Stardate: 15.03.2010.

Oh wait. Wrong kind of convention.

Now that I’m back in Canada, recovering from jetlag, a severe reaction to insect bites, a cold, and 3 sleepless nights during the convention, I can finally write about my hectic last days in Aus running Secular Society events and volunteering at the Con! It was an amazing time despite a few hiccups that were completely out of the organizers’ hands.

Day 0: Thurs Mar 11/10

Secular Society goes to Healesville with very special guest PZed Myers.

How the man had energy to walk around Healesville after a 15 hour flight, I’ll never know. He didn’t even fall asleep in the car! Anyways, Jason picked him up from the airport at 9am, identifying himself with a picture of a squid (my idea, even if JB initially laughed at it) and immediately drove out into the Valley. We made it just in time for the platypus talk (as I hustled everyone along) but missed many of the others, including the kangaroo feed because of the late start. We did make it to the Birds of Prey show, where a massive wedge-tailed eagle swooped dangerously low over our heads (necessitating this hopeful thought “Please don’t poop on us”). A quick run up to the Wildlife Hospital allowed us to view a tiny joey who had been brought in. Rushing back to the city, we spotted the ads for the Atheist Bus Campaign. It seemed fitting that my first (and only) sighting was while I was in the car behind PZed.

Day 1: Fri Mar 12, 2010

The start of the GAC was preceded by the launch of the Australian Freethought University Alliance, which I had to miss due to treatment for the aforementioned insect bites (you know it’s bad when both the doctor and the nurse go “whoa”). After this whole thing with Sean the Blogonaut (who I meant to search for at the con but ran out of time), I missed out on PZed wearing his new UMSS tshirt (thus cementing UMSS’ status as the best uni freethought group in Aus, if not the globe), JB getting elected President of the AFUA (surprise, surprise) and free food (a necessary component of the broke grad student’s diet)!

At the official kickoff of the GAC, where I was registering attendees, David Nicholls stated that atheists were not after world domination, everyone went “Aw”. Sue-Ann Post likes to punch hippies, rather than Christians. I discovered I like messing around with Richard’s twitter, and Catherine Deveny is outrageous as always.

Day 2: Saturday, March 13, 2010.

More rego (registration) and mistakes on Saturday morning. None were actually made by the organizing committee but it almost made their collective head explode. Unfortunately, that meant I missed out on seeing Phillip Adams, Russell Blackford and Max Wallace (the latter 2 I had heard before, so I wasn’t fussed. Then everyone came out raving how good Phillip Adams was. Then I was fussed). I was not about to miss Taslima Nasrin, though. Having vaguely heard of her before, and then reading her bio in the program made me realize that I actually did need to sit in on some of these sessions. And she was amazing, although I’m not entirely sure why the (crappy) media coverage keeps describing her as a Muslim activist, when she’s clearly ex-Muslim. Like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, she’s constantly under threat, and has been physically attacked for speaking on her views (I’ll be honest, that probably piqued my interest when I overheard security telling one another that she was ready to be escorted from the hotel to the convention centre next door). But hearing her story, growing up as a Muslim child in Bangladesh, deciding at a young age that Allah didn’t exist, and then being forced into exile because she wrote on the oppression of women through religion, was incredible. She wasn’t allowed home when her mother died or when her father died. She hasn’t been back in over 16 years, she can’t even travel to India to remain connected to her culture. Thinking about my own travel plans, about how desperate I was to go home, and I’ve only been gone for a year. I thought about being banned from returning home, and my heart just ached for her, and yeah, I welled up. She got a standing ovation, and deserved it fully. She’s my new hero.

At lunch, I got this photo taken. Almost makes up for missing the luncheon the day before. Also, ended up introducing a bunch of people to him, which is ironic, because I’m pretty sure he doesn’t remember my name.

Did tell him that it was a good thing that he was going last on Saturday, since he could get drunk right after.

Best bit of working at the rego/enquiries desk all day? The two guys from the Chaser came up to me, as they were needing their passes for the weekend. I had a moment where I was like “Why do you guys look familiar?” Then promptly notified some of the other volunteers by hitting them excitedly. During the Grayling talk, Julian Morrow came and sat in my row, taking notes.

Saturday Night Dinner was kind of awesome. I was seated at the same table as AC Grayling! He sat down and introduced himself as Anthony 🙂 Such a lovely man, and his brother (who lives in Sydney) was incredibly nice too. Actually, all my dinner mates kind of rocked, particularly the guy who agreed to split the desserts so I could try all of them without looking greedy. Simon Taylor, did some great mind tricks but I can’t figure out how he did the number thing at the end. NonStampCollector (aka Steve) was a bit nervous but did a great job. The Chaser boys always push the envelope, and we love them for it. Taking shots at Peter Singer is never easy, particularly when he’s sitting at the front table, about 2 metres away. And yes, I got my picture taken with them (separately, I was looking for Craig Reucassel, then discovered he was sitting on a chair behind me). Also, Richard kept poking me when I had my photo taken with Prof Grayling, prompting AC to ask Richard why he was tickling me.

To be continued.

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