Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

OZ 2007

The Nevil Shute Legacy

Narrative report by Laura Schneider, Conference Manager

The 5th biennial international Nevil Shute Norway Conference, aka Nevil Shute's Legacy, was conceived in late March 2001. After participating in OZ2001, I made my pilgrimage to Alice Springs. I spent an amazing 19+ hours in "The Alice" and realized it was a very special and important place. It was at this time, somewhere between the Telegraph Station and the Royal Flying Doctor Service that it became abundantly clear a Nevil Shute Conference must take place in Alice Springs.

When it was determined at Cape Cod 2005 that the overwhelming majority of attendees wanted the next international conference to be in Alice Springs, fate took over. It is impossible to remember if I raised my hand to volunteer to manage the conference or if Mike Meehan put my arm up and volunteered me. Regardless, it was a decision that was my destiny. Dramatic ? No more so than my entire experience in Alice.

While being fully aware of the difficulties of planning a conference 14½ time zones and 11,212 miles from New York, I was completely comfortable with the challenge. Mike Meehan immediately jumped on board to assist and later on, John Anderson joined Team Legacy.

Mike and I met in Portsmouth England in mid-December 2005. After climbing all over "The Victory" and watching "The Mary Rose" being prepared for eternal viewing, we found refuge and warmth in a coffee shop. We had been talking almost nonstop about the Alice Springs Conference and what we wanted it to represent, especially relating to A Town Like Alice/The Legacy. We wanted to rekindle the novel and also the wonderful legacy that Nevil Shute's life and work had left to us. All of a sudden, Mike said "Nevil Shute's Legacy" and the conference was born.

When I took on the job as Conference Manager, I knew I'd have to go to Alice Springs to check out conference venues, excursion possibilities and find the proper vendors with whom I'd be dealing. It was imperative to have the best and most reliable people involved. Not only do I require the best under any circumstance, I knew I would be relying on people who were thousands of miles away and I had to be sure they were reliable.

I was given $2,000 USD seed money to use for the Alice Springs conference. It was $1,000 more than was given to previous conference managers but the distance and remote location made this conference unique. I didn't formally ask for the seed money until just before leaving for Alice Springs because my upfront expenses were minimal, as was the one required down payment. The intention was to return all of the NSN Foundation's seed money plus $1. My goal wasn't to make money, even though I knew every previous conference had made a profit. This conference was a bigger commitment to all conference participants because a lot of time, money and energy were required to make the trip to the conference site, Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia.

At the beginning of the conference planning, Dan offered excellent advice which I listened to, wanted to follow, tried to follow but in the end, could not. Dan's advice was to figure out how much money I needed from each conference participant and then add on 20%. Further, it was easy to give money/goods back to people but nearly impossible to ask for more. This was sage advice from an experienced planner but my heart couldn't charge a penny more than required. Every decision I made always came back to how much people were committing to attend this conference - Time, energy and money. Being keenly aware that many conference participants were 60+ years old, I wanted to keep things as low cost and accessible as possible. The end results pleased me because the Conference facility, The Alice Springs Resort, was financially reasonable and physically manageable.

There were many differences between this conference and the previous conferences. Alice Springs is remote and everyone but the local two part timers that participated in NSL2007 had a very long journey to make to get to the conference. This involved time, money, physical stamina and patience. There were just a very few flights in and out of Alice Springs each day requiring everyone plan their trips carefully. We had people traveling from The Netherlands, Wales, England, the United States and Australia. People traveled to Alice via plane, train, automobile and caravan. What it took for people to get to The Alice cannot be overstated. This conference was an effort to attend and the fact we had so many people come from three continents was extraordinary.

My planning trip to Alice Springs took place in February 2006. I went thinking we'd have the conference the following February. However, after my meetings with Mayor Fran, Denise Senior, various vendors and local merchants, I was convinced to consider late March or April for a more hospitable climate. It was either those meetings or the millions of flies I encountered at Standley's Chasm that cinched it for me. That day, I was treated to a first hand experience similar to what Jean Paget went through at the bank in Willstown. They say insects are protein but I don't know if that is true with flies. If it is, I had more protein that afternoon than I would have had if I'd eaten a 20 oz. steak ! Ugh !

