#TEDxSydney 2013: Official Live Blog

by Nathan Olivieri

ted concert hal




7:00PM – And that brings TEDx Sydney 2013 to a close! Remo and the entire TEDx Sydney team enters the stage for a final thank you, before John Butler and Jeff Lang  have a final jamming session to play us out into the night air. Chances are tomorrow, your head will still be spinning from an idea-overload, so have a cup of tea, digest them all, and pursue and share the talks that impacted you the most. That’s what it’s all about: the talking is done, now the spreading is over to you.  I’ve been Nathan Olivieri, thanks for following along!

JUSTINE ROGERS [@justinerogers]

6:49PM – Not clear enough? Well Justine has just run through a mini-TED talk according to her detailed structure, complete with random anecdote (“I was having coffee with my mum”), pointless prop (a kettle), business assurances, existential imagery, and flowerly, ostentatious language (“the liminal border ratio”). She stop, drops and rolls away from the camera, and then rises to go out with a bang (or should we say, a guilty whisper). Nothing like a bit of sarcasm to bring us back down to earth before we enter into the real world once again.

6:46PM – And of course, ignore the cameras! Even if it get’s in your face, you look straight ahead so you can ignore the moochers watching for free at home, she deadpans. And always, always, close with guilt, and a trio of whispered statements that get softer and softer as you go along.

6:43PM – Next comes the images, and she rips into the standard TED images: glaciers, deserts, and galaxies. And don’t forget to work in how this talk will help your company’s business matrixes, she says eyeing off the audience, because that’s the only reason we’re all here. Makes me wonder whether this talk could really be given at a regular TED conference: I guess that’s the reflexive, somewhat detached beauty of TEDx.

6:40PM – Rogers feels implored to give everyone a listen on the finer art of the TED Talk, and the many boxes that have to be ticked along the way. First up: the personal anecdote which has no relevance at all the the topic at hand; followed by the presence of a prop on stage that may or may not bear any pertinence to your speech whatsoever. You can even just leave it on stage for a bit of mystique, to keep the audience on tenterhooks, she says.

6:35PM – And it’s a nice touch to end on a lighter note (I think TED has revolutionised the idea of ‘information overload’!), and we have sociologist and comedian Justine Rogers take to the stage, to immediately start berating the speakers (tongue in cheek, I might add – the sarcasm probably won’t translate in blog form) for not adhering to the proven structure of the TED Talk.



– And to round out the bunch, we’ve got a young man with a hugely tussled beard. His point: he grew the beard after one of his friends died from skin cancer, and now, every time someone asks him about the beard, he responds with “Get a skin-check”. A brilliant conversation-starter, though don’t know if I’ll be growing a beard anytime soon…I’d probably start to look like Costa Georgiadis from Gardening Australia.

– In direct contrast to the previous speaker, we should take our kids out of school! Kids know what they want to do, and so should be encouraged to pursue their own interests.

– We should hold a TED event purely for education, and for teachers to come together and share their methods and ideas.

– We need to make poo a more open topic of discussion in society, and save the embarrassment of people who suffer from bowel-related problems.

– In the future, can data analysis help us design buildings, work out what is beauty.

– Jonathon from Sydney Uni: Surgery is broken; in the future, tissue engineering into the future will see a pill help you regrow an organ

– Lisa from Manly: In light of Bangladesh factory collapse, we need to know more about our clothing, to invest in sustainable clothing and become more informed consumers.

– Jeaney: Each of us take in a flatmate or refugee. One of the most rewarding things you can ever do with your life – giving someone else a life in Australia.

– Chris from Surry Hills: Teach every six year old how to program computers; in a world where computers are ubiquitous, children should learn a valuable skill they’re going to grow up with; and the best way for the adult population to learn is to teach.

– Julie from Bondi: As an alto in several choirs, community singing is a therapeutic force to be reckoned with. Everyone can sing – it keeps people off the streets, out of therapist’s office and surgery rooms. It’s good for us and it makes us happy.

6:17PM: Let’s see how fast I can type: about 15 members of the audience walk on stage…

– Craig from Brisbane: A fighter pilot, looking at the root cause of evil, the uneven distribution of wealth. A day where we stop using money, stopping barter, and think about a society that doesn’t run on money.

