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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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.

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’.
  Among other things, Mr Bashful talks about New Age scams,  happiness myths, and why we should burn the Mona Lisa. He has presented an Ockham’s Razor talk on Radio National.
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 13th May

In News for Speakers' Corner on May 14, 2018 at 9:52 am

“Tell me and I forget; show me and I remember; involve me and I understand.”

1. Your scribe turned up today, as did Mr B. It was a wet and miserable.

Before the meeting was even under way Helmut, Greg and Mr B privately compared catheter stories. Mr B’s story paled in comparison to the other two stories, so he should shut up from now on.

Only a handful of regulars were there to hear the first speaker, Helmut. And, only seven chairs were provided. But they were enough, because it soon began to rain.  Those hardy souls simply relocated to under a fig tree.

Steve Maxwell remained too, but Ray cleared off. It seems God had given him the afternoon off by making it rain. Your scribe had had enough, and left.

2. Occasional visitor and permanent troublemaker Gary Stevens has sent in this photograph of a toy. He claims it looks a lot like Mr Bashful standing on his soapbox.

Mr Stevens is being grossly disrespectful. The toy looks nothing like Mr B. However, in the interests of democracy I present this photograph to you all. Poor Mr B.

This does not look like Mr Bashful.

3. If the above comparison is not disgraceful enough, Mark the Grinner has compounded the crime. He sent Mr B the disturbing meme below, knowing that Mr B has had recent surgery.

Mark the Grinner tried to pretend that it was his companion Sue who sent it in. We all know Sue wouldn’t do that.

The meme has discombobulated poor Mr B. His doctors estimate that it has set back his recovery by at least a fortnight. This is outrageous. Mark the Grinner needs to take a long hard look at himself.

4. Mr Bashful felt the need to send this to all nurses. At least it’s sensible, unlike the rubbish above.

5. If you would rather read these posts on Facebook from now on, you can.

Blue footed booby






News for Speakers’ Corner, Sunday 6th May

In News for Speakers' Corner on May 7, 2018 at 8:45 am

“Only two things can spook a horse. Anything that moves, and anything that doesn’t.”

1. Unfortunately, your poor scribe has been unable to attend the meetings lately or report upon them. I have had to leave my home at short notice, which is a shame because the constabularly have some questions to ask me about how I tried to save the three kittens from the burning building (previous post). I always like to assist our police force but for the moment I can’t.

I’m writing this in the Community Centre of a small country town.

In another unrelated matter, I have a children’s toy Easter Egg for sale. It is a bit like a large Kinder Surprise but without the chocolate. This gaudy bit of kitch is yours for just $20.


2.  Mr B informs me that his operation to have his wisdom teeth put back in has been so successful he now wants to have an appendix transplanted into him. He knows something is missing in his life, and he figures it must be his appendix. It was removed when he was ten.

He won’t be well enough to be at Speakers’ Corner this coming Sunday 13th.


3. Years ago, speaker Charlie King spoke under the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ but he wasn’t the first to speak under a special tree. Soapbox orator Steve Maxwell has written an article about how, throughout the ages, trees have been a focul point for meeting groups.

The Trees of Knowledge
by Stephen Maxwell.

Trees are wonderful lifeforms. It is no accident that they play an important part in human culture.  The Old English word for a gathering place is “tryst” meaning “time and place”. Trees that have had a tradition as meeting places are called “trysting trees’’.

Trees chosen as trysting trees were usually in a prominent place or had unusual properties, such as a large size, or with lighter and smoother bark. Or the tree stood on its own at the side of a road or in a forest clearing, or near a water source.

In ancient times, food bearing trees were a source of food, shelter material and even natural medicines. Under the shading trees a tradition of learning and sharing took place.

Some trees become so highly regarded that they were worshipped.

Plato’s academy stood outside the walls of Athens beside a grove of olive trees dedicated to the Goddess Athena. The Roman, Sulla, destroyed the olive grove in 86 BC. In spite of the ravages of time, the area remained active long enough to influence the Arabic revival of Baghdad in the 8th century. That revival was the forerunner of The Renaissance and the beginning of the modern age.

Before the invention of mass media, village people would gather to hear news and talk politics around a common prominent landmark, such as a large tree. In some places, such trees had religious (and in others, political) significance.  In this short article, I explore the history of significant trees relating to Speakers’ Corners.