Because of a great deal on, I chose to stay at the Alice Springs Resort. It was an educated risk. I couldn't find the place I stayed in 2001 but later learned it had been renamed. Being renamed was a good reason why it was nowhere to be found ! When I did find that place, I found it hadn't changed a bit. The facility was still beautiful, the front desk staff was still nice, the gift shop was still terrific but the food and food service left everything to be desired. There was a hotel/casino just outside of town but people weren't coming to Alice to stay in a Casino. I checked it out anyway and the rooms were OK and the food was just OK.

One of the many things that set the Alice Springs Resort (ASR) apart from the other places was the food and the wait staff's attention to their customers. This had been a bit of an issue at previous conferences. At the Alice Springs Resort, the food was delicious and there was plenty of variety for all palates, diets and specific requirements. There were two room choices or three when you count the smoking rooms. The room rates offered to us included a full hot breakfast, a full cold breakfast and/or a Continental breakfast for the price of a normal Continental breakfast. A better deal could not have been found anywhere in Alice Springs. Hearty eaters, light eaters, meat eaters, vegans - there was something for everyone. What really set the Alice Springs Resort above the competition was that they always had plenty of clean tables for us - they were expecting us - they were friendly to us - they were happy to see us. In short, they took very good care of us!

The Alice Springs Resort was within walking distance from town, about 5-10 minutes depending on your pace. Being just outside of town afforded a lot of independence, a bit of privacy and an extra bit of safety.

Background: The NSN Foundation was formally introduced to Alice Springs' Mayor Fran Kilgariff at UK2003, when she gave the after dinner speech at our traditional banquet. Fran was clever, interesting, informative and funny. Fran told us all about Alice Springs and warmly invited us to bring our conference to The Alice. Fran finished her speech by reading the poem, "Turbulence". It is the story of a local Alice Springs ringer, Billy Hayes, and his first experience on an airplane. Fran left us wanting more and it was the perfect setup for a possible future conference.

Mayor Fran and I met twice during my planning visit. Fran was gracious and welcoming. She asked what I had planned for the conference activities and offered a few suggestions for other things. Fran drove me around Alice Springs and showed me different areas I never would've seen. One day, Fran took me out to Ooraminna, which is the cattle station owned by Bill and Jan Hayes (Billy of Turbulence fame). Their Events Manager, Michele, met Fran and me and we discussed an evening at Ooraminna. It was hard to concentrate on the event options because the Devonshire Tea was to die for. The scones, home made clotted cream and jam were delicious and endless! We didn't even begin to do justice to them. I thought Ooraminna would be a great evening and it would also tie in UK2003 to NSL2007. The vets from UK would have a bit of fun and everyone would have the experience of being out on a Station.

Everything with NSL'07 was going smoothly; the conference site was everything I wanted; the vendors had been chosen and vetted; Alice locals, including Fran and Denise offered suggestions; the Conference had a title and theme; and terrific presenters were lined up to speak. Plus, the Nevil Shute Memorial Garden at the Alice Springs Public Library was being designed and created and would be ready to be dedicated during our conference; Mayor Fran had agreed to be our Banquet Speaker; we had two days of excursions planned; we were going to be able to witness the ANZAC Day dawn ceremony (and gunfire breakfast !)); and there was a mystery evening set at Ooraminna. Regarding the Speakers, even before leaving Cape Cod, I wrote down a wish list of speakers for NSL2007. I considered everyone I had met and/or heard present from OZ2201, UK2003, CC2005, as well as presenters from The Centennial. There were so many excellent people ! Some of those very people came to me and asked to present. They had topics picked out which dovetailed beautifully with The Legacy theme.

The challenge became obvious - How do we get people to travel across at least one ocean and lots of desert to attend this conference ? No question the conference was going to be memorable and that everyone who came would have a good time but we also knew there was a sizable commitment of time, money and stamina. There was work to do, a registration fee to set and people to sign up and commit to the conference. This was where we stood in late July 2006.

