Behind the Lens at the AAEE Environmental Education Conference

Last week, I had the pleasure of capturing the AAEE (Australian Association for Environmental Education) Education Conference held at the University of Wollongong. It was a two-day event, my first multi-day photography job, and it was a whirlwind of activity spanning across two buildings and many rooms. I was constantly on the move, up and down the lecture hall stairs to get the perfect shot, and then off to another building, another lecture hall, another set of stands. In hindsight, I should have worn more comfortable shoes.

From the onset, the conference was not only an event but a genuine celebration of education and environmental awareness. The acknowledgements and welcomes to Country were numerous and felt deliberate and sincere, not just ticking a box but sharing gratitude and reverence for the land and a consciousness of the current political climate leading up to the referendum vote.

Keynote Speaker: Tim Flannery

On the first day, we began in the gigantic and beautiful Hope Theatre – a room I hadn’t been in since those fateful two weeks in first year, before covid took us all out of the lecture call and slapped us online. Tim Flannery, a distinguished environmentalist, was the keynote speaker in the conference opening session. The introduction given by the MC prior to Flannery’s appearance highlighted David Attenborough’s commendation of him and his explorative career. Immediately, my ears perked up. I love David Attenbrough. As he spoke, it was evident that we were in the presence of someone making a significant impact in the world of environmental conservation, as well as someone well-versed in public speaking. His talk was moving and enjoyable, and got me interested in the topic matter of the conference, not just there to take photos of it.

Keynote Speaker: Gina Chick

The second day featured Gina Chick, a vibrant speaker who, with her barefoot charm and palpable zest for life, engaged the audience like an old friend. Gina Chick is a writer, musician, somatic dancer, and all round advocate for connection to body and nature. Gina Chick survived the winter in the Tasmanian Bush for 67 days with no help or camera crew on the SBS survival show called Alone Australia, which she won. Gina said she won this challenge through joy and connection. Dancing in the moss, singing to the platypus, befriending the plants and animals and relying on her deep instincts, she fell in love with the landscape, and found herself in a new way, connected, and alone in great company. She spoke to the adoring audience, noting how good it felt to talk to a room of people who feel how she does about the environment, and commending the many barefoot businessmen and women in the room.

A Blend of Education and Connection

As photographers, our primary task is to capture pivotal moments, but I also had the privilege of attending some sessions, in between snapping the shots on my schedule. Some of these were deeply interesting and moving. One such session focused on climate anxiety and emphasised the practice of active listening. I had to leave halfway through and I returned to a room full of academics deep in passionate conversation with each other, sitting on tables and floors to squeeze in for this workshop, not noticing the muggy breath-filled air in the room. Everyone seemed so inspired and comforted. I sat in on some outdoor circle sessions that exuded calm and connection, and were a fantastic break from the hustle of the busy lecture halls – a testament to the comradery shared by the attendees.

Sustenance and Sustainability

The conference organisers not only nourished the attendee’s minds with inspiring content but also fed our bodies well, with delicious morning tea, lunch, and afternoon tea. Their eco-friendly choice of using borrowed mugs from the Green Connect op shop instead of disposable cups showcased their commitment to sustainability, and gave me the exciting opportunity to carefully select which mug would make my beverage taste the best. The team took good care of me, ensuring I didn’t have to worry about food, drinks or breaks during the long day of photography. A considerable number of people approached me over the span of this job to thank me for my work, and compliment my efforts to stay discrete and out of the way.

The Beauty of Early Childhood Education

Being a part of this conference was not only an opportunity to work but also a chance to learn and engage. I found the discussions about teaching and the environment moving, and I appreciated the principles of teaching early childhood ages kids. That children are capable, autonomous beings who ‘speak 100 languages’ was both beautiful and reassuring. It’s a topic that’s stuck with me since. The whole time, they spoke about children with such respect and consideration – and anyone who knows me well will tell you how passionately I feel about holding genuine space and respect for children and their ideas. So this was of great importance and comfort to me.

Reflections: Lessons Learned

In retrospect, my experience at the AAEE education conference was a blend of hard work, learning, and connection. I learned that having a schedule is crucial for time management, and comfortable shoes are a must for multi-day events. Most importantly, I learned the value of not overshooting to save time for sorting and editing, a lesson that will undoubtedly help me manage my business smoothly. I’m still sorting through the incredible amount of photos, but it’s a lot more manageable than it could have been if I weren’t wary.of my click-count.

Conferences & Networking

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