Soapbox Speakers

What is Speakers’ Corner?

In Speakers and hecklers. on March 8, 2015 at 11:51 pm

“I would rather have a mind opened by wonder than one closed by belief.” 
Gerry Spence.

Every Sunday, from 2pm until 5pm, people gather in Sydney’s beautiful Domain park to discuss matters. The ones standing on ladders are ‘the speakers’, and they believe it’s their job to educate  their ‘grasshoppers’ or ‘groundlings’.  The ones sitting in chairs believe it’s their job to point out why the speaker is wrong, and to heckle. Both parties are kept busy.

This sums up the relationship between the speakers and the hecklers.

This sums up the relationship between the speakers and the hecklers.

Click here to see their 2015 highlights.
Click here to see their 2014 highlights.
Click here to see their 2013 highlights.

Find past posts  on our Archives site.

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Repent at Speakers’ Corner!

The Speakers and Hecklers.

Steve Maxwell, historian and political commentator.

Steve Maxwell

Steve Maxwell, legend.

In various personas, but always engaging, Steve talks about religion, Australian history and politics. Click here for highlights. To see more videos of Steve, go to the archives site. From his book, ‘Soapbox Oratory‘ Steve writes: ‘In a modern city, there must be a place where strangers can meet and discuss the issues of the day without fear of persecution; where the right to retain one’s individuality is allowed.

Helmut Cerncic, metaphysicist.

Helmut 4

Helmut used to be a professional wrestler going by the name of Helmut Rommel. He took on the likes of Killer Karl Kox, Mario Milano and Spiros Orion. And, he once beat Arnold Schwartzenegger in a body building contest.
More importantly, Helmut knows a lot about metaphysics (more than Arnold Schwartzenegger and Killer Karl Kox combined), and he is happy to explain why Isaac Newton was an ignoramus.
His battles with hecklers are fun. He calls his listeners his ‘groundlings’. Here are some highlights.
For more videos of Helmut, go to the archives site and to his own site, Is Science the New Religion?’.

Mirko Terzic, 21st Century inventor.


Mirko has created a phonetic alphabet to be used world-wide, and it’s better than Esperento. He has solved the problem of perpetual motion and has diagrams explaining how to get free unlimited energy from hydropower. Mirko knows how to think outside the square. Here are a few highlights of Mirko. For more videos of Mirko go to the archives site.

Ray, Christian.

Ray is concerned about your soul.

 Ray is passionate about spreading the word of God. He takes the task seriously but isn’t confronting. He is a gentle man willing to answer your questions. Here are a few highlights. For more videos of Ray, go to the archives site.

Mr Bashful, epiphany specialist.

Mr B 2

Mr Bashful, the epiphany specialist.

Epiphany specialist Mr Bashful tells us he is the spiritual advisor to the Dalai Lama, though that’s yet to be verified. He calls his listeners his ‘grasshoppers’ and his foes ‘garden gnomes’. (He himself could be called ‘King of the Cheap Shots’.)
  Among other things, Mr Bashful talks about New Age scams,  happiness myths, and why we should burn the Mona Lisa. One thing he isn’t, is bashful.
To learn more about him and see videos of him in action, click here.
He now has a Facebook page.

John August (Occasional speaker)

John speaks earnestly on a wide range of subjects, and if you’re in Sydney you can listen to his radio program on Radio Skid Row, 88.9 FM every Tuesday, from noon until 2pm.
John is an active member of the Pirate Party, which is a serious political party devoted to making Australia more democratic. He and other pirates speak at the Domain on the third Sunday of every month, about their policies and other topical matters. (That’s ‘topical’, not ‘tropical’.)
To see videos of John performing at Speakers’ Corner go to his Youtube channel.
John also has a website in which he comments upon current affairs, both here and abroad.
He is a busy lad.


Uncle Pete (heckler and occasional speaker)

Peter - best

During the week Uncle Pete teaches students, and if he teaches them with the same verve he has for the Sunday passers-by, they are lucky students indeed. Click here for a few highlights. For more videos of Uncle Pete, go to the archives site.

Tony, atheist.

New-Zealand born Tony used to be a speaker and is a fervent atheist scathing of the Catholic Church. When he is not berating Christianity he is either sinking the boot into other religions, or supporting Palestine. In this video  Tony expresses a few of his well considered opinions. For more videos of Tony click here.
Tony now heckles the other speakers.

Max (Quiet listener)

Max is one of the gentler regular visitors. Says little, but when he does speak, it’s sensible. Click here to discover why he visits Speakers’ Corner.

