Text:/ Graeme Hague
I’ve just returned from a holiday in Tasmania. Very nice indeed, apart from the road system resembling a bowl of spaghetti. I suspect the bloke who surveyed the highways and byways must have had shares in asphalt and bitumen — or maybe the white paint they use for double lines where you’re not allowed to overtake because the road is too winding. The only straight lines you’ll ever see in Tasmania are the signposts telling you the next bit of highway is 20km of hairpins.
FULL OF CONVICTION
When you’re on a vacation like that, the object is primarily to see stuff. I mean, the alternative is lounging around a pool in Bali and doing nothing for a week until the food poisoning subsides to safe levels, whereas a trip overseas to Tasmania involves looking at stuff. Lots of stuff, ranging from cheese factories (cow cheese, goat cheese, fur seal cheese, road kill cheese… Tasmanians apparently can make cheese out of anything) to the ubiquitous convict-built bridge, convict-built church, and convict-built cheese factory.
It turned out this wasn’t a ‘get away from it all’ holiday to avoid the kind of audiovisual equipment featured in these august pages — for the sake of a break — so perhaps it was a poor choice by yours truly, but then again it was a real eye-opener to spend two weeks witnessing the gazillion different applications where the technology is employed. It’s everywhere; to the point of making you wonder, similar to the smartphone phenomenon, how in this instance the tourism industry ever survived before the existence of AV presentations, touchscreens, and ghostly voices scaring the crap out of you because you’ve triggered a motion sensor. Whatever happened to the good ol’ volunteer tour guide wearing a cardigan?
ABSENCE OF AV
Mind you, I have experienced the exact opposite. Some years back during a New Zealand trip I was steam-rolled into taking a tour of a chocolate factory instead of checking out the brewery tour (filled with dozens of free pints of beer). Our tour group consisted of a large number of wives and girlfriends all salivating at the thought of mountains of free chocolate samples, accompanied by husbands and boyfriends trying to hide their disappointment they weren’t at the brewery (sorry for the stereotypes, but these were simpler times). We were a group of grown-ups, nevertheless our creepy tour guide, sans cardigan but wearing alarming overalls, treated us all like 10-year-olds and spoke in a weird, childish voice as he pointed out all the exciting, ‘magical’ things that occur in a chocolate factory. This was eerily odd, given we were standing in a factory that had effectively been switched off — like… nothing was happening; the place was in total shutdown. When someone finally pointed this out and queried the complete lack of any ‘magical’ chocolate-making, our guide reluctantly admitted everything was turned off because it was just after a mad period when the factory churned out tonnes of rabbits, eggs and what-not for the upcoming Easter market and everyone was on holiday. To compensate, he plied us with lots of free chocolate in the hope that our fingers would be too sticky to fill out any complaint forms.
WHEN AV SAVES THE DAY
You’d agree that here an informative AV presentation explaining the current status of the factory could have avoided this awkward confrontation, kept the Jimmy Saville fanboy at arm’s length, and had us all wandering the brewery and quaffing free booze — a proper tour.
One of the problems (for me, anyway) with modern AV presentations is that I feel obligated to view the whole thing… right to the end — perhaps because I have a good understanding of what’s gone into producing them. I often wish there was a fast-forward button, or a ‘skip’ option to the next chapter, but no, you have to endure the entire, cheerfully delivered monologue on the deprivations of the convicts or the explanation of a special machine that squeezes cheese out of goats. You’re left standing there trying to look interested while your wife abandons you for the next exhibition.
At the same time it’s pretty damned impressive how varied and innovative these AV installations have become, and how far the industry has taken the concepts of AV beyond dodgy slide projectors and attached cassette tapes with ‘beeps’ to load in the next upside-down slide. It’s a shame that so many visitors eschew the full AV presentation in favour of getting savagely bitten by a furry, cuddly wombat. Interactive, and with synchronised lighting and sound, many of them would make Steven Spielberg proud (the AV gear, not the wombats). Of course, most of the Tasmanian displays feature all the different ways convicts can be flogged to within an inch of their life for stealing a cheeseburger from (the convict-constructed) McDonalds.
A TORTURED TRIP
I guess the jury’s out as to whether the ruined buildings, spooky old houses, and mysterious holes in the ground that were likely pits of torture — or a nineteenth century dunny (same thing, on a diet of gruel) — were either brought alive as an ‘immersive experience’ or rendered impotent by the chattering voiceovers and hi-res screens that constantly reminded everyone they were safely 150 years distanced from the reality.
But you certainly get to see stuff. And eat lots of odd cheese.