A Recount of TEDxTauranga 2019 (22 June) “RE:ACTION”

Written by: Claire Piper

Another sold out TEDxTauranga is about to begin!

Noise? Make it loud.

Waste? Make it zero.

Middle doors to the auditorium? Don’t use them.

Seats you’ve already sat in? Avoid them.

6000 volunteer hours have culminated in an atmosphere brimming with anticipation.

Let’s do this.

#1. James Russell

James grew up knowing the Kakariki parrot was what made the islands of Aotearoa special.  25 million birds are killed every year in New Zealand by rats, stoats, possum, and other imported pests.
PredatorFree 2050 is a pan-organisation opportunity for New Zealand to eradicate pestilent mammals forever. It’s expensive, but it’s possible, and James’ success eradicating mice from Anitopdes Island proves it.

Challenging idea

While saving the native birds is an easy sell, it gets trickier to find consensus when you start making choices about animal ethics versus environmental ethics. Animals are going to die – the question is which ones, and how humanely will they be treated?
Do something

Set a rat trap in your backyard. James, I’ll text you when I’ve trapped one because I’m going to need somebody to deal with rat carcasses.

#2. Kat Clark

Violence against gay people is not a historical problem. This violence is physical – in Kat’s native Russia, gay people are regularly fined, arrested, or killed due to their sexual identity. This violence is social – the word “gay” continues to be a commonly used pejorative term in everyday life in…Tauranga.

For Kat, one result of this trauma has been depression and suicidal impulses. Another result is unusual strength and empathy in creating Tauranga Pryde as a way of providing solidarity and community to LGBTQI people who experience exclusion and bigotry for being who they are.
Challenging idea

Social change happens through tiny, everyday actions of acceptance and love. Kat’s adopted New Zealand parents signalled their acceptance of Kat’s sexuality with a four-letter text message and concern about their inability to access “gaydar”.

Do something

I’ve let it slip when an acquaintance tells me their weird cousin’s hens party was “gay”. I wince, but I don’t want to ruffle feathers and get into it with them. Well, my silence is violence, and so is yours.  Speak up.

#3. Rob Weinkove

So when your good-guy cells detect a bad guy-cell that wants to get cancerous, your body deploys Army Rangers to swarm and assault the bad-guys. That’s why your throat gets puffy when you’re getting sick – your Army Rangers are at war! Then when the Army Rangers win the war, they send in the Patrol Force who are expert in checking that the bad cells stay locked up and are always listening to what the bad guys might be plotting.

Chemotherapy is basically doctors trying to guess whether your bad cells need Army Ranger or Patrol Forces, and what combination of strength and skill set is needed to vanquish the bad guys. Getting that combination right is a crapshoot. The Malaghan Institute has developed Car T-Cell therapy that combines the rapid strength of the Army Rangers with the intelligence and endurance of the Patrol Force! It works better and hurts less.

Challenging idea

It’s all very well to have world-leading immunotherapy research and innovation taking place in Wellington. But did you know that Malaghan Institute clinical experts are forced to wear Crocs in the laboratory?  Let’s stay focussed on the real problems please.

Do something

Most of us have a cancer story, and Rob’s team has the potential to make those stories end better. The Malaghan Institute accepts gifts through will bequests, payroll deductions, and other easy methods.

#4. David Downs

Here is a list of the things that happened to David when he got lymphoma (cancer of the blood) and began chemotherapy treatment;
  • The volume and velocity of his Dad-jokes skyrocketed (“My oncologist does my hair”);
  • The quality of his health retreats declined (still lots of lying around, much yuckier cocktails);
  • The content of his photos app became quite “deathy”.
  • He was fearful of being ripped off by the Department of Internal Affairs to whom he had just paid $436 for a ten-year passport

No matter how much you search for the comedy in cancer, treating it is inescapably traumatic. David is committed to making the Malaghan Institute’s treatments accessible to New Zealanders as quickly as possible.

Challenging idea

In a Boston chemotherapy clinic hallway, David watched his trouser legs fill up with his rapidly shedding pubic hair. You know when you’re wearing a full-length wetsuit, and the legs fill up with water making your calves look like watermelons? It was like that, but with pubes. Name a more challenging idea, I’ll wait.