Arthur (Heckler)
Arthur 1

Arthur is not what you call the shy type, and is generous with his opinion. I caught him searching for disciples.

Jack (Quiet observer)


“The old grey owl sat on an oak.
The more he heard, the less he spoke.
The less he spoke, the more he heard.
Now, wasn’t he a wise old bird?”

Click here to hear a few words from Jack.

Peter the Younger


The well-read Peter knows an awful lot about many subjects, and in particular: geo-politics and U.S. shenanigans.  Click here to hear why Pete comes to Speakers’ Corner.


Howard is always polite and reasonable, yet despite that he fits in well at Speakers’ Corner. His contributions are appreciated by all. Click here to hear why he comes to Speakers’ Corner.

Mark the Grinner (occasional speaker)


Mark regularly gets a hearty laugh from the crowd with his meticulously crafted questions. Plus, his serious comments are  insightful. His companion, Sue, is less vocal, but she has no trouble speaking her mind when she has something to say. Click here to hear why Mark comes to Speakers’ Corner.

Ben the Whisperer

Although Ben is softly spoken, when he does speak, people listen. Click here to hear why he likes Speakers’ Corner.

Philip Feinstein

Philip occasionally speaks and is the founder of Music For Refugees. He also runs the Smokenders program, to help people give up smoking.


Click here to hear why Kieron likes Speakers’ Corner.


Jean 2

Jean tries so hard to be feisty, but she’s just a big softie. Click here to hear why she comes to Speakers’ Corner.
Her husband Albert is below. Both of them are excellent value at Speakers’ Corner.


Albert 3

Albert may be 92, but he is as alert as anyone, and fit. When he helps Mr B unload the chairs he carries six at a time.
Albert wrote an absorbing book titled, ‘Civilisation Hijacked’. It explains how good men are persuaded to do bad things.

If  you would like to buy a copy ($20) email Albert:
Albert is the husband of Jean.


News for Speakers’ Corner, Sunday 11th February

In News for Speakers' Corner on February 12, 2018 at 11:27 am

It’s Darwin Day today, Steve informs me.

“Farewell Australia! You are a rising child. And doubtless some day will reign a great princess in the South; but you are too great and ambitious for affection, yet not old enough to respect. I leave your shores without sorrow or regret.”
Charles Darwin , 1836 .

1. Happy birthday Arthur!  You don’t turn 95 every day.

2. Good news! Steve Maxwell has written another article for his “Passing Parade” series. It is about the intellectual hobos who invaded Chicago every Spring by freight train. The hobos  would form a Speakers’ Corner called ‘The Bughouse Square’, and months later they would jump back onto the freight trains and leave. Steve draws upon a Saul Bellows article to give us an idea of what some of those speakers were like in the 1930’s. Steve’s article is at the end of this post.

Steve Maxwell’s thirty-six episodes of “Passing Parade“and his book “The History of Soapbox Oratory“, plus his umpteen years of being a learned speaker, mean that Steve is the world authority on soapbox speaking. Steve knows more about soapbox speaking and Speakers’ Corners throughout the world than any other person, alive or dead. (Especially dead. They don’t know much at all.) Sydney’s Speakers’ Corner, and Sydney itself, are lucky to have Steve.

The information Steve has painstakingly collected will be appreciated by historians long after we are all gone.Thank you, Steve!

Here is another lookalike someone has sent us.


3. Mr Bashful pointed out that within his cloud of grasshoppers sit quality speakers. We have:
– Mark the Grinner, who is articulate, entertaining and earnest.
– Peter the Younger, who would make an exceptional speaker because his esoteric views are wide-ranging, original and carefully considered. He might get a smaller audience, but that audience would be loyal, motivated and intellectual. You wouldn’t get banality from Peter the Younger.
– Uncle Pete is an excellent speaker. Peter calls it how he sees it, and does so with insight, a sharp tongue, and with wit.
– Helmut’s popularity is soaring now that he is diversifying his topics and taking questions from his groundlings. Helmut is still a first class speaker with a savant-like knowledge and with something to say.

Mr B says that if all four men were to join old farts Mirko, Steve, Ray and Mr B, we would then have eight old farts and an exceptional Speakers’ Corner. We would have a Speakers’ Corner fit for the twenty-first century: one that’s free of bigotry and pretence. The trouble is, getting all eight speakers to persist with speaking to only a handful of people each, long enough for crowds to finally come, is asking too much. It’s a Catch 22 situation.

And what if we had youth? Where is Scott? Will Tommy return?

