Well, a conference-eye view of any place is going to be a very short-sighted one because most of the time is spent at the venue, or travelling to or from it. I must admit that I didn’t really get to see much of Wollongong at all.
It was only when I thought about it that I realized that I have never been to Wollongong. No- wait- I spent exactly one day there as part of the field work on a Work Integrated Learning research project that I worked on in my Other Life as an Educational Designer about -eek!- thirteen years ago. But I have never spent an extended time there.
I stayed at International House, one of the student accommodation residences attached to the University of Wollongong. We stayed in student accommodation when we went to Canada and England in 2011, and this was fairly comparable. Clean, serviceable- although, (call me fussy) I didn’t particularly like the shared male/female bathroom. Not dirt cheap ($80.00 per night including breakfast) but it had larger shared areas than in a motel and the presence of other similarly-frugal conference-goers.
I was struck by the beauty of the Wollongong campus. It’s a 1970s university, and not unlike La Trobe in architecture, although it seems to be resisting the kindergarten colours of recent La Trobe buildings. What really set it apart is the gardens- lush, dense, rainforest gardens. Absolutely beautiful.
I knew that there was a beach somewhere, so followed the high rise buildings. They were all facing the same direction, so I figured that they must all be looking at the same thing and that it was likely to be an ocean!
And sure enough it was!
I went for a lunchtime walk down to the harbour. Not the messy coal-type harbour but a pretty little place.
But, even more than the treed nature of the campus and the proximity of the ocean, one of the best things about Wollongong is THE BUS!
Yes, you read it- a free city loop bus. Not just a bus but many buses, running at 10 minute intervals in a clockwise or anticlockwise direction (hence the 55A or 55C numbering), dropping to 20 minute intervals at night. A separate shuttle ran between North Wollongong railway station at the university at 15 minute intervals, timed to coincide with train arrivals and departures. Such a difference in people’s attitudes! They are strict about not eating and drinking on the bus and when refused entry by the busdriver because they were eating, a group of young hooded teenagers just shrugged, got off the bus and waited for the next one ten minutes later when they’d finished their Maccas. The bus driver smiled, and people almost without exception said ‘thank you’ as they alighted.
Apparently the bus is jointly funded by the university and the council. On my little lunchtime jaunt to the harbour, I watched people getting on and off to shops, to hospitals, just going from one place to another. All those car trips saved; all that congestion eased; all those parking spaces vacated. Brilliant.