The Australian Design Council ceased operation in the mid-1980s but was relaunched in 2020 with council members including Mr Freedman, social investor Ros Moriarty and former Commonwealth Bank chairman Catherine Livingstone. The $1 million donation will be used to employ a chief executive and key staff.
Friday night’s big winner, Mr Newson, is considered one of the country’s most famous designers and described as someone who has “shot the lights out” on the world stage.
He has been included in Time magazine’s 100 most influential people and designed everything from the Qantas Skybed and A380 internal fit-out to the Louis Vuitton backpack, Lockheed Lounge and a host of digital cameras, watches and luggage.
Mr Freedman said Mr Newson was an example of the “army of mind-blowing designers” in Australia he wanted to connect to business to help get back to designing and building locally.
Rode’s headquarters span a 7000-square-metre factory campus at Silverwater, just off the M4 motorway in Sydney’s west, where the company manufactures more than 2.5 million audio products.
“The big difference for us is that we make it all here,” Mr Freedman said.
“People say, ‘you can’t do it here’. Well, you can. I do it all here. I did it. We can make anything here.
”The way the world is going, if we just rely on selling truck loads of minerals we’re going to end up in trouble, but we can change it. Australia used to make everything here, but then it all stopped. We’ve got to be self-reliant.”
Design a part of life
Mr Freedman is no stranger to philanthropy, having donated $5 million to the Sydney Festival to support artists struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He also plans to sell the acoustic guitar Kurt Cobain played during Nirvana’s 1993 MTV Unplugged special, which Mr Freedman famously bought for $9 million in 2020.
“I’ve had it on display at the Powerhouse Museum. We’re going to do a little more touring around then I’m going to sell it and give it to a charity called Support Act [for the music industry]. I didn’t buy it to hang on the wall.”
Mr Freedman said good design was used in every aspect of life, from our cars, computers and phones to clothes and glasses. “If it’s good, it’s been designed well,” he said.
Rode sold 1.5 million of a new design for its Wireless GO product, which the company says is the world’s smallest and most versatile wireless microphone system.
“I never knew how you applied design to products, we just made cool stuff. Then I was introduced to it and realised there is a system and the companies that use it as the basis for everything they do are the ones that made a lot of money and made the best stuff, and I thought ‘holy shit there is something to this’,” Mr Freeman said.
“In other countries, people are taught it from an early stage. We have so many natural resources here, so we’ve been living off the sheep’s back or scrapping off our minerals. But we’ve got some of the best designers in the world in this country.
“We just have to connect them with businesses. Bottom line, everybody wants to make more money and be super successful and that’s great for the country. By being a design-led business, that’s how you are going to do it.”