And what if we had women speakers? Wouldn’t that be refreshing!! We might even learn something.

The Queen, speaking in the Domain in 2012. Unfortunately she only lasted three meetings. She said she had other commitments.

4. Mark the Grinner stood on the Ladder of Knowledge and was scathing of the Fair Work Commission that recently outlawed a train drivers’ strike. He said the Commission looks after employer interests more than it does the interests of the employees. He added that we need a Fair Wage Commission instead.

Interestingly, there was a train driver in the audience who quietly told this scribe that he believed they were overpaid! They received $110,000 per annum, which was more than the job was worth.

Mark the Grinner had a man at the back muttering, “The guy’s mad”.

5. Mirko gave photosynthesis a rest today and instead talked about smartphones. Peter the Younger suggested that Mirko’s “smartphone” might need its lithium level checked.

From the Postsecret website:

6. If a person witnesses an animal being slaughtered or the gore of someone crushed, they may be traumatised. Yet, if someone witnesses slaughter or gore regularly (for example, they work in an abattoir or an intensive care unit) they can become innured to such sights and won’t suffer trauma or PTSD. In the same way, is it possible that our youth are too protected, and lack the opportunity to become innured against hardships such as bullying? As a result, they are anxious?

There was agreement and disagreement. Someone pointed out that paramedics do suffer PTSD. And Jacquie intrigued us all by telling us that at the age of four she was allowed to climb a tall tree. How many four-year olds would be allowed to do that today?

4 year-old Jacquie is hard to see at the top of this baobab.

7. Mr B had no intention of speaking about Barnaby Joyce’s affair. He figured it was none of his business. But his grasshoppers took control, pointing out that we should be talking about Barnaby’s affair, because of his hypocrisy.
(1) Barnaby opposed the free provision of Gardasil, a vaccine that would prevent the spread of the human pappiloma virus. According to Jenna Price’s article in the SMH, Barnaby was concerned about the voters’ fear of potential promiscuity!
(2) In the recent by-election, Barnaby allowed the media to take photographs of him with his family. So, he is quite happy to have his private matters in the media when it suits him.
(3) Barnaby took a “moral stand” about people’s sexuality when he opposed gay marriage.

8. Other subjects discussed:
– Mr B has never voted; he just votes ‘informal’. He says voting only supports the status quo, and he doesn’t want that on his conscience. Is he right?

– We learned from Uncle Pete why faeces smell.

– Up until only a few years ago, why did intelligent people on battleships and cruise ships think nothing of throwing their rubbish into the sea? Peter the Younger had the answer.

– We discussed the quote: “Every snowflake in an avalanche pleads not guilty.”

– Five months ago, Mr B wrote to the Customer Enquiries section of the NSW Police Force. He wanted to know how he could prepare to best help the police with their procedures if he were to die. He is still waiting for a reply.

– Do people like learning? Or do they like the consequent acquisition of knowledge, and that makes the unpleasant process of learning worthwhile?

– Helmut also talked about learning, and then spoke about the expanding universe and why it must be finite.

– Helmut talked about what will happen to the sun when it gets old. It will expand, he says.

9. Steve Maxwell’s Passing Parade.

Saul Bellow (1915-2005) is described as the man who breathed life into the American novel. He was determined to write at an early age and went on to win the 1976 Nobel Prize for literature. In his youth he studied anthropology and sociology at the Northwest University of Chicago. In winter he would study in the Newberry library’s reading room.

As the cruel winter lifted, hoboes from all over the USA would arrive in Chicago by railway freight cars. They survived on casual work and charity. Among them were soapbox orators. They would set up a speakers’ corner in Washington Square, opposite Newberry Library. This area became known as Bughouse Square.

Saul Bellow described the visitors as a collection of self-made intellectual bums or literary hoboes, who seemed vaguely anarchistic.

Saul wrote a short article, “A Sermon By Doctor Pep” which was published only once by Partisan Review, in 1949. It was Saul’s description of Bughouse Square. The article was probably written before 1939, when Saul Bellow was in his early 20’s.

I have a copy of the article, and I wrote to Saul in 1999. He kindly replied, saying that he had indeed written the article. It was, as he said, “not a piece of fiction. I don’t know what the devil it is!” This was the reason he never republished the work.

The article is written in the first person, as an imaginary monologist soapbox speaker. Saul incorporated all the possible political and religious ideas discussed by the speakers in the Square – not an easy project if you are trying to re-create the atmosphere of Speaker’s Corner on paper.