– Lawrence from UTS in Sydney: Abolish formal university assessments (cue huge applause). A system of self-review and peer-review; not just memorisation and exams and dot points.

6:16PM – Gretel Killeen walks on stage to introduce members from the audience who want to share their thoughts and ideas in 30 seconds. No plugs, no pushes, just ideas. Let’s go!

PAUL PHOLEROS [@paulphol]

6:10PM – Brilliant, tangible work from Paul Pholeros. Solving poverty isn’t an airy-fairy ideological fairytale; it’s grounded in reality. Building houses promotes healthy living – simple as that.

6:09PM – Eep! Laptop about to run out of battery! And internet dropping in and out! And I”m so close to the end!! Must….keep….blogging….

6:04PM – Why is this so prevalent, though? 70% is due to lack of routine maintenance, 21% is due to faulty construction or design, 9% is damage, misuse or vandalism.

6:01PM – Washing is most important to children 0-5, for if not washed properly, there is a strong potential of damaging bugs and bacteria impairing the rest of your life. In Northern Australia, only 35% of houses have a working shower, and only 58% of those houses have a working toilet.

5:57PM – His brief, when he started the project, was simple: “a plan to stop people being sick.” 9 healthy living practices were developed: washing, clothes, wastewater, nutrition, crowding, animals, dust, temeperature, and injury. He initially dismissed, “Big ideas needs big words, right?”

5:55PM – Onto our penultimate talk: architect Paul Pholeros strides onto the stage, and begins with a very short, sharp “Hi. It’s been a great day.” Indeed it has!

What worries Pholeros, though, is when politicians and charismatic rock stars try to eliminate poverty, they make it sound too simple. “Housing for Health”, though, may. It works with poor people, and it works to improve their health. Less talking, more curing.

5:49PM – Drummers swarm on the Opera House, entering the room at every door. Greg Sheehan (our musical mathematician) is back to lead the multitude of drummers in a call and response.


5:44PM – Khut has created an iPad app for children about to experience major surgery to see whether seeing their heartbeats and internal mechanics visualised made it easier for them to manage the experience ahead of them. Existential stuff here towards the close of TEDx, food for thought as we enter into back into the real world.

5:39PM – Amazing visuals from “The Heart Library Project” showcase how digital spectrums based on heartbeats and breaths can give you a vision of yourself and encourage a sense of self-reflection: “that feeling of you being alive, and in the moment.”

5:36PM – Artist and Interaction designer George Khut encourages a rare moment of meditation throughout the midst of this overflow of ideas. Thirty seconds, feeling our pulse, putting thoughts outside our head. It’s about “Being in the moment”, and Khut incorporates this into his work, using heartbeats to create art – an “autonomic nervous system.”


5:30PM – The differences between Australians are thus overstated. The desire to belong is so much more than the desire to stand out from the crowd.

These words and terms of classification need to be eradicated from marketing and advertising. Interesting thought considering that only a decade ago Huntley wrote a book “The World According to Gen Y”. Another of the great things about TEDx – how opinions are allowed to change, and sometimes encouragingly so.

All great speeches in history, from Lincoln to Churchill to Keating, all use ‘we’, rather than me and them.

5:26PM – Another contender for best line of the day. “We label ourselves as voters, never citizens, and when we’re angry we label ourselves as taxpayers.”

Aggregation of information isn’t foolproof, it often fails. However, a lot of time people are in fact looking for differences, they love to differentiate themselves from others, and label others as different from themselves.

5:23PM – A megaphone for the Australian consumer, Huntley finds her role as a “professional eavesdropper” fascinating. However one questions stumped her… “Do people really describe themselves as consumers?”. It’s a term people in the trade really use, but it’s one of disconnect for the people themselves. People seem to not like labelling themselves, and at the end of the day can we really account for all intricacies of consumer labels and categories?

5:20PM – Social researcher Rebecca Huntley, talks of how we describe ourselves, and how others describes us. And she’s got a Prezi!


5:16PM – Again, he personalises; a meat-eater on average will consume 8000 animals in their lifetime. Poaching is on the same level as factory-farming: “Murder is murder..animal-lovers see things through a different lens.” We too are animals, he says, and only one species has the ability to determine how much harm other species endures.

