Soapbox Speakers

News for Speakers’ Corner, Sunday 26th February

In News for Speakers' Corner on February 27, 2017 at 11:01 am

“Time sneaks up on you like a windshield on a bug.”
John Lithgow.

1. Something was up! It was as though half the audience had drunk some mysterious liquid that turned them into blithering idiots. And Mr B, always careful to label things accurately, let them know it.

Mind you, one or two (or three . . .) of his grasshoppers put forth the suggestion that Mr B’s policies were themselves idiotic. This scribe will let you be the judge. Mr B advocated that we:
– raise the legal age a person can be sold cigarettes by one year, every year. For the next eighty years.
– In the same way, we can use the next eighty years to create an entire city (Sydney?) in which there is no gambling, alcohol or cigarettes.
– No one gets an aged pension until they run out of money.
– Free five-star nursing home accommodation for the geriatrics who have not given birth to a child, or sired one.
– Only those who are between the ages of 25 and 39 can vote.

Personally, I think Mr B is ahead of his time.

The last word went to one young girl who tentatively put up her hand to say something. The beneficent Mr B took pity on the poppet and let her speak. She told him off for swearing. (The lass was referring to Mr B’s frequent propensity to call his grasshoppers ‘blithering idiots’.) Taken aback, Mr B pointed out that over half the audience were blithering idiots today, and it was not his fault that they were, and that by informing them that they were blithering idiots he was performing a necessary public duty.

He also pointed out that he wasn’t insulting members of the audience, merely making candid observations.

The young girl seemed unconvinced.

Mr B finally compromised by promising to not call her a blithering idiot.

He’s a classy guy, that Mr B.

2. Steve is still crook with wonky eyes and is awaiting another operation. But he is improving.

Get well soon, Steve!

Steve has written another article for his Passing Parade segment, and it’s below. We really are fortunate to have Steve, not just for his boundless charm, but for his public speaking and for the historical records he provides. He is an invaluable asset to Speakers’ Corner. Thank you, Steve!

Again, get well soon!

3. Uncle Pete almost bowled Mr B over by responding intelligently to a question. Mr B had asked, “Who here can name one of the assertiveness tips from the past five weeks?” Mr B was expecting the usual drool from the corners of his grasshoppers’ mouths, but Uncle Pete answered promptly and correctly. Mr B nearly fell off his ladder. Uncle Pete should be more careful, pulling surprises like that.

Today’s assertiveness tip was a reminder that we are not obliged to answer all questions. If a friendly sales person asks, “How are you going?” we can ignore our past’s conditioning to be polite and instead just ask them what they require from us. That way, we avoid letting them manipulate us into having a friendly conversation and making ourselves more vulnerable. And wasting our time.

Person: “Hi, my name’s Randy. How are you today?”
You: “Good, thanks . . . “  Wrong.
You: “How can I help you?”  Correct. You’ve ignored their question and now you’re directing the conversation instead of letting them direct it. You don’t need to frown when you say it and you don’t need to smile. Just focus on what needs to happen. In this instance, they need to state their business clearly and promptly.
Person: ‘Do you ever feel that you pay too much for your internet connection?’
You repeat: ‘How can I help you?’  Good. You haven’t answered their question and you’re still focusing on what is to happen.
Or, you could at this point simply apply another assertiveness tip:

You: ‘I’m not interested, thank you.’
Either way, instead of allowing yourself to be corralled into their conversation, you’re taking charge, firmly but politely.

For more detail click here.

4. Today’s contributors to the poetry segment were Peter the Younger, Uncle Pete, Albert, Mr B and Mark the Grinner, who chose to read the declaration aboriginal Burnum Burnum made when he landed on the shores of England in 1988:

“I, Burnum Burnum, being a nobleman of ancient Australia do hereby take posession of England on behalf of the Aboriginal people. In claiming this colonial outpost, we wish no harm to you natives, but assure you that we are here to bring you good manners, refinement and an opportunity to make a Koompartoo – ‘a fresh start’. Henceforth, an Aboriginal face shall appear on your coins and stamps to signify our sovreignty over this domain. For the more advanced, we bring the complex language of the Pitjantjajara; we will teach you how to have a spiritual relationship with the Earth and show you how to get bush tucker.

