Brains worked overtime to process the assortment of ideas presented at last Saturday's TEDxSydney event at the Sydney Opera House. Andre Fenby and I were there for every minute, meeting with speakers and indulging in the delicious and locally sourced food. Check out our review of the day:
By Andre Fenby and Drew Rooke
The red 'X' on the Sydney Opera House foreshore marked the spot, the spot for Australian ideas to be heard globally. Ideas which were at once challenging, exciting and inspirational were voiced on the TEDxSydney stage last Saturday, an event which proved a serious workout for the senses.
From space archaeologist, Alice Gorman, who took us beyond our planet to shed light on the cultural significance and artefact-status of space junk, to David Sinclair, who spoke of winding back time and implored us to join his crusade against ageing, our faculties were pushed to their conceptual limits. We even learnt from Andrew Parker that sight on earth began 520 million years ago with a trilobite which had the world's first eye.
But it was a man unhindered by his inability to see who made the biggest impression. Blind human rights advocate and lawyer Professor Ron McCallum's inspiring life story, powerful message and positive attitude led to a standing ovation – a clear answer to the question Ron asked his friend while walking off, “Did that work ok?”. One can only imagine how thunderous the applause sounded to a man who listens to audiobooks at a pace incomprehensible to the rest of us.
For many of the talks, what we in the crowd saw was just the tip of a hidden iceberg. As one speaker said to us after the event, many TEDx guests are often under invisible pressure or threat from governments and stakeholders. Human rights lawyer Jennifer Robinson’s speech, empowered by the brave presence of West Papua independence leader Benny Wenda, is but one example of how even words spoken in Australia might endanger the pariahs who speak them. Bravery is married with TEDx.
The Grow it Local crowd farming initiative introduced taste to TEDxSydney – which this year focused on food and sustainability – before David Guest’s eccentric enthusiasm for chocolate led us willingly to desert. Equally amazing to all the food being locally sourced was that the days chefs were notified just two days before about the produce and ingredients they would be using. This was a challenge easily overcome and it was impossible to escape the hot breath of people circling the buffet, smattered with vivid colours, from vibrant, green vegetables to glistening, brown meat and dark, gooey chutneys. And the fresh fruit filling the heshen bags lining the staircases was more than decoration and attracted hungry hands before reentering the sphere of ideas. Professor Bill Pritchard’s enlightening perspective on food security and the one-in-eight undernourished people of the world made us appreciate the experience all the more.
Our ears weren’t neglected, either, and after lunch we were lulled into a cool, collective trance by the ethereal, hypnotic sounds of Ensemble Offspring, only to be riled up by the flow of Omar Musa’s street poetry which turned the opera house into a rhyming house. And Thom Thum amazed all with his vocal gymnastics, beatboxing his way from jazz to Michael Jackson's, 'Billie Jean'. If only we’d been privy to the jam session involving Benny Wenda, John Butler and Tom Thum rumoured to have gone on behind the scenes.
To say we were overstimulated would be a gross understatement. We listened to talks we never would have at home, each of which rippled through a myriad screens, speakers and tweets. Luckily, artist Dr. George Khut gave respite by showing us the rhythm and colour of bodies interacting with technology. It was the perfect time to focus on “feeling experiences” rather than intellectual ones, and to encourage people to “shut up and be with themselves”.
But the thing that made it really worthwhile was the community atmosphere , strengthened by TEDxSydney’s distinctly Australian flavour. Speakers as prestigious as Paul Pholeros – who blew the crowd away earlier with his architectural solutions to health problems in indigenous areas – came down to the bar for a beer and a chat, affable to the end, and never without a group of devoted fans circling him like electrons around a nucleus. And this community stretched beyond the sails via streaming to the University of Sydney's MacLaurin Hall and TEDx viewing parties across Australia and the world. Accessible to all, TEDxSydney validated social researcher, Rebecca Huntley, who spoke of people's commitment to a 'we' rather than a 'me'.
As the sun went down and the University’s foyer display grew brighter, the formerly nice but reserved crowd became wide-eyed and talkative. While earlier they were shy in front of our cameras, dwarfed by their intellectual environment, suddenly they were impatient to impart ideas of their own. Although the free drinks probably had a lot to do with it, there was definitely a more profound change.
TEDx shows us what it’s like to live in the world today: it’s collaborative rather than controlled, experienced in fragments, aided by almost limitless technology. But it also spotlights a phenomenon that predates Twitter, the live stream and even the TED franchise. Herman Melville put it best: “Genius, all over the world, stands hand in hand, and one shock of recognition runs the whole circle round.”