The Question he leaves us with: Next time you have an opportunity to make a difference for animals, will you be brave enough?

5:12PM – The problem of animal welfare is much broader throughout society.

“Does a cow value its life more than I enjoy a barbecue?” It’s ‘speciesm’, giving privilege based on who and what you are. It’s an extraodrinarily self-deprecating and raw talk from Mander; you can feel the hurt and disappointment in each syllable at a life he lived before his epiphany. Yet we’re still waiting for that question he wants to ask us…

5:09PM – A childhood spent fearing the Lion in the Wizard of Oz, worried that he wouldn’t grow up with courage. He never knew what environmental activists did except “hug trees and piss off large corporations”. He thought his purpose was simply to destroy, as a sniper and military officer, but seeing innocent animals destroyed was the most horrifying thing he’d seen, and the fact he did the same in his youth is a memory he’ll take to the grave.

5:06PM – Environmental activist Damien Mander takes the stage, “speaking to you on behalf of those who never could”. He promises to leave us with a question, but won’t ask it till the very end.

5:01PM – Everyone loves a bit of vocal layering; Thum uses the wonders of looping and reverb to create an entire melodic landscape, building sound upon sound until we sound like we’re sitting in a speakeasy. Hey, jazz and 1920s fashion are making a comeback after all! Yay, Gatsby!

On a side note, I wonder how Thum would fare on ‘The Voice’. Something to ponder…

4:54pm – And we’re back, with the vocal elasticity of Tom Thum; a man who creates innate inhuman noises, or as he terms it “using his mouth in weird and seedy ways in exchange for cash”. To us simple-folk,  it’s beatboxing! He breaks out a bit of ‘Billie Jean’ – the man knows a crowdpleaser!

4:05PM – So we’re all still picking our jaws off the floor after Kate Miller-Heidke’s breathtaking soprano, but time for a short afternoon break. Join us in about half an hour for the last session of the day! I’m sure it’ll go out with a bang!


3:47PM – Sinclair’s dream: to one day, see us take a pill with breakfast that could help us live well into our 90s, in a previously unimaginably healthy state. Perhaps the most interesting facet of his talk, though, was that when a plethora of research came out denouncing what they’d attempted, they went back to the drawing board and reformulated their argument. If anything else, we learn that powerful ideas never arrive in a fully-fledged form.

3:43PM – Epigenetic change is reversible – molecules, in tablet form, are being formed to turn off the genes which are ageing us. Some of these molecules are already present in substances such as red wine, but you’d need to drink 100 glasses a day (DON’T GIVE US AN EXCUSE!).

3:40PM – Every cell has a set number of genes, but not all are being used at the same time. Sinclair is trying to find a way to silence the ageing genes, and activate the longevity genes, the ones which protect us against ageing. He calls is SIR2 (Silent Information Regulator #2).

3:37PM – Shouldn’t we just study individual diseases, though? But this leaves us with bodies that are unevenly healthy, and not all parts are as healthy as others. We need to keep holistically healthy, he says. Since 1995, the percentage of our lives spent in good health has been steadily decreasing, despite all the wonders of modern medicine.

3:34PM – A fraction of just 1% of medical research is devoted to finding out why we age, and less trying to solve it. “We really just don’t like to think of it…we’re just inbuilt and ingrained to not talk about it, for many people it’s sacrilegious”.

3:31PM – Geneticist David Sinclair believes we can all live to be 150; he’s a man who believes in the possibilities of reverse-ageing. Everyone tries to put off thinking about getting old – it’s a sad prospect – but perhaps, Sinclair says, that’s exactly what we should be doing to change it.


3:28PM – We need to be teaching our kids as early as possible what engineering is, because even people in this room aren’t fully aware of the extent of that definition. Marita travels the world, running workshops with children to try and foster those creative desires.

“A nation that doesn’t create is forced to just consume.” Short and sweet: both speaker and speech 🙂

3:25PM – Marita Cheng, Young Australian of the Year and engineer, arrives to convince us that engineering needs to move beyond the ‘boy’s-club’ reputation that stifles it. However, her message today is for both genders: “Why are we as a country doing such a bad job in inspiring the future of this country?”

