Fourteen speakers and eight performers took to the big red dot at TEDxSydney on Friday to give the speech or performance of their careers. It was the first time the event had been held at the International Convention Centre in Darling Harbour and the first for curator Fenella Kernebone, who opened the day by saying there were 4,000 or so more people in the audience than previous TEDxSydney events thanks to the venue’s seating capacity. The theme was ‘unconventional’ – going against the grain – and some speakers hit this mark better than others. But as with every TEDx event, it’s not all about the ideas shared on stage, some of the most memorable moments were in the performances and during the breaks. Our highlights were…
When the Mayor of Wiggletown performed ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ in sign language
Andy Dexterity (Andrew Koblar, who parents may know from the Wiggles) is an ambassador of Deaf Australia and one mighty fine physical performer. In a musical performance between talks, Andy introduced himself and a few simple words in AUSLAN. He also got the audience to run through signs they already knew – including getting everyone in the audience to raise their middle finger to the sky creating the “tallest tower in Sydney Harbour”. But what really gets Koblar excited is translating songs and poetry into body movement, which is when the handlebar moustached performer broke into song – only without using any sound. It was thrilling to watch. Andy got a standing ovation for his energetic and creative body language.
When Archie Roach joined Jack Charles to sing ‘We Won’t Cry’
Actor Uncle Jack Charles started his talk by telling the room he’d been incarcerated 22 times. “They’ve got 22 mugshots of me,” he said with a jolly smile. But the Aboriginal Australian had a serious and compelling idea to share: why don’t we have more Elders working with Indigenous youth in prisons? Who better to talk to young black fellas than someone who knows the patterns of crime and incarceration? “There is a serious lack of local Elders in our prisons. Trust us that we can save lives, given the opportunity,” he said. He believes having a connection to country would reduce the number of youth in detention centres. At the end, legendary performer Archie Roach joined him on stage to sing ‘We Won’t Cry’, the lyrics include “Together we can lighten this load.”
When a room full of people were asked to check their privilege
Lawyer and diversity practitioner Mariam Veiszadeh took a different approach to her TEDxSydney talk. Firstly, she asked everyone in the audience to stand up. Then, through a series of questions like ‘Did you have a job while you were at high school?’ people remained standing or sat down, giving a visual representation of unconscious bias. Veiszadeh, who was 2016 Daily Life Woman of the Year, believes difference is the key to successful businesses and she came to her talk with the stats to back it up. One example was based on job applicant’s names; if a woman was named ‘Ming Chen’ she must apply 68 per cent times more in order to get the job over an average white man. “Privilege is largely invisible to those who have it,” she says, and yet diverse companies are 35 per cent more likely to have financial returns over their peers. “That glass ceiling is double glazed for a woman like me. That’s why I wear heels like I do – to break it.”
When we joined a silent-disco tai chi class
This year’s TEDxSydney was all about finding your tribe. Each person’s lanyard had a space for stickers and attendees could select the stickers that identified them to a tribe, such as ‘Introverts’ or ‘LGBTIQ’ or ‘Creative & Curious’. The stickers helped you mingle with others in the Hub during breaks, and for those with a ‘Body & Soul’ sticker that meant you could join a tai chi class – in the middle of the room, wearing headphones. It was surprisingly zen, but more importantly it helped lonesome TEDxers find their people in an unconventional way.
When the crowd went wild for a fungal solution to climate change
One of the most participatory moments of TEDxSydney is when the audience gets to vote with their hands for one of the Fast Ideas: 30-second pitches from seven speakers. Ideas ranged from apps that translate medical terminology into plain English to equipping every car with a defibrillator. The winning pitch came from Guy Webb, a man who wants to make farmers carbon-saving superheroes. He had the idea of using fungus to capture carbon in the atmosphere and plant it back into the ground, to combat the lack of carbon in soil in Australia. The applause for Webb’s idea was thunderous. This year, Change.org is donating marketing support to turn the winning idea into a petition. So watch this space!
When singles lined up to find out their romantic destinies
TEDxSydney has a track record of hooking people up on dates – there’s even been a TEDx baby born in recent years – and so this year’s curators wanted to continue the matchmaking success. In the Hub, those with a ‘Single’ sticker could play a game of Cash Cube, except singles were catching love dockets, not money. Each docket said statements like ‘Your future partner can change a tyre’ and ‘Your future partner will be tone deaf.... And will have an affinity for karaoke’. It was gimmicky, but also very funny. Those who participated put themselves out there, but also walked away with excellent dating banter.
When a partially sighted woman helped us see the true meaning of innovation
Circus and physical theatre performer Sarah Houbolt finds dance classes challenging – usually they involve watching choreography. The TEDxSydney speaker, who is partially sighted, recalled a class she took in Auckland that became a profound moment of vulnerability for her. “My skin became my eyes,” said Houbolt. She told us how that dance class helped her reconsider her place in the world as a woman with a disability. She said we need to stop “fixing people and fix our environment instead”. Houbolt called for more universal design in products, work spaces and other public environments. She said “designing for accessibility will always lead to innovation. Believe me, your short sighted dodgy-kneed self will thank us.”