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TEDx: how to make a clarinet from a carrot, and other amazing stories

It was a day that included a carrot being carved into a clarinet, inspiring stories of escape and a tribute to a mother's determination, when speakers gathered at the annual TEDxSydney ideas festival at the Opera House on Saturday.

Barat Ali Batoor, photographer and refugee:

The perilous journey was their last chance of freedom. But as waves engulfed their rickety boat in wild waters off Indonesia in September 2012, Hazara photojournalist Barat Ali Batoor knew that death was fast approaching.

With a camera in his hand, the freelancer, who was one of about 90 asylum seekers fleeing Afghanistan and Pakistan, captured what he thought would have been their last hours.

"We didn't have any hope, we all lost hope," he told the crowd. 

"We were watching our deaths and I was documenting it."


But death did not arrive, and the boat ran ashore on rocks near west Java. Batoor's camera was destroyed but miraculously, the memory card survived and so did all the images and videos he captured of the journey.

"I was free with just a memory card," he said.

He ran away with bare feet to freedom and in May last year, he was resettled in Australia.

Batoor's photographs have been exhibited in Denmark, Dubai, Australia, Pakistan, Italy, Japan and Afghanistan, and have also appeared in international newspapers and magazines including The Washington Post, Newsweek and The Wall Street Journal.

Last year, he won the Nikon-Walkley best photo essay for the series of images he captured on the boat.

Judy and Tim Sharp, mother and artist:

The day after her son's third birthday, Judy Sharp was told by a leading specialist that her first-born was a hopeless case, with autism so severe that Tim would never speak or show any love towards his mother.

Her only option, Ms Sharp was told, was to institutionalise her son and get on with her life.

"I was hysterical," Ms Sharp told the sold-out crowd at TEDxSydney on Saturday.

But as the tears streamed down her cheek after the devastating assessment, Tim reached out and wiped them from her face. It was a pivotal moment for the single mother-of-two. She knew Tim had the capacity to love.

Ms Sharp was determined to help her son and began to communicate with him through a series of stick figure drawings.They were not very good, she admitted, but Tim did not care.

It took a year, but one day Tim took the pencil from his mother and began to draw, demonstrating artistic talent Ms Sharp could hardly believe. 

"Drawing became a very important part of our daily life," she said.

By the time he was 11, Tim's drawing ability developed to the point where he created his own super hero, Laser Beak Man, which has since been turned into an animated television series for the ABC and exhibited around the world.

"I am a world-famous artist," Tim told the TEDx crowd.

And when he finished their talk with the simple line "I love my mum", the 2000-plus crowd took to their feet and gave the 25-year-old a standing ovation. 

Markus Zusak, author

Failure has been Markus Zusak's lifelong friend.

The author of international bestseller The Book Thief says he had his first taste of failure as an eight-year-old budding discus thrower in the Sutherland shire.

He had been chosen to represent his school at the zone athletics championships but when his big moment came, he threw three fouls and was disqualified. Zusak was inconsolable.

"I walked away bawling my eyes out," Zusak told the TEDXSydney ideas festival. 

He was determined never to suffer failure like that again, and the next year when he qualified again to represent his school, his father took him to the discus net in the pouring rain and he kept throwing until he was soaked to the bone.

It paid off and Zusak blitzed the discus field and made it through to the next level of competition. 

Twenty years later, he says, failure struck again when he was trying to write The Book Thief.Although he had four published books behind him, his idea of basing a plot around death was not working.

"But I thought no one is going to read it so I may as well write it exactly how I wanted," Zusak said. And so he did.

Not only did people read it, The Book Thief spent 375 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and has been adapted into a motion picture starring Geoffrey Rush.

When Zusak now sits down to write and begins to question himself, he says he thinks of his desk as a "discus net in the pouring rain".