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 18th February

In News for Speakers' Corner on February 19, 2018 at 12:07 pm

“Catholicism is Judaism for the philistines.”
Helmut Cerncic

1. A helpful sign from Steve Maxwell:

Welcome to Speakers’ Corner!

Steve, we also need translations for the term, ‘blithering idiot’.

2. The recent shooting of school children in Florida prompted a discussion about gun control. (There have been 18 shootings in school in the U.S. so far this year!) Were the FBI inept? Uncle Pete mentioned Senator Jim Molan’s brilliant idea of locking people up before they do anything, and Ben the Whisperer wanted to give our police more powers. Mark the Grinner, a U.S. citizen, took the Ladder of Knowledge to say a few words about America’s gun laws. He then recounted an alarming experience he had with the U.S. police when he was an unarmed fourteen year-old boy walking in a car park with his girlfriend.

3. During his talk, Mark the Grinner hurled a question at a woman: “Are you still at breeding age?”
  Oh dear.
Thankfully the woman remained unfazed.

Only at Speakers’ Corner.

4. Thank you to the person who sent in this lookalike of Peter the Younger.

5. When Muslim women wear the hijab some people claim it’s a form of oppression, while the Muslim women themselves say they simply choose to wear it. Mr B suggested that Muslim women may not have a choice; not because they’re forced to wear it, but because they are influenced by an overiding paradigm in the same way many women in the 1950s adopted the paradigm that being a housewife was the right thing to do. Just as he spoke those words a Muslim woman wearing a hijab walked by! She and her companion stopped to listen and they helpfully answered questions. They pointed out that everyone in society is influenced by paradigms. Further, to pressure women to not wear the hijab is in itself a form of oppression. She and her companion made a few good points and we were lucky to have them there at just the right time.

6. Mr B enjoys examining the nature of infinity.

Supposedly, there are an infinite number of points on a line. A ‘point’ cannot have length. If a point had length then an infinite number of them would result in a line being infinitely long. But then again, if a point doesn’t have length, an infinite number of them would mean the line had zero length. Either way, it doesn’t make sense.

Mr B set out to prove that points cannot exist. He produced two “planks”, one twice the length of the other. He centred them and cut them in half with scizzors. He was left wtih two shorter planks, one still twice the length of the other. He did the same thing again. Thankfully he didn’t do it an infinite number of times. He pointed out that an infinite number of cuts would result in one plank always being twice the length of the other. That meant that you could never end up with a point, only a length.

Smug, and with his experiment completed, he concluded that the word ‘infinity’ does not mean the highest number or the smallest division – it’s the acknowledgement that there is no highest number or smallest division. So when we say a line can be divided into an infinite number of lengths, or points, we are mistaken. It can’t be. Not even theoretically.

After he had concluded, a grasshopper threw a spanner in the works by pointing out that the smallest length possible is the Planck length, which is roughly equal to 1.6 x 1035 m, or about 1020 times the size of a proton. But of course, there is something smaller: the size of a main course in a 5 star restaurant.

7. Mr B again plugged his weekly claim: “It’s nearly all make-believe, folks!” He provided another paradigm to support his claim. (A paradigm, in his eyes, is a belief held by a society to be true, whether or not it is actually true. Such beliefs are mostly just make-believe, and they can be disabling.) Today’s paradigm: it’s good to be given fee goods.

He claimed that advertisements have taught us to believe that it’s good to get something for less than it’s worth, that we should claw our way to a better future without giving away too much of ourselves in the process.

He pointed out that bargain hunters feel a sense of achievement when they get something for less than it’s worth, even if it’s something they don’t want. They’re enamoured with items because the items are cheap. Yet bargain hunters are never replete, for how can they be replete when they are always open to receiving more?

He added that it’s a Santa Claus mentality, that we haven’t yet grown up. We are still looking to the world to fulfil us, still looking for Santa.

He said that if we were to stop seeing bargains and freebies as a good thing, we would begin to seek only what we need, and we would be happy to pay for it. That’s what happens when you’re not attached to the idea of getting something for less than it’s worth: you don’t mind earning it.

8. Speaking of ‘free’ . . . To attend Speakers’ Corner has been free for over 140 years. “Times have changed,” said Mr B today. “From now on, regulars and passers-by will be charged $250 each time they attend. No exceptions.”

Well, if Mr B is right when he says we shouldn’t want free stuff, that new charge seems only fair.

Anticipated queue of people lining up to pay.

9. We examined the Q & A televsion discussion on the #Metoo movement. Questions were asked:
– Why would a manager sack a female worker for complaining about a customer’s unwanted sexual advances, given that the manager would then have to go through the process of advertising for a new employee, interviewing the applicants, training the chosen applicant, and going through the rigmarole of having to put the new employee on the payroll? And with the danger of it all happening again?

