Sydney is in lockdown when Broadsheet interviews Edwina Throsby, Sydney Opera House’s head of talks and ideas and the curator of Antidote festival. Now, both Victoria and South Australia have also entered lockdown, and Antidote Festival has been moved online (though audiences may be invited if restrictions permit). Antidote is all about constructive ideas and finding positive solutions to the world’s problems which, when we’re all locked away in our houses to avoid a global pandemic, are feeling pretty insurmountable.

“With Antidote, we want to focus on the issues of the world in a way that is constructive, and look at addressing the problems in order to make a better future, rather than feeling defeated by it,” Throsby tells Broadsheet. “It is very easy to think about all of the issues we’re facing and get completely overwhelmed and crawl under your doona and stay there forever. But I do find it incredibly helpful and inspiring to listen to people who know heaps more about an area than I do, talking about what they think about that area. Because it does make you realise that there are fantastic brains that are at work all the time. Really good people doing really good things.”

And there are a lot of really good people at this year’s digital festival, on September 5. Take Elizabeth Kolbert. She’s a staff writer at The New Yorker, and known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting on climate change. She’ll be appearing with political journalist and author Paddy Manning to discuss finding solutions to the climate crisis and the destruction of the natural world. Kolbert is a guest Throsby has been keen to book for some time.

“She’s a bit of a hero of mine,” says Throsby. “Because my background’s in journalism I really love the way she’s used journalism [as an agent for change]. She works to really affect how people think about climate change. So having her coming to the festival is something I’m genuinely excited about.”

The festival will also see Greek economist, politician and author Yanis Varoufakis in conversation with author and former Greens senator Scott Ludlam. Both will use their experiences in politics to discuss how – when the environment is being trashed, societies are becoming ever-more unequal and governments are unwilling to make any radical changes – we can work towards a better future.

“Both Yanis and Scott are former politicians, which is not coincidental,” says Throsby. “They both spent their political careers demanding reform in certain areas, and I think that kind of idea that there is a better way is something I wanted to dig into a little more. I think the fact that Yanis and Scott both really engaged with the idea of making things better while they were in politics will make for an incredibly interesting conversation.”

Meanwhile, Korean-American poet and author Cathy Park Hong will be joined by journalists and broadcasters Benjamin Law and Beverley Wang to discuss being Asian in the West; British writer Afua Hirsch will dissect the legacy of colonialism with Bundjalung and Kullilli journalist Daniel Browning; and Alyawarre advocate Pat Anderson, Indigenous professor Megan Davis and Torres Strait Island author Thomas Mayor will discuss the future of Indigenous rights.

The myth of the “fair go” will also be analysed by Gunai/Kurnai author Veronica Gorrie, journalist Rick Morton and legal commentator and author Bri Lee. You can also expect panels on anti-Arab racism since 9/11, deaf culture in Australia and morality in Australian politics.

Antidote 2021 will be Throsby’s last – she’ll soon take up a position as the ABC’s managing editor of arts. She says the highlight of her time curating the festival was a panel that brought together three incredible intellects: American author Ta-Nehisi Coates, Indigenous professor Megan Davis and South African author Sisonke Msimang.

“They were talking about the legacies of colonialism and enslavement,” Throsby says. “None of them had met before, none of them had spoken before, and just seeing these three brilliant minds engaging with this theme, that was an absolute Antidote highlight for me.”

Antidote will be live-streamed on September 5 (though holding it live has not yet been ruled out). Festival passes are $75, single talks $15, on sale here.

sydneyoperahouse.com