Rethinkers host Malarndirri McCarthy (left) and creator Paul Metcalfe.

By Donna Kelly

14 May 2013 — For a long time Paul Metcalfe has had the burning desire to do something different. And he always believed that skills in communication would be important for sustainability. So after completing two fellowships at the Centre for Sustainability Leadership Fellowship Program in 2011 and the The School for Social Entrepreneurs Australia in 2012, it was time to put it all together. He created Rethinkers Sydney.

“I hosted a panel and showed [the documentary] The Economics of Happiness,” he said. “I didn’t have a name for the event but a few hundred people turned up and it was really positive.”

There were some interesting discussions and seedlings were handed out to give to neighbours on the way home. A reason to “knock on the door”.

Paul and some friends then attended a Rethinkers masterclass and, with the Rethinkers domain name available, he ran with the Sydney connection, adding what he believed was a missing indigenous angle.

Rethinkers are events “that blend indigenous stories with the newest ideas in arts, science, community and business to have a crack at solving sustainability issues”.

The first one was held in March, in partnership with sustainable clothing and equipment outfit Patagonia Sydney, and covered topics from the indigenous story of water – fresh, sweet, bitter or salt – to Sydney’s tank stream and how precision farming is using GPS and satellite imagery to improve crop yields and reduce water use. There was even a water songstress.

Costa Georgardis

Hosted by NITV presenter Malarndirri McCarthy, panellists included Gardening Australia presenter Costa Georgardis, Royal Botanical Garden indigenous education officer Clarence Slockee, Sydney Water’s heritage (archaeology) advisor Yvonne Kaiser-Glass Adviser and University of Sydney researcher and Save the Waves campaigner Ana Horta.

“The first one in Sydney was about that by 2030 the demand for fresh water will outstrip supply,” Paul said. “So we needed to think, ‘What are we going to do about that?’ What did the indigenous people do? Did they just move? What do we do as a more settled community?

“And every time we turn the tap on let’s think about where this water comes from.

“I took the idea to Patagonia and they were willing to help and to accept the challenge themselves, and offer a space.”

Paul says the critical thing for him is to be open to be challenged even as he makes a stand with his new project.

“If it works I can envisage a whole series of these on topics like love, hate, waste.

The first Rethinkers event

“The best thing is not knowing what to expect. The audience must be involved and active, and have a view.

“I am not trying to drive opinions down people’s throats – just to raise consciousness.

“And you can’t micro-manage it. It has to be organic.”

Paul said he had lived with 10 years of mulling over his idea, two years of refining it and was now keen to create the ripples that would find their own way forward.

The only question is – what’s the next conversation.

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