Thought

This Is The Perfect Time For Young People To Work Together (And Other Thoughts On Junket 2016)

If we're in for a world run by Donald Trump and Pauline Hanson, we have a lot of work on our hands.

Do you ever wake at 3am, panicked at the thought of the world falling to pieces? You know, the kind of bolt upright night sweats brought on by the threat that we’ll soon be living a post-apocalyptic survivalist existence in an arid dust-bowl while carrion birds pick over the remains of artists, scientists and philosophers and those left are trapped in a Trump/Hanson dictatorship? Sound familiar?

Then I highly recommend you check out the lineup for Junket.

James Mathison, Benjamin Law And Demi Lardner Are Some Of The First Delegates For Junket 2016

Since being brought on to program this thought-explosion of an event — which takes place from September 25-27 at QT Canberra — I’ve slept more soundly than I have in years. Spending two months tracking down Australia’s most innovative, exciting and intelligent young minds is a great way to kill some cynicism. If these young thinkers haven’t yet managed to halt our slide into total planetary destruction individually, they’ve certainly done a good job of putting on the brakes. And now we’re bringing them together.

Um, For What?

Like many people, I watched last year’s inaugural Junket unfold from afar while going green at the gills. Curator Jess Scully pulled together an incredible group that not only featured most of my favourite poets, playwrights and authors, but seemed to include every single go-getter this side of the equator.

I watched everyone from astronomer Alan Duffy to Archer editor Amy Middleton do a literal elevator pitch — there was something truly delightful about watching Yassmin Abdel-Magied and Jimmy Niggles in a lift together chatting about what it really means to be an Australian — and felt envious from the incredible photos of the dancefloor during Courtney Act’s surprise set. When I read that NSW MP Alex Greenwich had thrown in the idea of linking legislative enrolment with drivers’ licenses, I knew the discussions were really starting to take shape.

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Pictured: a very important discussion.

If you missed all the action, Junket is an unconference. This means the participants essentially decide what’s going to be discussed when they get there. On the first day every delegate gets 30 seconds to pitch an idea and invite others to join them in a conversation. These pitches get written up on a board in different streams, and every delegate chooses which conversations to add their voice to. Lead by the idea pitcher, the conversations are encouraged to be open, positive and productive.

Last year the organisers expected to have to drum up some of their own pitches to get things going; instead they had to add to quickly create another whole stream of discussions to fit in all the excellent ideas coming their way.

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Somewhere, in the distance, a program curator is gently weeping.

I love the idea of pulling incredible people from a vast number of industries, backgrounds and ideologies together to make them talk to each other about the best way to get things done. It’s the same reason I love programming panels — I still can’t quite believe my job involves bringing incredibly smart, cool people together (at a place I will also be) to talk their way through issues I care about.

Thankfully, I’m not the only one who’s on board with the idea. Though many of last year’s delegates came with reservations (and some made constructive criticisms that will help us improve this year’s event), most left with great things to say about the experience. As writer Patrick Lenton put it, “I quickly became the giant Labrador of enthusiasm I’ve always aspired to be”.

Who’s Coming This Year?

When I came on board for this year’s Junket, the Junkee crew and last year’s programming committee had already pulled together a massive list of impressive names, to which I added some personal favourites from my own ever-growing secret list of brilliant people (is that creepy or just smart?). We also got some brilliant public submissions and a whole heap of recommendations from last year’s Junketers. Mix that with a bunch of article reading, internet stalking and conversations with people in the know and we came up with a list of 150 delegates to invite from all around Australia. All are leaders in their field; all have the capacity to make real change; and all are already changing things in their own way.

Coming along this year, we have advocates for the use of game technology as therapy, the decriminalisation of sex work, for helping smokers kick the habit, divesting from fossil fuels, and using design to design better time. We’ll be discussing everything from the impact of automation on the workforce, representation of trans identities in the media, technology in healthcare, affordable accessible housing and how we can better use drugs as a society. From a feminist porn director, to the young winemaker of the year, from a comedian making a strong stand against offshore detention to an academic who specialises in representations of masculinity in Masterchef.

Who doesn’t want to share a breakfast table with that crew?

Aside from a handful of brilliant ambassadors from last year, everyone coming to Junket this year is new, so we’re expecting entirely new pitches and conversations. Delegates have been encouraged to hone their pitches over the next few weeks and, just like last year, we’re encouraging them to consider the resources we have to draw on, the opportunities we have to exploit, the processes or systems we need to reinvent, and what they see as our top priorities in taking the next steps.

For those who want in on the conversations, there’s unfortunately no sitting on the QT bleachers while the event takes place, but we’ll be covering Junket online from many angles. We’ll be live-streaming moments, posting recaps and snapshots of the talks, podcasting delegates and you can guarantee everyone will be all over Twitter.

Watch this space — then pitch an idea and come along next year.

In Defence Of Optimism

If Junket sounds like an optimist’s wet dream and you’re wondering what the tangible goals are, rest assured: we know that pushing a whole lot of brilliant people into the same room is not enough to save the world. The kind of sustained change required to really make a difference doesn’t happen over a handful of days in a nice hotel in our nation’s capital. But it does begin to happen when you give innovative leaders the tools, connections and space to make their ideas a reality — and that’s why I’m so excited to be part of making this event happen.

Who knows which of the people on my list will end up being the next Jobs and Wozniak? A new Frida and Diego, Buffy and Willow, Lennon and McCartney, Crabb and Sales, Fey and Poehler — or even Ben & Jerry.

It might sound hopelessly romantic, but I truly believe that giving people a place to toss around big ideas is important; that bringing together a group of brilliant advocates, activists and analysts has the potential to eventually bring about real change. At the very least, it’s better than laying awake and freaking out about the world becoming a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Lex Hirst is a book editor, festival director and arts programmer driven by a love of great writing and exciting ideas. She edits and commissions at Penguin Random House, is a SAMAG Committee Member and is the 2016 programmer of Junket.

Junket takes place at the QT Canberra on September 25-27.

Visit the Junket website here.