We do not intend to souvenir, pickle and preserve the heads of your 2000 of your people, nor to publicly display the skeletal remains of your Royal Highness, as was done to our Queen Truganninni for 80 years. Neither do we intend to poison your water holes, lace your flour with strychnine or introduce you to highly toxic drugs. Based on our 50,000 year heritage, we acknowledge the need to preserve the Caucasian race as of interest to antiquity, although we may be inclined to conduct experiments by measuring the size of your skulls for levels of intelligence. We pledge not to sterilise your women, nor to separate your children from their families. We give an absolute undertaking that you shall not be placed onto the mentality of government handouts for the next five generations but you will enjoy the full benefits of Aboriginal equality. At the end of two hundred years, we will make a treaty to validate occupation by peaceful means and not by conquest.

Finally, we solemnly promise not to make a quarry of England and export your valuable minerals back to the old country Australia, and we vow never to destroy three-quarters of your trees, but to encourage Earth Repair Action to unite people, communities, religions and nations in a common, productive, peaceful purpose.”

It has been said that on the conclusion of his declaration, Burnam Burnam said: “It’s too cold here, I want to go home.”


5. Raconteur Mirko climbed up onto the Ladder of Knowledge and again entertained the crowd with his wit, charm and striking ideas. Mirko is fast becoming the man for all occasions. If you need an MC for your wedding, funeral, Bar Mitzvah . . . Mirko is the guy to hire. His clever blend of 21st century science mixed with good old fashioned story telling will make your special occasion something to remember.


6. A man suffering arthritis interrupted Mr B by asking for $5.30 for a prescription he needed filled. Tightwad Mr B showed neither compassion nor mercy, telling the man to go to the hospital across the way to get it filled for free. Mr Tightwad had no intention of giving the poor man a few dollars to buy himself a drink.

Fortunately, Peter the Younger jumped in with a big dose of compassion and gave the man $5. The man grinned from ear to ear. Well done, Peter!


Peter the Younger

7. Unseemly comparisons were made today. At one point the speaker likened his audience to a flock of squawking cockatoos, and later, Jack said the meeting attracted visitors in the same way a car accident attracts visitors.

Come to think of it, the meetings are a bit like a car accident.


The audience today.

8. ‘The Something Nice‘ segment, to charm some readers and irritate others.



9. Christian speaker Ray kindly stopped by to answer a question. He was asked, “The wise men in the Bible stopped by to give Joseph and Mary gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. How much gold did Joseph and Mary receive and on what did they spend it?”

Ray had no idea and correctly said it was a ridiculous question.

10. Last year Mr B made the astounding
prediction that the civilised world will unravel in five years time (2021) due to global warming. Today he made another ridiculous prediction: that Donald Trump is on his way to suffering a severe nervous breakdown.

Both Mr B and this scribe hope his predictions are wrong.

11. Other subjects discussed:
– Why is domestic violence so common?
– Is aggression learned or innate? Nature or Nurture? Or both?
– Should someone who is about to own a dog have to pass a knowledge-of-dogs test first?
– Why is the RSPCA to be disrespected?
– What does “Coles Free Range Eggs” really mean?
– What is it like for an airforce navigator to have his plane shot down over Germany, and to parachute unconscious while choking on his tongue?
– Why do teenagers act rashly?
– What makes a good boss?

We also spoke about the conflict between reason and emotion.


12. Even the two most recent Speakers’ Corner dogs, Smoky and Oi, got a mention today, though Uncle Pete felt the need to ask if they were Catholic. Go figure.

Here are two of the Speakers’ Corner dogs back in the mid nineteenth century, when the Domain was popular. The dogs’ names are unknown.


13. This scribe’s BigChat social media  site is not yet up and running, but as soon as we figure out what HTML is, and how to program, we’ll have a site to make Facebook laughingly obsolete. Meanwhile, you’ll have to settle for our Facebook page.

14. Now and then, Steve Maxwell, overall legend and historian, writes an article about the Speakers’ Corners of the world. You can find all his articles in Steve’s Passing Parade segment. Here is his latest article, and it’s about Melbourne’s Speakers’ Corner.