The article is available on the net, but you have to get your head around the way  Saul Bellow wrote that piece. In the article, Dr Julius Widig is in fact Dr. Ben L. Reitman, an American anarchist and physician to the poor. Dr Reitman was a popular soapbox speaker who married fellow anarchist Emma Goldman.

The monologist often makes references to health, because there were many medical showmen at the time; some were genuine, but most were quacks.

There are also a lot of Biblical references. Both Saul Bellow and Dr.  Reitman were from Jewish backgrounds and Americans understood Bible references.

And, the monologist cited Single-Tax speakers, who were advocates of Henry George’s economic ideas.

Other speakers also spoke in Bughouse Square, with their own ideas on politics and current affairs.

As the hot summer abated and the first chills of Autumn blew across Chicago, the hoboes once again would ‘jump the rattler’ to head south for the winter.

Saul told me, “Bughouse square died when the hobo intellectuals disappeared from the scene just before the outbreak of the World War II.”

Christy, Marian. “Bellow’s Pleasure in Imaginary States.” Boston Globe 15 Nov. 1989: 81-82.

Steve Maxwell

News for Speakers’ Corner, Sunday 4th February

In News for Speakers' Corner on February 5, 2018 at 9:23 am

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

Andre Gide

1. Although Speakers’ Corner
is a place for discussing controversial issues, some topics are simply out of bounds. Some things should never be said, by anyone. Today, Helmut crossed the line. He said things unspeakable. He said the game of soccer was a better game than Australian Rules football and Rugby League football. And he gave his reasons.

A Speakers’ Corner Committee will be formed to thrash out what needs to be done about this breach. This cannot happen again.

Meanwhile, here is a lookalike of the miscreant.

2. The fellow who erected this sign insists he is not mad, and claims he has a certificate to prove it.

Repent at Speakers’ Corner!

3. Mr B complained about how his grasshoppers “didn’t get it”, yet for half an hour he refused to explain what it was we weren’t getting. Talk about frustrating! Then, when he finally told us what we weren’t getting, he then accused us of still “not getting it”! Holy moly. Someone cruelly, but perceptively, suggested that perhaps Mr B wasn’t “getting it” at home.

So, what was it that we “didn’t get”, even though he has told us week after week? Answer: that nearly everything is make-believe, and we should be aware of that, and if our wacky make-beliefs disable us, we should drop them.

That’s what we had to put up with for one interminable hour.

Straight afterwards, Mark the grinner stood on the Ladder of Knowledge and in three brief minutes succinctly summarised Mr B’s point.

This meme says it in seconds.

4. Recently, Uncle Pete said our Speakers’ Corner is intellectual. Today, Steve Maxwell proved it:

5.  The Australian Muslim Times has an article, “At Speakers’ Corner We All have a Voice“, by Philip Feinstein. Thank you, Philip!

6. Up on the Ladder of Knowledge Mirko patiently explained to his enthralled listeners how photosynthesis creates water. Poor Uncle Pete, who has only 20th century science to draw upon, kept insisting Mirko was wrong. Yes, there are none so blind as those who will not see.

Trees making water with photosynthesis.

7. Governments and their departments should not simply issue requests, says Mr B, they should also give reasons. A simple example: instead of simply telling us to not feed the birds, the sign should also explain why we shouldn’t feed them.
The same goes for governmental decisions. Governments should explain in writing how they arrive at their decisions.

Another example: eight months ago Mr B wrote to both the Refugee Council and the Department of Immigration with six questions. He is still waiting for a reply. He says that if government departments took the time to answer questions from the public (form letters would suffice in most instances) then people might gain a greater understanding of a situation, and feel less frustrated and combatitive.

Cynics pooh-hooed the idea.

Which sign do you think is more likely to receive a compliant response?

8. Other subjects discussed:
– The two types of happiness, and how they evolved. For more about this see Mr B’s website.

– Many non-human primates have communicated well with researchers, but not one has asked a question! (Have the researches given them the opportunity?)

– We heard the ancient fable about an ageing Chinese emperor looking for a successor. Although the fable was well received by Mr B’s grasshoppers, Uncle Pete, still reeling from the intellectual drubbing he had received from Mirko, found a flaw in it.

– Mr B showed us how male human brains are different from female brains, and reminded us that the brain is our biggest sex organ. From there he tried to prove that we should judge a person’s sex not by their genitals, but by the structure of their brain. Peter the Younger explained why he was wrong.

– We looked at loneliness and compared the merit of nuclear families with close extended families. Which would enrich the soul more?

9. Sadly, our Facebook page is less popular than America’s Super Bowl.



























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