Confirmed participants began emailing me about "extra activities". Our conference schedule was on our web site, masterfully set up and maintained by John Anderson. A rough but nearly complete sketch of our excursions was posted. However, the one question I kept getting was about "an aboriginal experience". Many folks wanted "one" but everyone had their own specific idea on what that experience ought to be. Ultimately, the decision was to have a half day excursion to the Mbantua Gallery and the Araluen Cultural Center. Mbantua,, has magnificent Aboriginal art and shares a lot of history. One of our bus driver/guides, Harry, gave a terrific tour of the Mbantua Gallery. The Araluen Cultural Center encompassed many different kids of art and history but the highlight of the day for many Shutists was the Connellan Hangar and Mrs. Connellan's "pool." (Note: There are photos of Zia Telfair and me "swimming" in her "pool"!)

In the days leading up to the Conference, I visited Araluen and met an aviation historian named Perry at the Connellan Hangar. He was kind enough to show me the other hangar, not open to the public. Inside were many beautiful old planes in various conditions..all were a sight to behold. Perry graciously offered to allow our participants into that second hangar during our visit. Without equivocation, I can say those two hangars were the highlight of the day for the aviation en

The Araluen Site, also known as the Alice Springs Cultural Precinct, is home to some of the most interesting cultural and historical attractions in Alice Springs, encompassing performing and visual arts, natural and social history and Aboriginal culture. The attractions which make up the Alice Spring Cultural Precinct include the Araluen Arts Centre, the Central Australian Aviation Museum, the Museum of Central Australia and the Strehlow Research Centre. Originally housing Alice's first airport, the Site contains a number of heritage buildings, linked to this early Aviation history, along with the studios and gallery of Territory Craft. (source:

The other challenge of having local people to assist was one I had to navigate around. A major key to previous conferences was having people on the ground - i.e., local folks to help out with some of the details leading up to the conference and during the conference. In Alice, the problem was finding folks with time to volunteer. What I learned, and was told by nearly everyone I spoke with, is that there isn't a real pool of people to draw from. There are a fair amount of transients in Alice, which also makes it a challenge to find people to volunteer for things. Many people move to Alice for a specific amount of time and then move away. Many others leave Alice when they retire. I concluded that I needed the best people/vendors and have them in place ASAP. Having responsible and responsive vendors would make long distance planning possible.

I achieved that goal and throughout the next 14 months, my communication with 6 people in Alice made everything run smoothly once NSL2007 descended on The Alice. Everyone I worked with wanted to be part of our conference and did everything they could to help us have a memorable experience. Mayor Fran, Denise Senior and her staff, LeeAnn of Tailormade Tours, Michele at Ooraminna plus the indefatigable General Manager of the Alice Springs Resort, Jeff Huyben and his equally amazing Assistant Manager, Aaron Hipwell were our Alice Springs Team. This group's collective enthusiasm, skill, talent, commitment to our conference success and dedication to making sure everyone had a wonderful and memorable experience in The Alice is unmatched.

John Anderson came on board and Team Legacy was born. John set up and maintained the Alice Springs web site. Working with Oren was a challenge and we didn't have the luxury of working on his schedule. Eventually, things got done but it was not working out because things weren't timely. John was a godsend! When John offered to set up a separate web site, our biggest hurdle had been overcome. Barbara Niven and Philip Nixon did some PR for us. Richard Mickalak was terrific in keeping the conference on the front burner and it made a huge difference. There were regular, monthly mentions/updates in the Foundation newsletter.