– Wouldn’t it be easier and cheaper to simply ask the offending customer to leave?

– Why wouldn’t that manager do what most managers would do: support the staff and tell the customer to clear off?

– Is there a deeper reason why the employee was sacked?

– Why wouldn’t each and every person on the planet take full 100% responsibility for their own behaviour, instead of lamely hoping and expecting the other person to be polite?

– When will women (and men) start to realise that no matter how much the other person is in the wrong, that possessing assertiveness skills is still an invaluable set of skills to have and apply?

10. Other subjects discussed:
– Steve Maxwell talked about the deconstruction of sport.

– Mr B discussed an effective sales technique called “the decoy effect”. A restaurant manager might have on their wine list a bottle of wine for $20 and a bottle for $45. Most people would buy the $20 bottle. When the manager adds to that wine list a $90 bottle, then most people buy the $45 bottle, figuring that they’re saving money. The decoy effect is used nearly everywhere, claimed Mr B.

– Mr B asked his grasshoppers about the National Broadband Network. He became more informed and even more pessimistic.

– An unexploded bomb from World War II was found in the Thames this week near the airport. Mr B railed against the bureacracy that went into panic mode, as though the damned thing was about to explode any minute. Rather than wait a week before trying to move the bomb, and give the airlines a week’s notice to make other arrangements for their passengers, the bureacracy insisted that the bomb be dealt with immediately, and disrupted 16,000 passengers as a result.
As you would expect, Mr B’s grasshoppers set him straight.

– Should Lake Mungo Man be returned to the sand in Lake Mungo, or reside in a shrine in the care of indigenous elders? The indigenous people have differing opinions, and so too did our grasshoppers.
And, where is Mungo Man’s missus, Lake Mungo Lady?

– If Japan had successfully invaded Australia in 1945 and killed off most of us, how would the remaining few survivors feel after a few decades? Resentful? Angry? Would they want to “move on” and adopt the Japanese way? Would they want their children to be educated by Japanese teachers? Questions like these were posed to give us into an idea of what many Aborigines might feel today.

– The amazing Matabele ant It is the first insect we know of that renders first aid to fellow injured ants.

– Even old Country & Western musician Chad Morgan got a mention.

11. Melbourne has its Speakers’ Corner, called ‘Speakers’ Forum’. It’s held on one Sunday of every month, opposite the State Library. In the latest of Steve Maxwell’s well researched articles for his “Passing Parade” series, Steve talks about its history. But first, here is a taste of what it was like on the Yarra’s bank in 1966:

Steve Maxwell’s Passing Parade.

The Yarra Bank

Before 1889, public meetings in Melbourne were held in a number of unsuccessful locations. Then in that year, parliamentarian Dr William Maloney campaigned successfully to have a place set aside for the purpose of “holding public meetings and discussing questions – religious, educational and others.” The place set aside was in the South-Eastern corner of Birrarung Marr (marsh) between the Jolimont Rail Yards and the Yarra River. (A monument to Speaker’s Corner is now there.)

The gold rush made Melbourne the richest city in Australia. Yet, by the 1890’s, working conditions in the city had not improved. The Yarra’s bank became a hotbed of radical unionism and politics, from both communists and fascists.

By the late 1970’s, the “Yarra bankers”, as speakers in Melbourne were called, found dwindling audiences because of television, Sunday sports events and Sunday trading.

In November 1986, prominent Yarra bankers Geoff Forster and David Miller asked the Melbourne City Council for permission to begin a Speakers’ Corner in the City Square on Sunday afternoons. This was granted. Other speakers joined, but never more than four or five.  

In the 1990’s, the City of Melbourne planned a major renovation of City Square. Again, the Speakers’ Corner looked like it would have nowhere to go. The speakers asked if they could carry on the tradition on the State Library lawns. This idea was freely endorsed and the Speakers’ Corner moved to there, where it remains today.

The move has come at a cost, because few people since have taken up the tradition of outdoor speaking, even though they can use a megaphone. Both Geoff Forster and David Miller have retired. Only Gospel singer Rosalie Tremaine holds on, and only once a month. 

It looks like it will be the end of era, unless of course someone gets on a soapbox on the State Library lawns, and speaks.

Location: State Library Lawns of Victoria
Corner Swanston St and Latrobe Street,  Melbourne  3001

Speakers Forum | Soapbox Oratory:

Yarra Bank (Speakers’ Forum)

Yarra Bank and Yarra Bankers:

12. Check out our Facebook page.



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

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