Do something

Wear undies when undergoing chemotherapy! And support David and his work at Down with Cancer, here.

#5. Alex Hotere-Barnes

Alex is a Pakeha who came of age in the Maori culture, having been educated in the Kohanga Reo system. He has experienced the privilege of the colour of his skin in New Zealand, a country whose self-bestowed race relations narrative is far kinder than its factual reality. Why, Alex asks are we so resistant to the truth that we all succeed when Maori succeed on their own terms?

The fear of “hongi horror”, looking uneducated and silly when engaging with Maori culture, is a real for Pakeha. It is, however, a small and fleeting admission fee to a shared culture of respect and aroha that we promised to deliver in the Treaty of Waitangi.

Challenging idea

Alex’s entire talk was an exercise in compassionate challenge; you could feel a tension in the room that simply wasn’t there for the preceding talks. “Pakeha Paralysis” in the face of our challenged privilege is understandable, but not excusable. Getting comfortable with discomfort and engaging in radical hope is the least we can do. Some people gave Alex the standing ovation his brave truths deserved. Others couldn’t or wouldn’t.

Do something

Add Watea Radio to the pre-sets on your car stereo. You might just flick through one day and hear something you can relate to.

#6. Olly Hills

Olly is an entomologist (studier of bugs) who has published a text on the various species of cicada in New Zealand. The fact that Olly is 12 years old is not even the impressive part of his story. This guy has the ability to convince his two sisters to spend their summer holidays in the back of a car, hunting photos of cicada species. I cannot fathom.

Challenging idea

Olly displayed a map of New Zealand which included an arrow pointing at the spot suspected to be inhabited by the “Northern Snoring Cicada”. Olly, I fear this species of cicada has bushy eyebrows and sleeps next to me every night. I can supply you with live photos of this loud bug. Please help.

Do something

Impress your friends and rellies this summer with,  “Well Ken, you know it’s summertime in the Southern Hemisphere when the Chorus Cicada, by far the most common type of cicada in New Zealand, starts singing. Unlike that bugger, the April Green Cicada, whose melody is only heard by those sensitive to upper-register frequencies. Pass the tatie salad, ta”.

Entertainment: Sam Sheaff

Sam performed Flyaway, his piece of slam poetry. This is a type of spoken word performance that is often presented in a competition style. Sam was competing against nothing but our ability to keep up with his flow (*cringe* do the youths even use the word flow?).

His piece was a reflection the apprehensive time between high school and University, which, oof. He concluded “Exams are hard, but it’s harder combatting the fear”. Truer words never flowed.

#7. Stacy Sims

Training as a sports scientist, Stacy was astounded to learn that existing research had no insights into why she was getting such varied performance results at different times of the month. The sports science community had, it appears, treated women’s’ sports performance as analogous to male performance because, really, women are just small men.


Challenging idea

Stacy asked the audience to say to our neighbour “Women have periods” and it felt weird to do this. Why the gollygoshdarn in 2019 would that feel weird?! But it does because, as Stacy says, we don’t talk about it! No more! Women have periods! Our insides are literally remaking themselves and it can make us feel tired and weird! And we still get the hell up and do what we gotta do! Do tell me again about how women are the weaker sex, please.

Do something

Actual copy of my notes app right now;  “search period tracker app. google stacey sims period app recco. note for doctor and therapist re periods. bicep workout for tuesday.”
You’re welcome to use this.

Entertainment: Austin Taylor

What can I say about our second entertainment session other than Austin’s dance rendition of Crazy Little Thing Called Love made it difficult to tell his legs from his arms, such were his contortions.

I can tell you he wore the nattiest powder-blue two-piece suit (short-sleeved! Chic!) with contrasting sparkly pink tie which made my own outfit of red tartan and leopard print feel glum. I can also tell you at one point he used his extended leg as a guitar which is how I knew for sure we were all having a great time.

#8. Danielle Appleton

The era of New Zealand’s safe economic reliance on its dairy industry is over. Tech, as they say, is coming, and we’re staring down the barrel of crisis if our economy doesn’t adapt to survive.

