I was at TEDxSydney on the weekend and I still feel a bit ga-ga about the excellent time I had. Honestly, it was awesome. The speakers, performers, volunteers, crowd-sourced food, location, all the other punters like me… Gaaah! So amazing!

I’ve been a huge TED fan for years, so much juicy inspiration in one online space! As for TEDx? Shut up. I love that too. It’s localised, juicy inspiration.

Anyway, as it happens I nabbed a ticket to the 2013 TEDxSydney event, along with a couple of thousand others, and made my happy way along to the Opera House early Saturday morning. I went on my own, but was never lonely in that crowd and met some super interesting people over the course of the day (and night).

I also ate a lot of particularly delicious crowd-sourced food.

Several times during the day I cried inspired, heart-swelling tears (am prone to water works), shared some rib-cracking laughs and gave more than one standing ovation.

I enjoyed myself. Clearly.

The program was crammers and really diverse. Everything from space archeologists to activists. And while I enjoyed everything I saw – not hyperbole, I really did – there were some standout favourites.

Categorised accordingly…

Fervent-applause-inducing (with standing ovation)

Professor Ron McAllum is a lawyer, academic, teacher and chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. He shared with us stories from his early life, including his blindness and path to literacy against all odds. He also talked about the role of technology in this process and the importance of family and community support (including innumerable volunteers) in his pursuit of education and career. It wasn’t just what Professor McAllum spoke about though, it was the way he shared these tales. He snuck into our hearts, made us laugh, (some of us) cry, and had just about everyone on their feet when he finished.

Ron McAllum TEDx

Watch Ron McAllum’s talk here.

I do love poetry slams, and Omar Musa is a former Australian slam champion. He gave the crowd a view of his life, weaving in stories of his experiences, tales from his family background, culture and how that fits in modern Australia. It was just really rad. I was one of many who stood up, clapping and hollering, when he was done.

Omar Musa TEDx

Watch Omar Musa’s slam here.

Most amount of tears squeezed out of my eyes

Human rights lawyer Jennifer Robinson is best known for her role within the legal team working with WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. She introduced us to the case of a freedom fighter, persecuted by his own government and wanting only to return home a free man: West Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda. I knew almost nothing about West Papua before this presentation. Oh the shame. An amazing story.

Hardship. Persecution. Exile. Friendship.

Jennifer Robinson and Benny Wenda TEDx

Watch Jennifer Robinson’s talk here.

Musical high notes

I’ve been a fan of Greg Sheehan forever, ever since I did body percussion workshops with him at Woodford years ago. He’s a freaking legend and at one point got the whole Concert Hall crowd clapping in three different rhythms that linked together in one big happy cacophony.

Greg Sheehan TEDx

Joseph and James Tawadros are brothers who perform beautiful, heart-opening music. Fact. Two men, oud, percussion, great hats, and soul. I felt like I was breathing deeper while I listened to them play. Waxing lyrical? Ok yes, maybe, but they were wonderful.

Tawadros bros TEDx

Health, life and work-inspiring

Dr George Khut began his talk by having us close our eyes, slow our breath and feel our pulse. Aww yeah, I am a sucker for this kind of thing. It was an intro into the fascinating and beautiful work he has been doing with interactive media and body systems. This includes the Heart Library Project, where emotionally-mediated changes in heart-rate are used to influence the colour and sound of a large, ceiling mounted video projection. The projected imagery gets redder in colour as a person’s heart rate gets faster, and goes blue when their rate is slowed down. Oh, I loved it.

George Khut TEDx

Watch George Khut’s talk here.

Architect Paul Pholeros talked to us about Housing for Health, a project that began when he and the two other directors of what is now Health Habitat first met in the the Anangu Pitjatjantjara Lands almost 30 years ago. They were ‘thrown together’ by local health director Yami Lester to work on a project to ‘stop people getting sick’. Together, and with the community, they developed a set of healthy living practices aimed at linking the health and safety of a community to key factors within the home and surrounding environment. These included what seem like ‘simple’ things to an urbanista like me: working showers, working toilets, adequate removal of waste water, appropriate space to store and prepare food…

Paul took us through the story of that first community and how the rates of disease and infection dropped dramatically while quality of life rose. I loved hearing about this, a practical and successful tool to improve community health; engaging people within their community and environment (the projects can only be run in collaboration with the indigenous community). This work has now been grown to over 180 projects nationally and similar work expanded to communities overseas. So inspiring and practical: accessible, realistic and successful.

Paul Pholeros TEDx

Watch Paul Pholeros’ talk here.

Artist / designer / entrepreneur Joost Bakker actually spoke early in the day, so I’m not sure why he’s last here on the list. He is passionate about sustainable design and creates installations using ‘the stuff other people throw out’. He is also behind the zero-waste cafe Silo in Melbourne. Joost’s message to us was that we all have the space to produce food for ourselves and our communities – using simple innovations such as vertical gardens and grey-water recycling. He gave us examples of CBD gardens, roof gardens and vertical walls of green. It’s about creating healthy and useful spaces within our immediate environment. Wonderful.

Joost Bakker TEDx

Watch Joost Bakker’s talk here.


These are just my own highlights from the event, but there were SO many awesome, fascinating and inspiring discussions and performances. There was also a series of short films shown between each session and some of them are absolute gold. You can see all of this more at the TEDxSydney website, where soon (I think) videos of the speakers and performers will be available to watch.


Did you go to TEDxSydney this year? How did we not bump into each other?

What were your highlights? Favourite moments?

Did you also drink the rose petal iced tea and love it sick??