OMAR MUSA – [@obmmusic]

3:15PM – Rapper and Poet Omar Musa tells of Queenbeyan, a town far removed from the cliches of the Australian dream: no Don Bradman or Pavlova. For me to try and summarise what he’s preaching in blog form would be a defeatist task, it’s all in the delivery. Do yourself a favour and search his work. That’s the best justice I can do for him – the crowd went nuts!

3:10PM – I got a little hypnotised there for a second. Ensemble Offspring are onstage with a single xylophone and a single keyboard, and crafting an incredible purely melodic cover of Phillip Glass. Enthralling stuff, puts you in a daze. Xylophone is so much more than what you learnt in primary school music (that reminds me, I should really look into the amazing things people are doing with recorders).


3:01PM – It’s about the architectural structure – a butterfly’s wings hold 100,000 scales, all of which interrelate to produce it’s distinct colour. Fascinating stuff, though Parker is keeping mum on where the research is going next. He’s left us with just enough to tantalise and amaze – he knows the TED brief well, great stuff!

2:51PM – So perhaps we go back to nature to discover new colours, and these have a great value to industry-  bioluminscence light is used to alert farmers to where crops have been attacked. They can offer industry any colour it wants, taken directly from nature. “Fluoro from parrots, orange from snakeskins” – it’s all about the photonic crystals, Parker’s area of research.

2:45PM – Ahh, how an English accent just makes a talk so much more endearing. Biologist and designer Andrew Parker starts off by reminding us that colour exists only in the minds of animals with eyes, they don’t exist in the natural world.
A history of colour ensues, from the iridiscent lights in fossils, right back to the evolution of the very first eye on a trilobyte. Before the eye, there were just waves of light, nothing discerned as color – this was 522 million years ago!


2:36PM – Unique or mass-produced, toilet or aircraft interior, the process is just as detailed, he says. Design gives him a breadth; and there’s no difference between designing one thing from another.

And on creating art with a legacy:
“I always strive to create something that would be able in a sense to live it’s own life and live by itself; to strive to create a classic, something that has the ability to outlive you.” At last, a designer who admits to his lofty goals and owns his image. An insight into genius.

2:32PM – He hasn’t lost his accent either, has he? Newson discusses his cosmopolitan lifestyle: “Travel is an incredibly relevant part of life, and my professional practice…it’s a national characteristic of young Australians, it’s a cultural thing.” Behind him a slideshow showcases his various travel exploits, and his incredible work in aircraft interiors, furniture, and jewellery (and every lady in the room looks longingly).

2:29 PM – And out comes the Lockheed Lounge (doesn’t ring a bell? Google it), and everyone has their flashbacks to their visit to the psychiatrist (we’ve all been there, right? Maybe not). A work that lives a life of it’s own, he says. “I feel like I didn’t even make it.”

2:25PM – Curaator Jess gives us an insight into the selection process: it’s a schmozzle! Debating, and redebating, until a decision could be made. Not this guest, she alleges. It’s Julian Morrow….with only a little guy called MARC NEWSON!

2:20PM – And we’re back, after what could be described as heaven in styrofoam boxes. And we’re greeted by a video of some toddlers who may not be enjoying their meals just as much. A slo-mo package of some younguns having their first doses of Vegemite, Olives, Pickled Onion  and other salty nasties, and their gloriously cringed reactions, was hilarious – a great way to rekindle the atmosphere instantaneously. Marc Newson awaits…

12:57PM – And that’s lunch! Great first two sessions (wow, it sounds like I”m at the cricket!), and we’ve got a glorious lunch to look forward to. I would liveblog the lunch, but I’ll be too busy dying of deliciousness. See you back here at 2:15PM for all the action from the last two sessions!

JOOST BAKKER [@greenhousejoost]

12:45PM – Buildings, Bakker maintains, can create habitat, and not take it away. Growing grass and soil on rooftops – a ‘Park in the sky’. He describes his straw bale house with a soil roof, his own patent, and how it withstood flames of 1000 degrees (the longest 45 minutes of his life, he said) and was still standing. It’s a new lifestyle – being waste free, and replanting all the lost forests; and it’s economical and safe.

