A Gem of a Festival

Discovery at Minerama

As you may (or may not) know, the UNE Discovery Voyager team spends much of the year ‘voyaging’ around Northern NSW schools running a range of immersive science-based experiences. However, we are also starting to pop up at numerous festivals, fairs, open days, galas and shows. This year looks like being a BIG one from this perspective, with the Voyager team tackling some exciting challenges at the World Science Fest in Brisbane and the Royal Easter Show in Sydney, just in the next month! We recently ventured a little closer to home, taking part in Minerama 2018; a Fossicking, Gem and Jewellery show held each year in Glen Innes.

If ever you drive down the sleepy main street of Glen Innes, a number of grand old heritage buildings are likely to catch your eye. Many of these came about off the back of a mining boom that happened in the late 1800’s when tin was discovered in the area. As a result of dramatic increase in the number of people digging around in the ground, sapphire was also found in the area, leading to a couple of gem mining booms in the 1920’s and 1970’s. While not so much large scale commercial mining happens nowadays in the area, Minerama is a tip of the hat to these fossicking heydays.

Doing festival shows is similar in a lot of ways to our normal road trips, just with the added ‘thrill’ that we don’t really know how things are going to run until we turn up. This trip was especially exciting as it was the maiden voyage for our brand-spanking new UNE Discovery marquees (see pics). After a considered and well ordered packing process, who knew the marquees would be 2cm too long for the back of our Voyager van?? A quick unpack, delicate re-organisation and we were on our way!

Those of you who are familiar with Glen Innes would know that it can get a little windy. It was for this reason that our marquees got a pretty good first workout, which kept us a little on edge for much of the two days. We even managed to get heckled by a local gentleman as we set up in the main street as he asked if we’d brought a string for our kite … local knowledge I guess!! But in the end, our marquees had the last laugh and held up brilliantly in the conditions, and looked pretty good to boot.

In order to align with Minerama, we took along our Palaeontology (including our brand new high school version) & Soil Science activities. Day one was a Friday, and therefore a little light on the school kid front, but it was great to meet a number of characters from the hardcore gem / fossicking / collecting community. It was fascinating to take part in some lively conversations, hear some crazy stories and genuinely learn a bunch of new stuff from the people that passionately live and breathe anything found underground.

Being Saturday, day two saw a steady stream of young folk coming past to try out our activities. It was fantastic to see so many kids happy to get their hands dirty in our soil samples, dig for hidden bones in kinetic sand, and build dinosaur models with plasticine to try and estimate the weight of a full-size dinosaur. What was also really rewarding was that more than a few of the kids had seen us before at their school, and were genuinely excited to see us, tell their parents and take part in our activities again.

For this trip, none of the team were specifically trained in geology or palaeontology, however we all feel like we walked away from Minerama 2018 with a lot more knowledge than we arrived with. And this, in essence, is the beauty of working in a program like Discovery. Even as one of the Discovery team, the multi-disciplinary approach allows you to learn and discover new stuff every single time you hit the road. It really is a privilege to discover and learn and grow right alongside the kids you are helping to have engaging, transformative experiences … we tend to have them too!

– By Matt Pine, UNE Voyager member and exercise scientist