At the site of Marble Arch in Hyde Park, London, stood The Tyburn Tree – which was never a tree but a hanging machine (a type of gallows) where eight prisoners could be dispatched at once. Not a tree at all! Public executions were popular spectacles. If a prisoner was favoured, they could give a last speech before being hanged. But there was another reason why people would gather there and that was to collect clean water from the Tyburn Brook or from the River Tyburn flowing through Regents Park under Buckingham Palace. The river was once reputed to have some of London’s best salmon fishing.

Most Speakers’ Corners developed under a Tree of Knowledge.

Famous Trees of Knowledge in History.

The Bodhi Tree (in Bodh Gaya, India) 
According to sacred texts, the founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama, attained enlightenment (“bodhi”) after sitting and meditating for seven days under a fig tree in an Indian village. The sacred Bodhi Tree at the Mahabodhi Temple is touted as a descendant of the original specimen under which the Buddha sat. Offshoots across the world are said to have been propagated from the original, such as the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi in Sri Lanka, which was planted in the 3rd century BC.

The City of Darwin
Darwin’s Tree of Knowledge is an ancient Banyan located behind the civic centre on Harry Chan Ave. The tree looks like a Bodhi Tree. This native Australian  tree has the same genus but is a different species to the Bodhi Tree under which the Buddhists ‘Gautama’ received enlightenment while sitting beneath a bodhi in faraway India.

The local aboriginal people ‘the Larakia’, the Europeans and Chinese have an affinity for this remarkable tree. For the Larakia, is it the because it is the last remnant of the rainforest that once covered the area. For the European pioneers it was a mailing address conveniently opposite the local hotel. For the Chinese it was a meeting place where friends met and talked. The tree is heritage listed and has survived cyclones, bombing in WW2, and land development.

The Tree of Knowledge at Barcaldine, Queensland, Australia
Barcaldine is a small town in Central West Queensland. It played a major role in the Australian labour movement.

In 1891, Barcaldine’s Tree of Knowledge was a ghost gum over 200 years old. it was one of the focal points of the shearers’ strike held by Queensland shearers. Due to the severity of the 1890 depression, wool prices tumbled. Sheep station owners tried to cut wages and import foreign workers  at a time when unions were becoming strong enough to strike for an 8-hour day and better working conditions.

Striking shearers regularly met under the Tree of Knowledge. They raised the Eureka Flag and pledged to fight the bosses. The shearers were not alone: the maritime workers’ unions supported them with strike action.  It was a bitter struggle at the brink of war. However, at the same time a major cyclone devastated Queensland and routed both the well-armed Queensland army and the armed shearers. When the weather passed, so had the possibility of revolution. Many of the strikers were jailed. Unions realised that they had to get parliamentary representation to counter the excesses of the system. They formed the Australian Labour Party.
  One year after the strike, union leaders gathered under the Tree of Knowledge and elected the first labour representative to stand for parliament.

Local members of the Barcaldine Historical Society say that around the years of 1935-1943, prior to WWII, people would stand on crates in the main street of Barcaldine’s Oak Street between the Shakespeare Hotel and the Commercial Hotel.  Up to 200 people would attend the political meetings and rallies.

Apparently it was not the same after the war. In the 1950’s a faction within the Labor Party broke away from the ALP and formed  the DLP (Democratic Labour Party). The DLP would meet on the corner of Box and Yew Street. They held meetings from the back of a truck. The new party would often get a hostile reaction. The DLP disbanded in the 1970’s.

The Barcaldine Tree of Knowledge was proclaimed a tree of historical significance.

In the 1990s’ the ghost gum was saved by a dedicated team of tree surgeons, headed by John Cheadle. However in 2006, the tree was deliberately poisoned with herbicide. It killed the tree.  In place of the tree a plaque now commemorates the loyalty, courage, and sacrifice in 1891 of the stalwart men and women of the west from whom, beneath this tree, emerged Australia’s labour and political movement.

Townsville, Queensland.
During the Federal Election in 1998, Townsville Council erected a speaker’s platform and named it “SpeakersStone”. They placed it near the Flinders Street Mall, in honour of a long forgotten “Tree of Knowledge”.
  Patrick Coleman, an advocate of freedom of speech, revived the tradition of Speakers’ Corner in the mall were the tree once lived.