“You can have biodiversity in the hearts of our city.” Clearly being urban and being green are not mutually exclusive!

12:39pm – Bakker, architect and artist, believes that buildings can grow food. Wait, wait, hold up! What?

Well, let’s think about – all buildings are soaked in the sun. Check. And for nutrients? Of course, good ol’ urine! Bakker harvested 3000 litres of urine in three weeks in Melbourne last year. Bakker’s clearly been watching too many episodes of “Man vs. Wild.”


12:18PM – Once we ask these questions, we need only consider three things:

1) Livelihood – If there’s enough food being produced to feed the entire world, the problem is an economic disconnect. We need to understand the nuances of each livelihood situation; we need to listen to the stories of individual hunger, and how they try to solve it.

2) Capabilities: to attain sustainable livelihood, people need capabilities in order to survive, and this is to be achieved in the form of……

3) Entitlement – food is a right; as we speak, there is a bill on the floor of Indian Parliament decreeing that all citizens have food – of huge global significance as India is the most undernourished country in the word. If the bill is passed, action can be taken from the courts if the food needs are not met.

Solutions need to come from the bottom-up (there goes the trickle-down theory). We need to change the world based on what their experiences are telling us.

12:15PM – Economic geographer Bill Pritchard opens with the tried-and-true TED trope – a fact. 870 million people across the globe are undernourished, about one in eight. Many think the natural response is to produce more food, especially with a growing food population, but our prime objective should be to better understand their lives.


12:09PM – Digital housekeeping aside (backing up and the like), governments need to invest in and maintain archives for our digital records. The NSW Govt has not commissioned funding for digital records from June 2013, only a month away. Funding such digital archives cost only one million dollars a year.

O’Farrell even studied history at University for Christ’s sake!

12:08PM – Only one year the Egyptian revolution, 11% of the social media records documenting the revolution had been lost. We can’t adopt the simple strategy that it’s all simply backed up on the cloud.

12:06PM – Data loss occurs through system migration; born-digital records from ten years ago are much more difficult to access than paper from one hundred years ago – it’s disappearing into the digital black hole.

12:02PM – City of Sydney historian Lisa Murray tells of how we manage our memories. If the Opera House was built today, it would all be “born-digital records”, designs which are fully computerised. But can we preserve them, like we would the original paper sketches.

And then she pulls out the good ol’ floppy disk. “I saved my thesis onto a stack of these”, Murray says, “but for me as a historian, there’s a niggling problem: can we future-proof the memory of the world? The short answer is no. There’s a digital black-hole that’s looming over us.”

DANNY KENNEDY [@dannyksfun]

11:58AM – We can leave coal behind, just like we left whale blubber. “Shine on”. Great narrative; you can tell he spent a long time dwelling on the perfect way to articulate that point, and it was beautiful.

11:56AM – Australia is leading the world in the solar revolution: 1 million solar roofs on Australian homes, a move which will save us a billion dollars in the long run as a nation. We’re bypassing the political parties, that are still debating whether the cause works, and moving forward. “We can create our own prosperity…we can reject scarcity and adopt abundance.”

11:50AM – Both major political parties have coal in their blood (and in their heart in the ALP’s case) says Kennedy. They think we don’t have options, but we need to “Be the yes, share the how”. The propaganda machine, Kennedy says, makes us forget we have an energy source more powerful than everything underground, and he points skywards.

11:46AM – Brilliant intro from Danny Kennedy social entrepreneur and former campaigns manager for Green Peace – the audience captivated at first light (literally). The Concert Hall descends into black, the single light source a kerosene-fuelled lamp at the foot of the stage. A billion people in the world, Kennedy reminds us, still use this as a light source. He’s a man passionate about clean energy: “We can abandon fossil fuels by turning on the sun”.

11:43AM – And now The Voice‘s Darren Percival makes a surprise guest appearance! Owning the stage with Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” – an apt a song as there ever was for TED.

SIMON JACKMAN [@SimonJackman]

11:36AM – Jackman presents a poll done within his school in the US; comparing politician’s perceived opinion of same-sex marriage support with their constituent’s actual support. The disconnect was astounding – THIS is the kind of information our pollies really need.