While adding the extra 20% to the Registration Fee as Dan suggested was a reasonable option, I thought the cushion of participants that we had meant it would not be necessary. My break even point was met and surpassed by promised attendees. By the time the fee of $450 AU was set, 42 attendees were confirmed and we had 90% assurance from five others. It helped that in mid-February 2007, an interview that was twelve months in the making took place in Australia. Anne Barker, from the ABC, contacted me in February 2006 about our Conference. Anne had heard my interview on the Alice Springs ABC radio station while I was on my 2006 planning trip. I asked if we could hold off and do the interview in February of 2007 to get more mileage out of the interview and perhaps bring in more conference participants and Anne agreed. Dan Telfair, Denise Senior of the Alice Springs Library and I were interviewed. This interview aired midday on a program that is heard all over Australia. Richard Michalak said everyone listens to this show. OZ2001 attendees in Queensland, New South Wales and Melbourne heard the interview. The ladies at The National Library in Canberra also heard the interview and told me so when I went to study some of NSN's papers. That broke a lot of ice!! Barbara Niven heard the interview as did most of the new AU attendees. Of all the radio and print interviews about this conference, the one that made the biggest impact was this first one. Fortuitously, a friend of Pauline Blake's (nee Edwards) also heard the interview and alerted Pauline to our upcoming conference. As you all now know, Pauline is a daughter of Ringer Jimmie Edwards, the inspiration for Joe Harmon in A Town Like Alice. Pauline contacted Dan and Richard about the conference, both of whom forwarded Pauline's letters to me. Pauline said her mother, Pauline Sr., and her sister Ann Coppin (mother of Annabelle), were considering attending our conference. Dan and I agreed it would be a nice gesture to waive their Registration Fees. Speaking further with Mike and John, we also agreed it was a wonderful piece of luck the Edwards' ladies heard the interview and wanted to join us in Alice! Unfortunately, Pauline Sr. didn't feel strong enough to attend but daughters Pauline and Ann sure made the conference memorable! Not only did they bring their humour, intelligence, family stories and experiences to the conference, they brought a substantial amount of communication between Nevil and their father, Jimmie. This included personal letters, first edition books signed by Nevil to Jimmie and various newspaper articles. This was an unexpected and significant addition to the conference.

That first radio interview was aired mid-February 2007. It was just about this time that committed participants began backing out of the conference. There were several people, including a very popular presenter, who had to back out due to family or personal illness. Several more had to back out because they couldn't swing the finances required for a trip of this magnitude and then, we lost our Keynote Speaker. Fortunately, we had another talented speaker scheduled, Beall Fowler, whose topic was going to complement the Keynote Speech. Beall had just enough time to tweak his presentation and, as usual, did a brilliant job.

Losing the Keynote Speaker and ten guaranteed participants, as well as the five 90% guarantees, plus absorbing the Edwards' sisters Registration Fees was a huge hit. The "extra 20%" rung brutally loud in my ears but there was nothing to do except see where we could shave some expenses. I also began looking at everything attached to Alice very differently. If I had to personally absorb some of the expenses, so be it. At the end of the day, there was a shortage. The Edwards sisters' Honorarium was funded by the NSN Foundation seed money for Alice and worth every penny. The shortfall of $654.72 came out of my pocket. It was my pleasure to make up the shortfall - also worth every penny.

The Pre-Conference number of participants for breaking even was 39. When committed delegates cancelled, the "Break Even" number changed and kept changing. When the Edwards' sisters appeared on the scene, they became one more wonderful but unplanned factor.

I know I could've taken the shortfall out of the seed money but chose not to. Making up the shortfall was the least I could do under the circumstances. I cut expenses where they wouldn't be felt and chose to be responsible for the rest. When people had to cancel, I was prepared and committed to taking care of any shortfall. I certainly didn't want a short fall but I also decided I wanted the conference to be as close to it was originally planned. Financially speaking, it isn't the way one should work but as I began losing committed people to illness and financial constraints, I made my choice. Do I recommend this to others ? Only if you're prepared to absorb the financial hit. If I could have controlled a few things, like the weather, I would have saved a little bit but nothing significant. For example, we had an astronomer come to Ooraminna to do a star talk. Unfortunately, the clouds covered the sky that night and his presentation was a washout. He did bring a super powerful telescope and people were able to see craters on the moon and the rings around Saturn. While that telescope was a nice "save" on his part, it wasn't what we were expecting. No one could've predicted the clouds. We also would have left Ooraminna sooner, which would have been helpful to the hearty 23 people who were on the bus at 5:00am the next morning. The amazing 23 went to the memorable and inspiring Dawn Ceremonies on ANZAC Hill on ANZAC Day. The gunfire breakfast afterwards, complete with Bundeberg Rum, helped us forget just how early we had risen!