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So many ideas ... Festival producer shares her top five


With this weekend’s Adelaide Festival of Ideas featuring dozens of guests discussing topics both provocative and relevant – from politics to culture, the environment and justice – event executive producer Heather Robinson nominates her top five events.

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The toughest moment of my role came when I realised I am not going to be able to see all the fantastic speakers and talks we’ve pulled together for the 2016 Adelaide Festival of Ideas.

I don’t think I’m very different to most of our audience members in that I can be interested in many topics and speakers on different days of the week. We are all multi-disciplinarians, which is what makes this event so special. Nevertheless: How to choose?

Here’s the top five events I don’t want to miss:

1 Sleepwalking to the future: why Australia needs a cultural policy (with Justin O’Connor, Professor of Communications and Cultural Economy, Monash University)

I was lucky to hear O’Connor speak in Melbourne at the launch of his Platform Paper, After the creative industries, where he outlined the political and social changes over the last four decades that have altered our relationship to culture and aligned creativity with economic outcomes. This talk will be fascinating for anyone with an interest in the future of our cultural institutions and the arts.

2 Smart Money (with Mark Pesce, inventor, writer, entrepreneur, author, broadcaster and “specialist in all things digital”)

Again, this session will look to the future and the changing relationships we will have with the finance industry, as well as the way we share the responsibility for how information is distributed, judged and accounted for. Pesce is a world-class speaker and we’re lucky to have him in Adelaide as a special guest of AFoI.

3 What Would Roma Say? Dame Roma Mitchell Oration (with Robyn Layton, QC and advocate for social justice and human rights issues)

How many times have we wished some of our thought leaders and activists from the past could come back and nudge the appropriate people back onto the right course? Robyn Layton is an Adelaide treasure and is the perfect pick for this year’s Roma Mitchell Oration, presented by the SA Equal Opportunity Commission.

4 Barry Jones (writer, teacher, lawyer and former politician) and Phillip Adams (broadcaster, writer and 2016 AFoI dedicatee)

I doubt I would be alone in carrying a bit of an intellectual crush on Barry Jones. His achievements are manifold, his wit inexhaustible and his reputation for political riposting the stuff of legend. As well as presenting the Don Dunstan Oration, on Why we need a courage party, he will also be delivering the dedication to Phillip Adams on our Opening Night Oration at Bonython Hall. These two gentlemen together on the same stage – part of me wishes we could have stopped our programming right there and let them have the whole weekend! This will be a once-in-a-lifetime kind of occasion people will talk about for years to come.

5 Home (featuring a panel of poets and storytellers)

Perhaps the most beautiful event on the program will be Home. Anyone with a sense of empathy may be feeling slightly battered by world events – from war and terror to natural disasters – since the last festival in 2013.

Compounding these challenges beyond our control, political machinations, changing employment conditions and economic stresses are undermining confidence and personal security within our own communities.

We are lucky to have in Adelaide and visiting the festival some internationally recognised storytellers and poets. For this session, they will return to the campfires of ancient times and create a community of travellers, sharing their tales of home and culture to tap into the universal  commonalities that make us human.

When the words have been spoken, cellist Rachel Johnston will fill Elder Hall with reflective responses to the tales told by Mike Mills, Ally Cobby Eckermann, Karl Winda Telfer, Ali Alizadeh, Manal Younus and visiting UK poet and philosopher Nick Drake.

This kind of performance event is something a little different for AFoI. However, as an experience speaking with the language of the heart rather than the spreadsheet, perhaps it may create greater empathy and understanding – and, just maybe, take a step closer towards resolution.


For all our visitors who will suffer the same delightful conundrum of limited time and choice, I feel your pain. Already I’m struggling to nominate some great speakers over others, but among the rich pickings for a city rich in ideas are Raimond Gaita, Erin Brockovich, Heather Smith, Carolyn Curtis, Nicholas Gruen, Tim Dunlop, Amrita Malhi and Gabe Kelly.

I hope everyone enjoys the harvest!

The Festival of Ideas, which runs from October 21-23, is being presented as part of the SA Government’s Open State event, with the full program available for viewing here.

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