A thought to leave with. “We all know knowledge is power. But what about knowledge ABOUT power.”

“Hack to ensure that democracy doesn’t just survive the data revolution, but comes out of the data revolution stronger.”

11:33AM – The future, he says, is Internet polling. Sample sizes have been cranked up exponentially – “we can see further, farther and with more resolution than ever before”.

Best quote of the day so far: “In god we trust, all others bring data”.

11:28AM – Data is everywhere (cue photo of a kid pointing to a sign that says ‘data’ – cute pun). Just three years ago, the term ‘data scientist’ didn’t really exist; now, he’s just had a meeting with someone called a ‘data journalist’.

In 2012, Jackman worked with the Huffington Post in the American election to form a moving summary of each state, from all available data.  Such analysis showed that Obama was a shoe-in, and the polls never saw his votes dip past 50%. They predicted all 51/51 states, and a triumph for data nerds everywhere (including NY Times’ Nate Silver).

11:23AM – Talking numbers – election winning numbers! How can politics be a science, he ponders. An oxymoron if there ever was one.

11:07AM – Jennifer Robinson and Benny Wenda currently being interviewed in the QANTAS lounge of the Sydney Opera House, interviewed by ABC’s Tim Brunero. After all he’s been through, Wenda still has a sense of humour: “It was a little like that American show ‘Prison Break'” he tells of his escape from a prison in Indonesia.

10:52AM – Single Origin Roasters in a rare moment of peace – during the breaks, it’s impossible to know where the line for a coffee ends and begins.

single origin

10:45AM – Morning Tea! Time to grab an amazing (free) coffee, from either The Grounds, Single Origin, Little Marionette, Campos, Toby’s Estate or AllPress. Here’s some food for thought before we come back at 11:15AM:


10:39AM – Maths combined with music! The Fibonacci sequence played out percussion style! Musical mathematician Greg Sheehan leads an audience clapping session – ‘actually a sneaky 60th birthday present to myself’ (I knew he just wanted the applause!).


JENNIFER ROBINSON [@suigenerisjen]

10:30Am – Benny Wenda pleads to all attending: “West Papua’s story is now your story! Without your help, my people will never be free!” Wow, so much emotion and we’re only an hour in. I’d say you could hear a pin drop, but that’s a horrible cliche.

10:25AM- Robinson challenges Bob Carr, who said that West Papua would never achieve freedom and that no country supported West Papuan independence. It was only a few decades ago that the foreign minister Gareth Evans said the same about East Timor.

“Before you came here, you may have known nothing about West Papua…but it’s about getting this information out into the public sphere to force governments to act.”

“There’s no point living a life less than capable of the one you’re living.”

AND THEN BENNY WENDA STEPS OUT ON STAGE – second ‘Gotcha!’ moment of the day! You’ll never see an audience quicker to their feet.


10:21AM – Hundreds of thousands of Papua New Guineans have been murdered or are missing due to Indonesian security forces. “As we sit here, there at least 40 citizens unjustly jailed in Indonesian prisons.” Benny has since escaped and is living in Oxford, but Indonesia issued an Interpol order for his arrest – “a gentle person on terrorist watchlists”. Robinson fought the Interpol order, and now she and Benny travel the world conversing with parliaments.

When she lamented to Desmond Tutu, he offered a pearl of widsom: “History is long, but know that justice will prevail.”

10:18AM – Benny Wenda, freedom fighter, jailed in West Papua for peacefully advocating for freedom of his state from Indonesia. No credible evidence against him in the trial, but rallied the support of the nation.

Jennifer opens a note from Benny, a note that’s travelled the path from his jail cell in West Papua to the Sydney Opera House via many hands…and the audience awaits to see what it says.

10:14AM – Jennifer Robinson, prominent human rights lawyer, discusses a man who inspires her, a man she’s represented, “a person who has taken on state and corporate interests with little more than an internet connection and powerful ideas”. Nope, not Julian Assange (first ‘gotcha’ moment of the day). It’s Benny Wenda.

