was lowered into the crocodile enclosure – a perfectly safe procedure but one that, nevertheless, elicited gasps and rousing applause for the willing daredevil. As a last surprise, the groups were led onto a feeding platform above the tank where they dangled meat from fishing lines for young crocodiles to leap at. 

From then on, the participants learned to look forward to the unexpected, particularly during the breakout forums, which were a real departure from the norm. Instead of using onsite function rooms, meetings of around 60 people were held in a number of interesting locations, helping to heighten the intellectual buzz and sense of adventure. 

Breakout from routine

One session – on the synergies between Australia, North Australia and Asia – was conducted whilst cruising around Darwin Harbour on the two-deck catamaran named – what else – MV Charles Darwin, culminating in sunset cocktails. Another session on reducing red tape and enhancing transparency took place on Stokes Hill Wharf; a forum on improving partnerships with indigenous communities took place at the Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory; whilst the panel discussion on building authentic business relationships was held again amid reptiles at Crocodylus Park. The historic Robertson Barracks in outer Darwin, the private dining room at Char Restaurant, occupying the heritage-listed Admiralty House on the Esplanade, and Charles Darwin University also served as inspiring backdrops for the three-day idea fest.

Back at the Darwin Convention Centre, a special session was staged to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Darwin bombing during World War II. Delegates later described the presentation as “touching” and a definite highlight of proceedings.

The organisers took several opportunities to call attention to the Northern Territory’s amazing cuisine. Besides the opening night reception, an informal dinner at the Darwin Sailing Club and final night formal reception featured such celebrated staples as barramundi, prawns, squid, oysters, scallops and tropical fruits. There were also more exotic meats, including crocodile and kangaroo, as an option for the culinarily adventurous.

So, how did the NCTB team, led by Rachel Beaumont-Smith, rate in fulfilling the demands of this highly discerning clientele? Judgement was pronounced by Jannene Stephens-Roberts, manager, national programmes and operations of the Company Directors. She said: “I was involved in a fam trip organised by the NCTB to Darwin. This led to the decision to bring our conference to Darwin and, very specifically, to using Crocosaurus Cove for our offsite events. I had experienced a similar event, albeit much smaller, which instilled a certain level of confidence that the event would be run well, that the food would be of a high standard and there was an understanding of the service levels we expected. 

“The evening was a great success as was the entire conference. We take an evaluation of the conference every year and, up to 2011, the highest satisfaction score achieved was 4.4 out of 5. Our Darwin conference in 2012 achieved 4.73 out of 5, so an outstanding success.”

Opening night at Crocosaurus Cove was cited by many of the delegates as a great way to start the conference. Many added that they were also impressed with the hospitality and catering during the cruises. In the end, Australia’s authentic attractions and some help from reptilian friends combined to create some formidable moments to remember. 


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