For more information about:
Patrick Coleman:
the Druid garden:

The Liberty Tree (Boston, Massachusetts)

On 14th August 1765, a defiant group of American colonists ‘The Sons of Liberty’ rallied beneath the mighty boughs of a century-old elm tree to protest the enactment of the highly unpopular Stamp Act. The young rebels decorated the tree with banners, lanterns and effigies of the British Prime Minister. Over the next decade, patriots regularly gathered around the tree for meetings, speeches and celebrations until British soldiers and Loyalists in Boston chopped it into firewood during the summer of 1775. The Liberty Tree became such a powerful patriotic symbol that towns throughout the colonies followed Boston’s lead in designating their own versions of a Liberty Tree.

More on The Boston Common, one of the first Speakers’ Corners in America.


Emancipation Oak (Hampton, Virginia)
In the fall of 1861, the children of former slaves who had escaped to the refuge of Union-held Fort Monroe gathered underneath the sprawling canopy of a southern oak tree to listen to African-American Mary Smith Peake as she taught them how to read and write. Previously, slaves had been forbidden an education under Virginia law. Underneath the same oak tree, now on the grounds of Hampton University, African-Americans congregated in 1863 to listen to the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in the South, issued by President Abraham Lincoln.

The emancipation oak at Hampton University


The Kalayaan Tree (The Tree of Freedom)
This Siar tree is  located near the front of the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception in Malolos, the Philippines.
The tree was planted by Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo during a lull in the Malolos Convention. That convention lead to the first  Philippine Republic which was established after the Philippine Revolution against the Spanish Empire (1896-1897).

Directly under the tree is a monument symbolising the meeting of Filipino revolutionaries, represented by statues of Gregorio del Pilar and Gen. Isidoro Torres; Don Pablo Tecson, a legislator; Padre Mariano Sevilla, a nationalist leader of the church and Doña Basilia Tantoco, a woman freedom fighter.

The Kalayaan Tree in the Philippines.


Tolpuddle Martyrs- the pioneers of the Trade Union movement.
The Tolpuddle Martyrs were six 19th century agricultural labourers living in the Dorset village of Tolpuddle (on the River Piddle eight miles East of Dorchester, the county town, and 12 miles west of Poole. The estimated population in 2013 was 420.)

Folklore said that in 1834, local agricultural labourers were barred from meeting in church halls and other indoor spaces. The six men swore a secret oath and formed a secret union called ‘The Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers’. They met regularly under the village sycamore tree’s spreading branches discussing their long hours and small wages.
  When they formed the union they knew it would be outlawed. That made them pioneers of the Trade Union movement. In 1834 they were arrested and convicted for swearing a secret oath as members of a union. On 18th March of that year the Tolpuddle Martyrs were sentenced to penal transportation to Australia.

  The 300-year-old tree is still growing in the village and  is regarded as the birthplace of that first Trade Union movement. The village also hosts an annual festival, ‘The Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival’ and a rally in July.

The Martyrs tree


The Federation University Australia
Known at the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ or ‘Big Tree’ is a Tasmanian Blue Gum. It was chosen as the central focus of the Mt Helen Campus University of Ballarat, Victoria, Australia. When the site was purchased in 1966 the architects and planners inspected the site and decided the ‘Big tree’ must remain as a central landmark in the layout of the Campus amenities. The tree is on the National Trust of Australia’s (Vic) Register of Significant Trees (number T11430).

Federation University Australia was formed when the former University of Ballarat and the Gippsland Campus of Monash University were amalgamated.…/tree-of-knowledge

The Tree of Knowledge in Ballarat

Rockhampton, Mount Morgan, Queensland.
On Friday, February 18, 2011 Rockhampton’s iconic Tree of Knowledge came crashing down in Morgan St, taking an electrical service line with it. Until then, the fig tree had offered a leafy and favourite resting place for many generations, since being planted in 1920.

  Council staff removed the tree. The tree had a fungal disease that had decayed the tree’s root system.
  Established in 1858, Rockhampton is one of the oldest cities in Queensland. It was nicknamed the “City of the Three S’s”: Sin, Sweat, and Sorrow”
  A mixture of cattle ranching, Chinese gold digging, sailors’ migration from England, South Sea Island Aborigines, and a publican ensured that Rockhampton had a rip-roaring history as it soon became the second largest port in the state.

Rockhampton’s Racecourse Riot By Carol Gistitin Paper … – Library

Crocodile Creek – Central Queensland Family History Association Inc…/crocodile-creek

“TREE OF KNOWLEDGE FALLS.” MOUNT MORHGON ARGUS,’ 9th march 2011 Rockhampton Qld.


Steve Maxwell. 12-4-18.




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