ALICE GORMAN [@drspacejunk]

10:04AM – So engrossed in the talk I almost forgot I was liveblogging! Alice Gorman shuts down the conspiracy theorists – “Sorry, we really did land on the move” – though breaks the potentially heartbreaking news that the flag from the Apollo 11 mission may no longer be standing upright as it was 🙁

On a more serious note, it’s interesting to ponder all those satellites that went beyond our solar system and we’ve lost. Alice Gorman – reminding us that Australia is just as immersed in space research as the rest of the world. Don’t discount the Aussies!

9:58AM – Orbital debris are scattered all around Earth’s orbit, and the junk is starting to get in the way of the satellite signals we use every day (god help us if the ATMs suddenly stop working – I won’t be able to get money out for my coffee after this session!)

9:55AM – Alice Gorman poses the question: all those millions of bright lights when we look up at the sky aren’t just stars, some must be satellites (potentially very old satellites) with archaeological value.

9:50AM – The incredible Tawadros brothers bring their guitar-tambourine virtuoso to the stage – how can such seeming simplicity beget such divine music! The audience is spellbound.

9:41AM – A beautifully crafted video montage is up next -‘What inspires us?’ sees people brushstroking their motivations onto a glass camera screen. God, it must have taken incredible long to master painting in reverse!


9:37AM – “Did that go well?” we hear Ron murmur as he walks offstage, escorted by his wife, after a huge standing ovation. You’d never see a wider smile, he seemed to enjoy it more than the audience did (and that’s saying something) A lifetime goal to bring Braille texts to Latin America and other poorer parts of the world, where such assets are in short supply: an incredible dream from an incredible man. It was only sixty years ago when his mother said he’d never read with his fingers, imagine what could be done with another sixty!

9:34AM – Ron plays a piece of audio to the audience, and then replays it at the speed in which he reads it in Braille. The audience, and you’rs truly, are blown away! “Well I have to mark all those essays quickly”, he quips!

9:32 AM The audience is incredibly emotionally invested already; many are wiping away tears as he tells of the extraordinary dedication of those around him, including his surrogate mother Lois who read to him for over thousands of hours. The emotions travelling across Ron’s face are just fascinating: the audience is laughing, cheering and he is lapping it up. He brings the house down when he talks of having to play audio erotica late into the night!

9:25AM – A rewnewed appreciation of Braille is the order of the day for Ron, and the advancement of technology for the blind. “It’s an interaction between volunteers, passionate inventors and technology. It’s a story anyone could tell, but let me tell it anyway”.

9:22AM – Julian Morrow, curator of TEDx, offers a little light relief: “There’s no talks this year, just a rolling series of preliminary items for the whole day!”. He introduces Professor Ron McCallum, a man he admires “not just because he got him his first job as a lawyer and I owe him big time.”

9:21AM – And our first video short of the day kicks off! An animation of a scheming bird trying to break free of his cage, sees an ‘X’ in the sky which miraculously unlocks it. He spreads his wings and flies away. A nice touch, and it seems to be the recurring motif for the day.

9:20AM – Michael bestows Remo with a message stick specifically designed for TEDx – “branded” as Remo jokes! A nice moment of reconciliation, he terms it

9:13AM – Remo Giuffre, the founder of the TEDx movement, walks out to huge applause, and immediately acknowledges all the satellite events taking place around the state and across the country. TEDx is more accessible than ever before, he says, and “the hunger for ideas, conversation and challenging questions is so breathtaking and gratifying…this is the City of Ideas! No other TEDx community in the world has this engagement.” Check out this article in the Sydney Morning Herald dispelling the myth that Sydney is a shallow city: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/talk-about-changing-the-world-heres-to-great-ideas-20130503-2iyg5.html

9:08AM – Michael West,  a member and Cultural Representative of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, walks out for the Welcome to Country, brandishing a message stick engraved with all the tags that differentiate us in society: gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity. “It’s as much about what we have in common as diversity…we are all the sum of what has come before us.” A powerful message to ponder as we enter today’s proceedings.

8:58AM – Hi everyone, I’m Nathan Olivieri and I’ll be your eyes and ears during this glorious day at the Sydney Opera House. With eighteen fantastic speakers, each for fifteen minutes, over four sessions, we’re in for an incredible day. Attendees are filing into the Concert Hall as we speak; and we’re currently awaiting Michael West to open proceedings.

by Nathan Olivieri

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