In particular, two innovations have the potential to greatly reduce demand for New Zealand’s premium milk products;
  • Plant protein like rice and pea that doesn’t taste like rotting netball socks (looking at you, soy milk);
  • Synthetic dairy. Yeast and sugar can now make dairy proteins. Real dairy proteins. No cows needed

Challenging idea

If Danielle is right and New Zealand’s economic opportunity lies in solving the world’s food problems with intellectual property not cow milk, how do we make sure the 38,000 people currently employed by the dairy industry are central to this shift? The rural-urban divide is real and cool “innovation hubs” need to bring these people with them.

Do something

Read the data, and spot the vulnerabilities, even if the current powers-that-be won’t.
#9. Nick Bowers

Nick knows his story is random, but I bet he wouldn’t call it lucky. His story is one of a kid building boats in a shed in rural Wisconsin who, via a chance meeting on a beach in Italy, ended up contributing to one of the greatest sporting achievements in New Zealand history. While his eye-opening drone technology was cutting-edge, it was Nick’s willingness to say hi to strangers that created magic.

Challenging idea

The true power of Nick’s innovation was born of pure necessity – he didn’t have the equipment to link his drone footage to TV monitors, a convention that, it turns out, slowed the ability of a drone operator to manoeuvre with fast objects like Team New Zealand sailing boats. These stories of achieving the most with less always challenge my overactive, stressed out tendencies. I must commit much more effort to doing less.

Take action

Nick’s trying to get a contract for the next America’s Cup. Given this is Tauranga you probably live next door to Peter Burling or someone, so put a good word in for Nick, k?
#10. Kathryn Berkett

Kathryn is a neuroscience trainer, and is watching a possible dawn of the device-zombie-apocalypse. Just as we shudder at the thought of giving toddlers a glass of wine to calm down if they’re stressed, so too might we shudder at our current willingness to allow young people’s brains to be so heavily exposed to addictive, and possibly damaging, technology.

Challenging idea

I’ll admit to being a bit *shrug emoji* about technology doomsayers – as Kathryn points out, humans be doing bad human things with or without an iPhone. However, technology companies have built products that are awash with toxicity and are profiting handsomely from such exploitation of our base impulses. They are the tobacco companies of the 21st Century and that is *multiple thumbs down emoji*

Do something

If this TED talk doesn’t make you #deletefacebook, then *chin-stroke-confused emoji*.

#11. Leo Murray

You know those New Zealand tourism advertisements you see when you’re abroad? All misty ferns, roaring waterfalls, and slow-mo bombs off a cliff? That was the picture Leo painted with his poetry; “the New Zealand bush’s geometric cloak of green wraps around you”. I mean, yes.

Challenging idea

The common narrative around permaculture is one of sacrifice and deprivation (sidebar; I spent a summer in Portugal in charge of the sawdust toilet for a surf and yoga retreat. Not so zen, Leo, not so zen). Leo relays that his minimum-footprint lifestyle is one of plenty and abundance, and I wonder why I am so scared to even try it?

Do something

Leo cites Niki Harre’s book, Psychology for a Better World, as an inspiration for his celebratory way of life.

Entertainment: Sia’amelie Tongan Dance Group

Our final entertainment gift was from the Sia’amelie Tongan Dance Group who embodied the fluid elegance of the Tongan surf in dance form.

I had less Pakeha Paralysis and more Pakeha Wistfulness watching the dancers’ fluid elegance teach us about the Tongan way of life. I feel fortunate to witness the fruits of these dancers’ efforts to nurture the gifts if their Tongan culture. May we consider to honour these gifts.

Final thoughts

I’ll tell you why I’ve attended and written these summaries for three events in a row, now, for TEDxTauranga.

It’s because I can’t think of another part of my life where ideas and community are celebrated for no other reason but their inherent value.

Where else am I invited to soak in a bath of ideas while being asked for nothing in return?

It’s not obvious –  no one seems to want anything from me. It’s clear any ticket fee is nominal at best. What a deeply unusual experience this is.

It’s almost as though the people who create and deliver TEDxTauranga are inviting me to, simply, share it.

– Claire Piper


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