Saturday, October 4, 2008

What happens in Bris Vegas STAYS in Bris least until it’s posted on a blog…

Just 3 days after my return to Australia, just barely recovered from my jet lag, I was off again, to visit Queensland for the first time, sent for a Health Care Educational Simulation Technology conference.

I arrived in Brisbane on Sunday, 7 September and the pre-conference workshops started bright and early Monday morn. Rather than go through the oh-so-thrilling play by play of the conference, I’ll simply mention highlights- including a presentation by folks from a University in Perth (Western Australia) where they used an actual Coroner’s case about a patient dying in custody for the basis of a powerful simulation for ED managers and a workshop on difficult debriefs, where I got to role play the part of a student in tears - and lowlights- the non-attention given to the interactive poster I created with my boss, only to discover that for all of our work, we only got to exhibit the poster for one day due to limited space and the presenter who read a lit review on mental health simulations in a monotone voice.

The networking BBQ at a lawn bowls club was fun after my third beer and I did meet a number of interesting people throughout the week. In all, it was fun to see the “future” of health education even though simulated patients weren’t as well represented as I thought they should be. In my opinion, the best technology to show how a human being acts is a human being. And the future is in what is called hybrid simulation; that is, using Simulated Patients (actors) along with what they call part-task trainers to show both physiology and psychology together.

But, enough shop talk. The conference ended Thursday (11 September) but I decided to enjoy Brisbane for a few extra days so I moved into a B& B- Eskdale ( - I left the Sofitel once it was on my dime! It was housed in a traditional "Queenslander" style house, which is a house built up on stilts, much like beach houses in the souther east. The purpose of building houses like this, though, we note to avoid floodwaters. Rather, the concept was to allow extra air to circulate, in the days before A/C to keep the houses cooler...and to be fair, it seemed to walk. My room was freezing all the time, even as it was about 80 degrees (F) outside.

Once I settled into my new accommodation on the south side of the river, I took an exploratory walk to really see Brisbane for the first time, beyond the walls of the hotel and hospital where the conference was. As I began to amble, it occurred to me that I haven’t traveled solo to a new place in a long time. While Melbourne was obviously a new adventure for me, navigating was- and to some extent still is- taken care of for me. Furthermore, the freedom to do what I want with no outside influence is an experience I hadn’t had in some time. Don’t get me wrong, I love traveling and seeing things with Adi. But as someone who spent the greater part of her 20s and 30s traveling alone, it was fun to be back in that mode, albeit without the subtext of trying to meet myself a hottie fellow traveler! Thus, on this trip, I spent a lot less time prowling the café’s for cute looking backpackers than I used to.

I walked down towards the river and explored the south bank area, a parkland and man-made beach that sits across the river from the CBD. It was a perfect spring day so the walk through the “rainforest” they’ve created with local flora was particularly enjoyable and I found myself questioning why everyone mocks this city.

A little background- Brisbane is the third largest city in Australia, which seems impressive until you remember that the largest (Sydney) has just over 5 Million people. Brisbane is the state capital of Queensland, the northeastern most state of Australia and one that accounts for over 1/5 the landmass of the entire country. That’s BIG. Queensland is bigger than Japan, for example. It has 300 + days of sunshine, and with the mountains in the distance I couldn't help but think of Boulder, though it is tropical so in a few months time it will be hot hot hot and humid.

“Southerners” from Melbourne and Sydney make fun of Q’landers in much the same way some of the more urbane Americans might mock the South or West. But I found the city pleasant and cultured, with a fabulous Arts precinct set on the banks of the river. My walk took me to the fairly new GOMA—Gallery of Modern Art, which had an exhibit of Picasso’s private collection. Interspersed with his Renoirs, Degas(es?), Gauguins and Cézannes were some of his works and it was interesting to witness the influence, which even this Luddite could appreciate when it was hanging next to the evidence. And for dinner that night I discovered Mondo Organics ( a high-end organic restaurant and cooking school that offered a Zen-like setting again reminiscent of Boulder. Granted, I stayed in the “upscale hipster bohemian” area, which might explain the Boulder vibe. But the pumpkin risotto was as good as anything I’d get in Melbourne so I wasn’t prepared to mock the Brissies just yet.

The next day, I devoted to wildlife. I had read about the Lone Tree Koala Sanctuary in both my Lonely Planet and on-line and was anxious to check out this, the largest Koala sanctuary in Australia, devoted to growing the threatened population of these cuddly marsupials. I took the bus the 11K out of town to the sanctuary. I wandered around the eucalyptus trees and well-laid out paths, enjoying the koalas in their various environments. For example, in “the kindergarten” the “cubs” were kept together and the nursery housed and mothers and babies who had just merged from their pouches. There was even a retirement home for the oldest of the group, a place for the Hedy and Michaels of the Koala world to work!

For a small extra donation, I was allowed to hold one, Orion, and be photographed with him(see above, below or refer to my facebook page) He was remarkably heavy (and pretty stinky)- for his size. I went to the Koala presentation and learned a few fun facts:

1) Koalas are not bears. They are often called such because they are cute and cuddly looking but they are special kinds of mammals, called marsupials. Like kangaroos, koalas give birth to very undeveloped Joeys who then hang out in their pouch to continue to grow. During this time, they feast on their mama’s poo, which is specially formulated with the nutrition they need (but what a tough marketing campaign for the Gerber’s folk in koala world!)

2) Koalas have a reputation for being quite nasty, but that’s only the adult males during mating season. The rest of the time, they are pretty docile.

3) They feast on Eucalyptus leaves and people think this gets them stoned (look at Orion’s eyes if you don’t believe me). According to the sanctuary employees, who want to protect the koala’s reputation from being compared to a Brown student’s, the leaves don’t have a narcotic effect. Rather they are just very low in carbs resulting in koalas being low-energy. (That’s the party line, but check out Orion’s decidedly hippie-like stare and then make your decision!)

4) The males attract mates with their scent, which is why they have an extra spot on their bellies. This is where their scent comes from and I’m surprised any of them get action because they are muskier than Adi after a squash match.

It was a beautiful day to enjoy the sanctuary and I also got to feed kangaroos and see lots of other Aussie animals, captured below for your viewing pleasure.

I even made friends with another American, Eddie, who is chilling in Brisbane while sort of working on his PhD about a Native American artist from South Dakota. He acknowledged that Brisbane wasn’t necessarily the best place to research this, but he had the chance to come to Australia so who can blame him!

Given that this is lengthy, I’ll finish Bris Vegas (yeah, no idea why it’s called that) in my next entry…and leave you with photos of the conference, the non-bears and other animals!

The conference began thanking the original owners of the land and then a performance by a local indigenous dance troupe.

A lunch-time demonstration of one of the high-tech mannequins used to teach health professionals.

Me with our digital poster...eventually it will be up on our web site and I'll certainly direct you to it...FASCINATING stuff!

Brisbane, from the South Bank parklands. THis is one of the citi-link taxis.

A lizard I saw as I wandered the parklands.

These are some shots from Lone Tree Sanctuary:

This is me and Orion. Is he strung out on the Eucy, or what?

This is another Koala, after the presentation.

A cute and bouncy!

A kid feeding a 'roo...they're related to the wallaby but bigger.

Hopefully, the kid's mum didn't end her day screaming "the dingo ate my baby!"

10 of the world's most deadliest snakes call Australia home (and not one of them is a mortgage lender!) This guy ranks # 1, called the fierce snake, or the deadly taipan. (He was behind glass)