Bellingen hosts IGNITE MNC Symposium

The second Ignite Mid North Coast symposium, themed ‘Transformation by Design’, was replete with creative and artistic touches, appropriately enough given the host town was Bellingen.

There were ladies costumed as clouds guiding people across the road, living books wearing black t-shirts to indicate they had life experience and expertise to share, a gorgeously scenic short film by Gethin Coles exploring people’s ‘happy places’ in Bellingen Shire, sand paintings being reshaped with a sweep of John Thiering’s hands and even some community singing with MC Clare Bowditch.

It was fun and entertaining, and as the Chair of RDA Mid North Coast John O’Neill said as he closed proceedings at 3pm, hopefully people left with “some small idea of innovation or transformation [that] has resonated with you”.

Millenial Zoe Eather from Toowoomba gave the first speech, which was about her fascination with ‘smart communities’ using technology to solve problems and make regions more accessible, livable and sustainable.

Screenwave director Dave Horsley chaired a panel that considered the hallmarks of good design, with panellists Dr Rick Flowers, Adam Doyle and Thea O’Connor respectively covering the fields of school curriculum reform, industrial design and workplace wellbeing.

Thea’s key message about redesigning work culture to allow our bodies to have time for rejuvenation provoked discussion, with Dave Horsley confessing a desire for a four-day working week and Adam Boyle saying he’d recognised signs of burnout in himself and had switched to a 7am to 3pm schedule.

Thea argued that health and productivity are entwined, not mutually exclusive choices, and that as jobs become more demanding, people need to stop and recharge – with a power nap – in order to keep functioning effectively.

“Our work culture sanctions artificial stimulants like coffee and sugar,” she said, “but is suspicious of real rejuvenation like napping.”

After the morning tea break, Clare Bowditch interviewed Dr Gregory Smith from Southern Cross University, a survivor of childhood trauma who lived for ten years as a wild man in the forest around Mullumbimby before deciding to return to society, give up the comforts of drugs and alcohol, and get an education.

His remarkable life story, which has been widely featured in the media and is told in his book Out of the Forest, makes him “a living embodiment of what it means to transform”, Clare said.

The second panel, chaired by former federal politician Fiona Nash, was on the opportunities for transformation in our region.

Fiona Hyland from Tribal Wave Assembly spoke about creating industries that are significant for Indigenous people and encouraging the broader business community to consider partnering with the “black supply chain”.

Glenn Morris, an organic farmer from Inverell and a longstanding advocate for sustainable land management, said agriculture was undergoing massive transformation in the face of climate change.

He spoke about the need for culture of respect and love for nature and said farmers, especially the younger ones, were trying to heal the soil, use it to get carbon out of the atmosphere and to store water, so the landscape could be more resilient when the next drought struck.

Ian Fitzgibbon from Coffs Harbour City Council waxed enthusiastic about their trial of an autonomous vehicle, saying that he hoped the driverless bus would become cool, “the tram of the 21st century”, and transform how we think about public transport.

Monica Davis talked about how the Country Universities Centres were transforming regional education, providing campus-like study hubs that enabled school leavers, ‘second-chance learners’ and ‘oldies studying arts’ to stay in their communities while upgrading their skills and knowledge.

In the final sessions after lunch, sand artist John Thiering from Coffs Harbour showed how he could transform his pictures with a sweep of his fingers, and MC Clare Bowditch gave a very personal keynote speech about how our potential transformations call out to us in all sorts of ways and encouraged everyone to “think about your big fat dream and where you want to be in five years time”.