Not-to-be-missed speakers from TEDxSydney 2019

Manda Kaye

We had all just piled into the ICC for the start of TEDxSydney, where Wiradjuri elder Yvonne Weldon of the Metropolitan Aboriginal Land Council gave a warm and moving welcome to country. ‘We must commit to making our world, our society inclusive – breaking through barriers and not creating them,’ she reminded us. ‘All of us together can bring about positive change for multiple generations.’ 

It was a beautiful way to begin, with this reminder of the power of the TED platform. TED creates a space where diverse voices come together, to consider how we can shape a better future and leave a meaningful legacy. My top picks from TEDxSydney 2019 are all compelling storytellers who use language and narrative to hone our empathy, dispel tribalism and build connections in our fractured world.

The only speaker who couldn’t be on the TEDxSydney stage

One of the most moving talks of the day was given by Kurdish writer and asylum seeker Behrouz Boochani. He’s been held on Manus Prison for six years, where he uses writing as an act of resistance. By making blunt language into a sharp instrument, Behrouz gives hope to asylum seekers and conveys to his readers the cruelty and gravity of the situation for so many people denied the human right to asylum on Australian soil. May the story he tells in his book, No Friend but The Mountains, prick our national conscience and lead to more compassionate treatment and policies.


The kid in the library

Maxine Beneba Clarke grew up as ‘that kid reading in the library’, looking beyond her own limited experience to books for ‘brand new lives, there for the living.’ All good up to a point, until she recognised that other kids couldn’t read her story – her Afro-Caribbean heritage wasn’t to be found anywhere. From the Babysitters’ Club to the Western canon, no one’s life in books looked or felt like hers. Through the discovery of more diverse Australian writers and the gutsy move to get into the slam poetry scene, Maxine forged her own path to become one of Australia’s most popular and highly regarded writers. Watch her talk here.


The Indigenous Scientist

Albert Wiggan is a Bardi-kija-Nyul Nyul man from the Kimberley in West Australia. Growing up in two worlds, between his father’s traditional culture and the middle-class Australian values of his Catholic mission mum, Albert understands the strength we can achieve by connecting what seems disparate. As a National Parks Ranger seeking to protect the Kimberley region, particularly from the threats posed by climate change, he argues passionately for bringing together Western science and Indigenous science – the valuable traditional ecological knowledge passed down from people who managed our country sustainably for 60,000 years. Indigenous knowledge is an underused resource that provides some hope for positive change. Watch his talk here.


The dry humoured DJ

When he was 19, Tom Nash lost both legs below the knee and both hands to a deadly disease. Our hearts broke when he told us he’d been a guitarist… but that story didn’t end the way we thought it would. Tom’s situation transformed his ability to problem-solve, made him more patient, and increased his resilience. Now an award-winning DJ, who manages the decks with his hooks, Tom recognises the value of adversity and the way inequity works to make us stronger. Watch his talk here.


The epiphanist

If you’ve ever thought about how we rush to judgment, you’ll love watching writer and performer Yve Blake’s talk about fangirls. Yve takes us on a journey from Beatlemania to a shrine to Harry Styles’ vomit and around a hairpin bend where we can take a good hard look at our double standards and prejudices. In the end, we are all on our feet screaming. Enjoy. 


The happiest man in the world

The buzz at the end of the day was that the audience favourite was Eddie Jaku. Born in 1920 in Germany, Eddie is a Holocaust survivor who just turned 99. He told us his extraordinary story of surviving the brutality and despair of the death camps and going on to build an intentional life, underpinned by a promise he made to be happy. ‘Happiness is in your hands,’ he says. His warmth and sincerity were so simply expressed in his voice and manner, and we all fell in love with him. ‘Take time to be happy and enjoy life,’ Eddie reminds us. And take time to share our own stories and listen to those of others. Watch his talk here. 


All TEDxSydney talks from 2019 are available to watch on the TEDxSydney website.

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