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Australia Wows Groups With Its Cultural Outlets

October 23, 2017

On the surface, Australia’s outer beauty—its fuzzy-eared koalas, bronzed surfers, sprawling beaches and postcard-ready city skylines—form its iconic image. But it’s the collective creative output from its people that leaves an indelible image, whether at a modern art gallery in Sydney or theatrical performance in Melbourne. Australia’s Aboriginal culture, dating at least 50,000 years, is also a core part of the country’s fabric, bringing to the mainstream its endemic instrument, the didgeridoo, and dot paintings among other forms of art.  

“Australia’s proximity to Asia and history of European settlement, coupled with a strong Aboriginal art and culture scene, make it a unique destination,” said Jane Whitehead, regional general manager, Americas for Tourism Australia.

Australians also know how to celebrate their creativity and robust heritage.

“Australia has a strong track record when it comes to festivals in particular, showcasing everything from the winter lights of Vivid Sydney on the east coast to wines, truffles and produce of the Margaret River Gourmet Escape in the west,” Whitehead said.

DMCs like Ovation Australia can offer bespoke experiences throughout the country as well.

“Adding a cultural element into an event is very popular especially if it allows the delegates to immerse themselves into the Australian culture and heritage,” said Sonja Soderbom, director, destination management, Ovation Australia. “Examples include bringing an Australian indigenous artist to the event and creating a group masterpiece with all delegates either participating in a dot painting or handprint.”

Sydney

Sydney, capital of New South Wales, stands as a beacon of the country’s arts scene.

“From cultural institutions to annual festivals and major events, Sydney’s arts and cultural scene is easily found on the foreshores of Sydney Harbour, offering stunning water and city views,” Whitehead noted.

“Take for example the internationally renowned Sydney Opera House,” she continued, “which offers unique function spaces, many of which have Harbour views, as well as exclusive experiences for groups including back stage tours. The Sydney Opera House is also part of the annual winter festival, Vivid Sydney, the world’s largest festival of light, music and ideas that illuminates the city at night.”    

Another main event is an annual Handa Opera production, performed on a unique floating stage in Sydney Harbour.

Other key cultural venues include the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) and the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which can host cocktails for up to 900 and seated dinners for up to 350. MCA offers venues with private outdoor terraces overlooking Circular Quay.

Aboriginal cultural cruises on Sydney Harbour are available with the company Tribal Warrior, offering sails on its Mari Nawi. Onboard, attendees hear stories of the various local Aboriginal tribes and then visit Be-lang-le-wool (Clark Island), an indigenous settlement where groups learn traditional fishing methods and food gathering techniques, as well as participate in an Aboriginal cultural performance.  

The city is well-equipped for groups, including its International Convention Centre Sydney (ICC Sydney), which opened in December 2016 on Darling Harbour. On the books, InterContinental Hotel Sydney is planning an upgrade that includes a new ballroom. Sydney’s Sheraton on the Park will undergo a renovation in early 2018 that includes updates to its 558 guest rooms.

Access will also get easier from the U.S. next year as United Airlines adds daily flights from Houston to Sydney.

Melbourne

“Melbourne has a strong arts and culture scene that can be found woven throughout the city, from the street art in its laneways to its theaters and cultural institutions,” Whitehead said.

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Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria can host groups for an event in the Great Hall, which features the largest stained glass ceiling in the world. Other venues include the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) and Melbourne Museum.

Regent Theatre holds a key part in the city’s history since opening as a picture palace in 1929, and can host groups in its foyer. Melbourne Theatre Company offers groups behind-the-scenes tours, while Arts Centre Melbourne has 10 function rooms and theater stages that can be used for dinners.
An iconic Ovation Australia cultural tour of Melbourne includes the city’s art galleries and museums via vintage car or horse and carriage, including the many laneways adorned with contemporary graffiti art.

Melbourne is also updating its main meeting space, with the expansion of the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) to open mid-2018. The expansion will add more than 21,000 square feet of event space. The expanded MCEC will be complemented by a 347-room Novotel Melbourne South Wharf Hotel.

Marriott International is planning a new hotel alongside the Yarra River in the trendy Docklands area with 200 rooms, conference and meeting facilities, and a rooftop bar and pool. Work is scheduled to start in mid-2018. Other new hotel inventory in Melbourne includes a W Hotel, Ritz-Carlton, Mandarin Oriental, Holiday Inn Express and Indigo Hotel. Air Canada will also initiate direct flights between Melbourne and Vancouver, B.C., in June 2018.

Brisbane/Queensland

Further north, Brisbane stands as a cultural hub for Queensland.

“Brisbane is a welcoming and easily accessible city with a year-round outdoor lifestyle,” said the Brisbane Convention Bureau’s acting general manager, Juliet Alabaster. “On top of that, there’s an ever-evolving bar and dining scene, world-class venues and hotels and cultural attractions that are capturing global attention.”

Brisbane features the Queensland Art Gallery & Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), home to a vast collection of contemporary indigenous Australian fiber art. Group venues include the Long Gallery and River Room, which can be combined to host 1,500 for cocktails.

On the horizon, Howard Smith Wharves is set to become Brisbane’s next events precinct when it opens in 2018.  The precinct will house an exhibition and events center, boutique Art Series hotel, craft brewery and an array of restaurants.

Another mixed-use project in the works is the Brisbane Quarter, which will offer three towers, including the 312-room W Brisbane, slated to open in the first quarter of 2018. Meanwhile, the upcoming Queens Wharf project will feature 1,100 new hotel rooms, 50 new bars and restaurants, a pedestrian bridge to South Bank and retail.

Ovation Australia offers programs to other areas of Queensland, including its Indigenous Insights program in North Queensland’s Daintree, which features a traditional “smoking” ceremony that cleanses and wards off bad spirits. An indigenous guide demonstrates traditional plant use and will show traditions like making bush soaps and ochre painting.

Along the famed Gold Coast, a new outdoor amphitheater, located next to The Arts Centre Gold Coast, will offer outdoor space for up to 5,000 people, and is slated for completion in December.

Adelaide/Canberra/Uluru

The capital of South Australia, Adelaide, is renowned for the nearby Barossa Valley vineyards, wine and produce. Ovation Australia can help arrange wine-making classes, according to Ovation’s Soderbom.

Adelaide is also home to the Art Gallery of South Australia, founded in 1881 and open to groups.

Canberra, the country’s capital, houses many of the nation’s most important works of art, including a collection of Aboriginal art. The city also can host groups at its National Gallery of Australia and nearby National Portrait Gallery.

In Australia’s center at famed Uluru, Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia recently launched an indigenous food experience for premium groups at Ayers Rock Resort. The company also offers a bush tucker journey and a cooking class to learn how to use native ingredients such as wattle seed.

Perth

Western Australia’s capital Perth is another arts hub. The Art Gallery of Western Australia offers venue space for cocktail receptions and also features a 90-seat theater.

The Museum of Western Australia is currently undergoing an expansion. It features learning studios and galleries for groups.

Other upcoming projects include The Ritz-Carlton, Perth, which when it opens in mid-2019 will offer 205 waterfront rooms and conference space. The InterContinental Perth City Centre is a recent addition with an outdoor terrace for events. 

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About the author
Marlene Goldman | Contributing Writer