Get in the room with some of the world’s best thinkers as they talk the big issues, from urban development to same-sex families. Or stream in, as the Festival of Ideas (not to be confused with November’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas) uses social media to connect its week of inspiring ideas and practical solutions with hungry minds. Time Out speaks to spirited new festival director, Professor Fiona Stanley.
Fiona, what appealed to you about bringing ideas out of meeting rooms or academic papers and onto a festival stage?
When I was approached I thought, what’s really bugging me at the moment? A lot of things crowded in – childhood development, the obesity epidemic, climate change, Aboriginal issues. This was an opportunity to really have public debate, which is very challenging at the moment in our current political climate.
We have four days of discussion and then on the last day, we say, “How is democracy serving us for a healthy society?”
Can you run us through some of the speakers?
There are over 80 ‘great minds’, from academics to comics. We wanted people who were on the whole younger, or well known and controversial. For example, Anna Rose and Dr. Norman Swan are going to co-facilitate ‘Democracy: The Solutions’. Anna Rose is a great activist and an outstanding speaker. She recently went head to head with [former Liberal Senator] Nick Minchin to try and convince him that climate change is real. To balance the programme, we also have what you might call ‘the ABC celebrities’ – people like Natasha Mitchell, Virginia Trioli, and a couple of comedians. Academics aren’t particularly good at convincing people to come spend their time, whereas these people will [be].
Who’s the festival for?
The usual people who come to the festival are the 50+, very switched on, socially aware, intelligent public in Melbourne, but we want to get to their kids, the young parents, corporates; the people who wouldn’t normally come along. We don’t just want this to be a talk-fest; we want calls to action. Set up a local community group! March! Make society better today!
Your daily planner: Fiona guides us through a week of big ideas
WED OCT 2: ENVIRONMENTS FOR A HEALTHY SOCIETY
"We go to 2033. If we’ve achieved a healthy and sustainable post-carbon world, what does it look like? In the evening we’ll have a group of students doing the Right Australia Policy! And the ‘Liveable City’ session, with speakers from New York like David Burney and Professor Jeffrey Sachs looking at how we make a city liveable. It’s starting to happen, with gardens on roofs, converting old railway lines into beautiful parks and walkways, making cycle lanes the norm and green spaces."
THU OCT 3: FOOD & NUTRITION FOR A HEALTHY SOCIETY
"There are a lot of pathways in the festival to health and wellbeing, which can enable parents or communities. One area is food. We have Stephanie Alexander doing a whole session on her Kitchen Garden Foundation programme. Discussing the obesity epidemic, Julian Morrow is chairing an amazing session with Harold Mitchell. The food industry will be there; it’ll be a big fight!"
FRI OCT 4: FAMILIES FOR A HEALTHY SOCIETY
"What are we doing to support young families? We’ll look at issues like childhood allergies and our changing understanding of ‘family’, with speakers like Zoe Morrison and Janet McCalman. A session dear to my heart is ‘Medicalising Normality’: the over-diagnosis of mental health problems in teenagers and giving them drugs. Ray Moynihan is going to create a disease with the audience, which will be hilarious."
SAT OCT 5: BRAINS & MINDS FOR A HEALTHY SOCIETY
"We need to look at the rising rates of youth and young adult mental health problems, which are not going away. We’ll look at young growing brains, and at the effects of social media on our sense of self, and our brains."