Beneath the surface: where to go in The Gong if you want to have a meaningful conversation

Last Thursday night at Uncle Bok’s Bar and Eatery in Wollongong, a group of people, many of them complete strangers, met to talk about grief.

It may seem like an odd thing to talk about over dinner – a potentially heavy accompaniment to a first course – but for those attending Dinners With A Difference, plunging beneath the surface, the superficial, the smalltalk, is what it’s all about.

Dinners With a Difference is a monthly facilitated discussion over a meal that aims to dip beneath the surface of everyday conversations. “A lot of people I talk to are wanting community connection, and after the last couple of years there’s a lot of isolation. People don’t really know where to go. Some of us have actually lost the skill or the art of deep conversation,” founder Gretel Van-Lane told Mornings.

The Illawarra local said she wanted to offer something different after finding herself in a lot of small talk in places like the school gate or the office.

The topic for each month’s dinner as different. Past topics have included belonging, milestones, and finding meaning and purpose. On Thursday night, the topic was grief. Gretel says that although it was hard, the generosity and compassion people brought to the conversation made it inspiring.

During the entree, the first round of questions occurs in tables of four to five. This will be followed by a group conversation. In round 2, people have the opportunity shuffle around and meet new people. The evening is wrapped up with reflection and another group conversation.

“Often what happens is, I call the evening done and everyone goes “thanks so much,” and they go back to their conversations and the night goes on to another half hour to hour with more conversation and drinks,” said Gretel.

Dinners so far have been selling out, with each topic drawing a different crowd. About a third of attendees are passionate repeat visitors. The one thing everyone has in common is that they turn up ready to listen, share, and have a deep conversation.

Next month’s dinner will be a dinner for single people, with conversation cards instead of one set topic.

You can hear Tristan’s full interview with Gretel here.