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Australia's brightest young minds converged on Canberra for revolutionary 'unconference': Junket

Australia's brightest young minds converged on Canberra for revolutionary 'unconference': Junket

Mental health, redefining the Australian identity, and getting young people to enrol to vote were some of the key issues to arise from unconference Junket held in Canberra this week.

Australian pop culture and comment site brought together 200 of Australia’s brightest young minds for its first-ever unconference, designed to spark conversation about the important issues for the future leaders of the country.

Junkee Media CEO Neil Ackland said that, although ambitious, Junket was a resounding success, articulating issues of national importance and connecting people to make change.

“The response from the delegates was beyond all of our expectations. From being the #1 trending topic on Twitter before the unconference even officially began, to watching all of the conversations, sparks and ideas come out of the sessions and continue in real life.

"Delegates have walked away with actual action plans, found new contacts and ambassadors for their causes, and developed new ideas about making a meaningful contribution. It’s the connections the delegates made with each other that is probably the most exciting thing to come out of Junket."

The first of its kind in Australia, Junket played out in a refreshing format with no set agenda, audiences or stages; it was programmed by Vivid Ideas and TedXSydney curator Jessica Scully and editor Steph Harmon, with the help of a diverse programming committee. With more than 100 pitches from delegates, 57 sessions were conducted across ten spaces for three days at the QT Hotel Canberra.

It was a highly charged atmosphere. Brilliant ideas, challenging dialogue and inspiration emanated from Junket sessions with delegates including actors, politicians, writers, scientists, activists, farmers, journalists, advertisers, gamers, educators, environmentalists, and professional sports stars from all corners of the country and from diverse backgrounds of cultures, religions and gender and health identities.

The unique format brought out hundreds of surprising and hotly debated discussions on myriad topics, including fixing the disconnect between the education system and the needs of the future workplace; addressing housing affordability without causing a crash; tackling climate change, food waste and the agriculture sector; the (often under-estimated) value of introverts in leadership; rectifying youth unenrollment in Australia; including more asylum seeker voices in the public discourse; making Australia’s missing persons system more effective; getting more young people involved in aged care; and addressing the rural doctor shortage.

Key sessions included Independent MP for Sydney Alex Greenwich leading a discussion on how to get 400,000 young Australians enrolled on the electoral system, and suggesting a link to driver’s licenses and ID cards to ensure the democratic participation of more young people.

A wide range of issues relating to race, racism and Australia’s cultural identity were raised by speakers; mechanical engineer, Muslim commentator and writer Yassmin Abdel-Magied challenging delegates to consider if white voices need to be included in conversations about people of colour -- and if so, how? Delegates proposed setting guidelines for how to be an ally, and building an infrastructure with access points for allies to join and work together to help marginalised groups they may not be a part of.

Bec Allen, Executive Producer of dance company Force Majeure, hosted a conversation about what defines us as Australians, identifying a need to establish a vision/mission statement for Australia that encompasses the spectrum of identity nationally, and developing a report on the representation of other cultures in the media. Another key session was led by PhD candidate for Aboriginal health Summer May Finlay, who proposed engaging more Aboriginal people in businesses by encouraging companies to liaise with indigenous groups to work out how to support and teach Aboriginal culture in the workplace.

Gender roles and labels featured as a recurring theme across sessions. Speakers Tristan Williams, a participant in the Telstra Imaginarium Program, and editor of Momentum Books, Ashley Thomson hosted a high-impact session on the crisis of masculinity and mental health, identifying a critical need for accurate representation in the media and a broadening of the mainstream definition of masculinity. Delegates will be calling on writers and other creatives to include non-mainstream images of men in their workplace, and to champion the movement via social media. Entertainer and artist, Shane Jenek (Courtney Act) also spoke passionately about building a world where gender labels aren’t oppressive, starting with the introduction of sexuality education in primary schools.

A strong demand for changes to how children are taught emerged in another high-impact discussion lead by Matt Roden from Sydney Story Factory, CEO of Niisch, Shanti Korporaal and Telstra Imaginarium participant Tom Linnette, who identified the need to reform the word ‘creativity’ in the education system. Entrepreneur and Australian Apprenticeship ambassador Jessica Perry and Calum Lindsay-Field from Foundation for Young Australians asked how Australia can empower school leavers and adults to find the right degree/course, while ensuring internships are conducted ethically and with structure. They proposed creating opportunities for high school and university students to connect to the industry through LinkedIn, and providing training packs for companies to better support their interns and work experience students.

Technology emerged repeatedly throughout the three days, with PhD student Vipul Gupta and industrial designer Angus Deveson narrowing in on the future of 3D printing. The pair resolved to enlighten people with the potential of what they can do with 3D printing and are passionate about making it a focus at school and university levels to prepare the next generation work force.

These are just some of the very real outcomes that have emerged from Junket; the delegates have connected with each other outside of the conference, and new projects, collaborations and movements will be launched in coming weeks and months. Junket will return in 2016 and will be championing several of the key issues that emerged from this year’s Junket by collaborating with the delegates to give a platform to the overall ideas and conversations, and ensure the topics remain on the agenda and reach a wider audience.

Junket was made possible by Qantas, Telstra, Westpac, Visit Canberra and ANU.
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For more information and interview requests, please contact:

Danielle Veldre

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Rachael McKenzie

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