Live from Australia, Part 2: Koalas Are Not Bears

I can’t think of a place more closely associated with its wildlife than Australia, with the possible and notable exception of old Shea Stadium and its car-sized rats. Australia has not one, but two animals—kangaroos and koalas—that people associate with it and nowhere else. Pictured above is my three-year-old daughter Maya at a park called Bungalow Bay on Magnetic Island in Queensland, where rangers demonstrate and let visitors handle animals, including koalas—a signature experience because it happens here and nowhere else.

And Australians are proud of their native animal friends. I made the mistake of referring to koalas as koala bears shortly after my arrival here last Sunday and was chased out of town by a mob of irate, torch-bearing interpreters yelling, “They’re MARSUPIALS!”

With the NAI International Conference having just ended Saturday, I’m feeling reflective about my time in Queensland. In addition to the fact that koalas are not bears, here are some things I have learned Down Under:

Stuff kills you here.
Australia is home not only to cuddly, bouncy animals, but also an amazing concentration of intensely venomous snakes and spiders, jellyfish that leave gash-like scars on people who swim in the ocean (but only during summer, so don’t worry), and schnauzers that can kill you with laser beams shot from their eyes. (I have not been able to confirm the existence of laser schnauzers with the scientific community, but I figure there has to be a reason for all of these “No Schnauzer” signs I saw all over Townsville.) While visiting the Mamu Rainforest Canopy Walkway near Cairns, we saw a whole bunch of the spiders pictured above. I’m not sure whether they’re venomous, but they’re the size of my fist so I’m not interested in finding out.

You can run, but you can’t hide.
In Australia, it’s warm at Christmastime and cold in July. They call strollers prams, drive on the left side of the road, and wear thongs on their feet. Here, Foster’s is not Australian for beer. And in spite of all these differences, they still have the same default fonts on their computers.

When I presented an Interpretation By Design session last week during the conference, a very nice Australian woman who I learned later is an important member of the Townsville interpretive community suggested that she liked to use Comic Sans for her communication aimed at children. (I could tell who our regular IBD readers were in the room by where the snickers were coming from.) I diplomatically explained that Comic Sans doesn’t look like actual children’s handwriting but rather an adult’s interpretation of children’s handwriting and that there’s a special circle of Hell waiting for Comic Sans creator Vincent Connare. And it just so happened that the very next image in my slide show was the above photo, shot in the market next to our hotel.

I asked: Do you really want to make the same decision about the type for your interpretive materials that the owner of this market made about how best to promote $3 sausage rolls?

Jon Hooper is a smart dude.
When I presented the IBD session, I had the opportunity to use a simple but very useful PowerPoint trick I learned from NAI’s Jon Hooper, who writes about PowerPoint for Legacy magazine. Shea and I routinely have too many slides for the time allotted when we present. At the last NAI National Workshop in Hartford, Jon was in attendance when we once again ran out of time and had to skip a bunch of slides to get to our big conclusion. The room filled with groans and complaints when participants saw what we were skipping.

Jon pointed out something that was new to me, but probably old news to most IBD readers: If, mid-PowerPoint show, you type in a number and hit return, it jumps you directly to the slide that corresponds with that number. So if you know that your big conclusion starts on slide 58, you can go there at any time and your audience will never know the difference. This trick can help you make fluid transitions from one part of your show to another. Thanks, Jon!

Interpreters are a fair dinkum lot.
At the risk of bashing your ear, every time I find myself somewhere chockers with my interpreter cobbers, I find them a bunch of daggy, bonza blokes. Whether it’s the NAI International Conference, the NAI National Workshop, or one of NAI’s regional workshops, I dip my lid to NAI members and interpretive professionals everywhere, whether they be city slickers or from the mulga. Hooley dooley, this is the ridgy-didge: Interpreters are real rippers, and have the fun of Cork, too! (I thought I’d try out some of the Aussie slang I’ve picked up. I may have to change my pen name to Paul “Hogan” Caputo and write like this all the time.)

I interviewed Sam Ham for a video series NAI is producing, and asked him, “How do you define success?” His response boiled down to: If you’re happy in life because you love what you do and where you do it, you’re successful—and interpreters are among the most successful people in the world.

And that’s a real purler.