TEDxAdelaide 2016 on October 20 was an exploration of ‘Metamorphosis’, with talks and performances from leaders, artists, entrepreneurs and community activists all celebrating the challenge of change in our city and beyond.
By the time the doors to the Adelaide Town Hall opened at 2pm, the queue had snaked around the corner and down Pirie Street. In the next three quarters of an hour, more than 800 people had made their way up the stairs, filling the 150-year-old auditorium with a lively hum of conversation. Children and retirees, professionals and students, artists, scientists, leaders, thinkers and dreamers, this crowd was drawn here by the promise of change. Of ideas with the power to bring about transformation. Of Metamorphosis.
The murmur of greetings and meetings dropped away as students from LeFevre High School performed the Welcome to Country. Delivered from the newly-significant TED red dot, and echoing from the stone walls of a cultural meeting place from colonial times, the ancient Kaurna words were a reminder that people have gathered here for millennia. Then, with a few words from the event’s licensee Robin Freeth, TEDxAdelaide 2016 was underway.
Everything was running according to plan under the steerage of lively MC, Matthew Wright-Simon, threading each talk in with the transformative theme. But, as with a swan gliding gracefully across a pond, under the surface was a flurry of activity. A mixup with file types meant that all the speakers’ slides were in the wrong format, prompting a frantic reworking of presentations that was completed just in time. To anyone in the audience, however, nothing seemed awry.
Fiona Kerr set everyone’s brains buzzing with her description of how our leaders physically change our brains, for good or for ill. Knowing this, she said, we can create organisations that literally bring out the best in people.
Joel Bayliss then lit up the stage, by turns sad, angry, defiant, loving and ultimately hopeful as he told the story of the #indigenousdads phenomenon that turned a racist stereotype into a celebration of family using the power of social media.
Then Arman Abrahimzadeh seemed to suck all of the oxygen from the room as he spoke of his mother’s brutal murder at the hands of his father. His response to this unthinkable loss has been nothing short of inspirational. The 2016 Young South Australian of the Year is one of the country’s leading domestic violence campaigners, devoting every day to ending the scourge that took his mother.
A special performance from Cirkidz gave the audience a chance to catch their breath, as the young troupe explored the day’s theme of metamorphosis through a depiction of the development of a circus performer.
Sophie Thomson’s message was simple: gardening is transformative, for the garden and the gardener, and it might even have the power to save the world. “What can be more optimistic than planting a seed?”, she implored in front of the stunning stage sculpture she co-designed with volunteers – a giant red X framing a bed of succulent greenery.
Writing software that you give away for free and creating money out of mathematics might not sound like a business models for the future, but Rusty Russell has shaken off the dotcom bubble and the Bitcoin crash across a generation and he’s banking on the future being profitable (or at least interesting).
Gabrielle Kelly, who leads SAHMRI’s Wellbeing and Resilience Centre linked world-leading research to our inner lives, a love of fiction and how positive psychology for each of us can lead to a State of Wellbeing.
Rounding off the first session, William Riedel drew everyone into a fireside chat that linked Charles Darwin to mentor Douglas Mawson. William’s tale of research into fossil plankton traversed the planet and more than 60 years for him to arrive at a point where he mused that ‘survival of the fittest’ is not the only evolutionary game in town.
Robin Potanin shared how exploration of personal trauma led to connections to some of the women leading game design. “Bad things happen to all of us”, she said, then sharing how virtual reality game design can bring new perspectives through experiential gameplay.
Peter Walker spoke about the transformative power of inclusive education, questioning the effectiveness of segregated schooling for children with autism and other disabilities and offering a vision of a more understanding society.
For Manal Younus, being the ‘other’ was normal. A Muslim woman who migrated to Australia from Eritrea when she was three years old, she was the one everyone looked at when anyone non-white was mentioned: Indigenous, Asian, African, Muslim, Hindu – it seemed like she embodied difference. And it’s the differences migrants bring, not assimilation to an Australian norm, that can transform our society for the better.
Providing an interlude in the second session was Adelaide YouTube sensation Pipeguy, who creates music from an instrument built from PVC pipes slapped with thongs. With his repurposed plastic tubes sitting in front of the rather more expensive pipes of the Town Hall’s organ, his analogue/electronic beats and loops had the audience grooving.
Charlie Hargroves talked of fossil fuels and the future, showing how a series of significant shifts show that we’ve passed a tipping point of a positive kind and a low carbon economy is now inevitable.
While the audience was still digesting that realisation, body image campaigner Taryn Brumfitt singled a few of them out, calling them ugly, disgusting, fat and wrinkly, before showing just how damaging these judgements are, and how the crippling effect of poor body image is holding us back from solving the world’s problems that are really important.
Scott Boocock, who reversed the Adelaide cliche of sending manufacturing offshore, exporting Aussie-made clothespegs to China, spoke about turning ideas into actions, and how the path to innovation passes through ‘no-man’s land’, where the answer to every question seems to be no.
To finish the day, Bill Allert exhorted the audience to find the courage to show the world who they really are, to transform into their true selves so they can fulfill their purpose in life. Don’t die a caterpillar!
And suddenly, 14 talks and two performances later, it’s finished. Speakers and organisers mingle with the crowd, selfies are taken, questions asked, thanks offered, handshakes, hugs and high fives all around. It seems a day of talking hasn’t been enough, and the conversation shifts to the bar. Already, talk is turning to what happens next. Plans are sketched, meetings pencilled in, the conversations go deep into the night. Adelaide seems different, bigger and bolder, more beautiful. It feels like the metamorphosis is just beginning.
TEDxAdelaide is a Community Event.
TEDx events are entirely volunteer-run. Everyone from the licensee and the speakers, to the organising committee and event crew choose to work for nothing more than the belief that their efforts are worthwhile. For months leading up to the event, a collective of talented Adelaide people devoted hour upon hour to the cause: late nights, early mornings, evening meetings, multiple lines of communication and organisation and collaboration, curation, rehearsal. Event management, speaker mentoring and support, marketing, videography, photography, graphic design, sponsorship negotiations, audiovisual, stage management, catering, social media, public relations, sustainability, volunteer coordination – the list of services provided and networks built is impressive. So too are the results.
Videos of the 2016 TEDxAdelaide talks are currently in post-production and will be online soon – be sure you are signed up to our mailing list for updates as they happen. In the meantime, you can see all of the 2016 event photos on Flickr