Voyaging into 2023: Minerama & Closing the Gap Day

By Dr Kieran Meaney, UNE Discovery

UNE Discovery is most well known for visiting schools and delivering exciting, play based activities to students across northern NSW. But this is not all we do. From time to time the Discovery team also heads out to special festivals and events to bring awesome science fun to kids and adults alike! This was the case earlier this year when we attended the Minerama Fossicking, Gem and Jewellery Show in Glenn Innes, and a Close the Gap event in Tamworth.

Minerama is an annual 3-day festival held in Glen Innes, and features gem, mineral, fossil, and jewellery traders from across the country. On Saturday 11th March, UNE Discovery was in attendance alongside some of the UNE Geoscience researchers to deliver a display of local rocks and geology, interesting rocks and fossils that are less well known, and to field any questions the public may have about any curiosities that they had unearthed but were not quite sure what they were.

We had a part of our Think Like A Rock activity on display, with brightly coloured 3D printed landscapes showing what the geology of Waterfall Way really looks like – to a geologist at any rate. This was set up alongside the skulls of some familiar dinosaurs including Velociraptor Mongoliensis, Stegosaurus Stenops, and Allosaurus Fragilis. On the Geology side we also included a display of local rocks showing local plant fossils, 250-million-year-old volcanic rock from the event that wiped out said plants, floating rocks, and shiny ore minerals. This was a fantastic opportunity to engage with a wide range of people, and we certainly enjoyed being there and seeing all the fascinating mineral specimens that had been collected from across the world.

On the 16th March it was National Close the Gap Day. This nation-wide event is held annually to promote awareness around reducing the gap between the difference in health and life expectancy in indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. This year the Tamworth Aboriginal Medical Service (TAMS) hosted a family fun day at Viaduct Park, and UNE Discovery was delighted to be invited along. For this event we brought a display of creatures from the Discovery and Natural History Museum collections to show off some of the wildlife native to New England, as well as a display showcasing some of our local geology and some fun little physics experiments as well.

It was a wonderful opportunity to engage with a different cross section of the community alongside other educational and support services. We were treated to traditional aboriginal dances performed by local school students as well as music and a BBQ lunch. This event was a great reminder of how no matter your age or background, everyone can find some joy exploring science.

Most recently, the UNE Discovery Voyager truck featured in the Autumn Festival Parade here in Armidale. On the first of April, the Armidale Autumn Festival celebrated the changing seasons and trees in town with a parade of over 60 floats and community groups. UNE Discovery was thrilled to drive our iconic truck in the parade alongside other UNE vehicles and staff. One thing we noticed as we made our way through the winding route were screams and shouts of joy as children in the crowd recognised the truck, excitedly telling their parents what it meant and calling out to ask when we would be at their school next.

The parade featured classic cars, community groups of different nationalities from around the world, local Aboriginal groups, classic cars, creatively decorated trucks and floats, marching bands, and so much more.

Getting out to events like these and receiving such positive feedback is a great reminder for us of the positive impact we can have on the community. Although most of what we do at Discovery revolves around school visits, we love the chance to engage with the wider community as well. No one is too old to be curious about science, and we love the opportunity to promote a little play and fun to everyone. We can’t wait for the next big event – you never know where we might show up!