A Big Day at the House: TEDxSydney 2015 in review

Kirsty de Garis

TEDxSydney 2015 · 21 May 2015

TEDxSydney 2015 happened on Thursday, 21 May at the Sydney Opera House. For the first time, we took over all the spaces at the Opera House for a spectacular day of Ideas Worth Spreading.

The Concert Hall was at capacity, with 2300 in the live audience, with the other spaces enjoying full simulcast with their own exclusive content. Added to the full day’s program of talks, film and live performance was the extraordinary Rebel Food initiative from team food. Result? TEDxHausted.

Session One: Hope

After percussion and dance ensemble Chi Udaka got our heart rates up with their drumming, the first talk of the first session of the day was by Dr. Charlie Teo, internationally acclaimed neurosurgeon and founder of the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation. In his talk, Dr. Teo explained the role of hope in treating terminally ill patients, and made us all believe that even when chances are slim, faith sometimes pays off.

He was followed by Professor Stephanie Trigg and her fascinating explanation of mental illness laid bare in writing from 600 years ago. Paralympian Dylan Alcott had the audience in the palm of his hand sharing his experience of disability.

And after singer Lisa Gerrard wowed us with her eerie vocal stylings, accompanied by Peter Hollo on the violin, lawyer Richard Bourke shared intensely personal views on the problems with capital punishment.

Session Two: Inherit

“Inherit” was the theme for the second session, and who better to start it off than the great great grandson of Charles Darwin. Chris Darwin shared with us what it is like to have such a notable ancestor, his passion for conservation and meatless Mondays, and the sage advice from his grandmother that has shaped his life and work – “if you can’t be first, be peculiar”. Next up was Helen Durham, Director of International Law and Policy with the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva, who told us about her love of international law and why it can, and indeed does, work to protect humanity. 

Then it was time to be enthused by the incredible Sibo Bangoura sharing the Griot traditions of music and stories from Guinea, West Africa. Susan Butler wowed the audience with her incredible knowledge of words, and why they do or don’t make it into the Macquarie Dictionary. Next up, actor, speaker and cultural advisor Alec Doomadgee spoke to us of education, his love of his land and culture, and performing.

Then it was time to be spoilt again with some great music; this time it was a fusion of jazz and Indian from Sandy Evans and her band. To round off this smashing second session we had Tom Uglow, creative director of Google Creative Lab who gave us not only a glimpse into the future of the internet, but a chance to cuddle and play with it TEDdy-x style on our lunch break.

This year’s theme of ‘Rebel Food’ took the form of possum sausages and fried prawn heads. It was a tough, ahem, bug to swallow for many of the 3000-plus attendees, who tend to enjoy their butter ant-free, but amid the general cries of “No, thank you” there could be seen many brave souls chowing down on crocodile meat and knocking back a few shots of kombucha. And hey, who doesn’t like a cauliflower cupcake with beetroot icing first thing in the morning?

Session Three: Construct

The third session opened with Captain Frodo showing off the incredible physical feats that only the double-jointed can attain, followed by Dr Munjed Al Muderis, a world-renowned orthopedic surgeon talking about the Wheel of Fortune that is life and how resilience both personal and professional has got him to where he is.

Tega Brain spoke about the intersection between art and science with her personal brnad of ‘eccentric engineering’ and Hamish Skermer channelled the ghost of Omar Musa from TEDxSydney past by opening his talk with a rap on the normally taboo topic of poo.

Tony Fry‘s impassioned plea for a change to the way we live and consume was followed up by Michael Hing‘s equally impassioned  but totally tongue in cheek  invitation to join him in the ‘Hing Zone’ of success. The dulcit tones of Frank Yamma brought Session 3 to a close before the audience ventured forth to discover what other tasty treats were in store for afternoon tea.

Session Four: Transform

During session four, hairdresser and social worker Starlady shared her journey into the heartland of Indigenous Australia where she discovered her true self. Once identifying as a gay man, it was the Aboriginal communities in remote Australia who helped her realise her trans identity and who accepted her as one of their own. The Australian desert is now her home.

Barrister Julian Burnside prompted Australians to fight for fairness. He shared with us the desperate journeys of refugees he’s tried to navigate to safety through our unjust judicial system. The TEDxSydney audience gave him a standing ovation for his refusal to keep quiet about the plight of refugees in this country.

In the Fast Ideas session, six selected participants had 30 seconds to share their inspiring idea with the audience. Ideas ranged from awareness drives for the prostitution industry, positive albino role models in film and suicide prevention programs. It was the Fast Idea to harness the power of Australia’s retirees to make positive change that received the most applause from the crowd.

Singer/songwriter Jack Ladder’s dark and broody baritone entertained with narratives of love and loss. Marine biologist Daniel Pauly explained the findings of his Sea Around Us project, which is devoted to documenting the impact of industrial fishing on the world’s marine ecosystems.

Champion fighter Nadine Champion took us on a moving journey through her experience of training in LA with one of the world’s best. Fighting taught her to accept the dark and light within herself and set her up to win her greatest fight of all – her battle with cancer. The audience again rose to their feet and applauded when Nadine broke a block of wood with her hand live on stage. It was the first attempt she’d made since surviving cancer. The audience was with her all the way.

A long, inspiring and provocative day ended with the awesome visual moves and sounds of percussionist Alon Ilsar’s 3D timbral Theremin, known as ‘Air Sticks’. Blurring the line between drumming, sound design and dancing, Ilsar’s band The Sticks set the scene for a packed after party that hummed and swelled inside and outside the Opera House.

More than 100 satellite events drove the TEDxSydney viewership to we-don’t-quite-know how many just yet – there were 5000 in the audience at the University of Sydney alone. We’re greatly appreciative of the depth of support we receive from the TEDx community.

And speaking of support, absolutely none of this happens without the fearless confidence of our intrepid partners, large and small. We’re incredibly fortunate to count the University of Sydney and St.George as principal partners for three years.

Words: Kirsty, Dominique, Marina, Melita and Gemma from the TEDxSydney Content Team. 

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