Steve Maxwell’s Passing Parade.

“The Atheist Call”, Queen’s Wharf, Melbourne’s Speakers’ Corner.

“Are there no savages in central Africa and if so, why do you not go to them instead of casting those doubtful pearls where no one wants them? Why don’t you go without purse, without weapons, without societies?”

 This was the challenge of Joseph Symes to evangelist Joseph Booth. It was to change the life of the evangelist. Booth was a willing participant in the Sunday evening debates at Queen’s Wharf, which was conveniently near Flinders Street Railway Station, Melbourne. It was a popular Speakers’ Corner in the 1890’s.
Booth and Symes had  radical views.  They had much in common, but not when it came to religion.  They admired each other, as they had come to their different world views in a similar way. They were locked into their separate efforts to win the hearts and minds of the Melbourne public.
Joseph Symes (1841-1906), was a secularist and publicist, born in England, into the Wesleyan faith of his parents. In 1871 he joined the Kilmarnock ministry in Scotland as a probationary cleric. It was during these years he married and began to question his faith. He questioned the mass slaughter of the Franco-Prussian war, the belief in God’s providence, and matters such as Papal infallibility. In July 1872 he refused ordination and resigned from the faith. Symes took an interest in the labour movement  and lectured at the Northern Union Mechanics’ Institute. In May 1876, he joined Bradlaugh’s National Secular Society.

Then, in the far-off  British colony of Victoria, Australia, the local Victorian  Secular Association asked Bradlaugh to send them an organiser. Bradlaugh sent Joseph Symes. Symes arrived in Melbourne with his wife on 1884. He began to publish a weekly newspaper, ‘Liberator’,  and provided his flock with secular meetings, sermons and Sunday schools. Symes fought against the parochial, wowserism of the times. The Lord’s Day Observance Society fought back and lobbied  the Victorian government to prosecute Symes and The Secular Association.  This harassment continued until the Association broke up in 1888. Backed by a faithful few, Symes struggled on with  the ‘Liberator’ and the Sunday meetings at Queens wharf.

In the colonial election of 1889, Symes ran for the parliamentary seat of  Collingwood and came last. This is not surprising considering his radical platform: land nationalisation, graduated income tax, the abolition of colonial titles and governorships, Sunday trading, legalised contraception, the ending of discrimination against Chinese, and Home Rule for Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Joseph Symes  retired in 1892 but continued to issue the Liberator until 1904. He died in 1906 while visiting England.

Joseph Booth (1851-1934) was born in Derby, England. His father was a Unitarian, but
by the age of fourteen, Booth questioned his father’s religious beliefs and, as he could not
live with those beliefs, left home. Over the next few years, Booth educated himself through extensive reading and, before he was twenty, turned to the Baptist Church.
He married in 1872 and in 1880. Booth emigrated to New Zealand and then to Melbourne, Australia, where he became a successful businessman. His business success helped develop his later views on self-reliance and the economic bases of missionary work. As he became more active in the Baptist Church, he became more fundamentalist in church teaching. However his view of capitalism was at odds with colonialism. He believed in a utopian a heaven on earth based on radical self-help.

Booth could not resist the excitement of public debating. He attended  the Sunday evening debates at Queen’s Wharf. The forerunner of the Melbourne’s Yarra Bank Speakers’ Corner. In 1891 he was challenged by the atheist Symes to practice what he preached, sell all his goods and go out to preach the word. Symes offered this challenge to Booth:
“Are there no savages in central Africa and if so, why do you  not go to them instead of casting those doubtful pearls where no one wants them? Why don’t you go without purse, without weapons, without societies?”
Booth called the Symes challenge at Queen’s Wharf  “The Atheist Call”. It changed Booth’s life. He had been thinking of becoming a missionary and wanted to put his ideas of self-help into practice. From 1886, Booth had become more active in his local Baptist Church and more fundamental in his beliefs. Booth sold his business in Melbourne and  agreed to become a missionary in East Africa. He left Australia in 1891 with his young family and started his missionary career, choosing to work in Africa. He aimed to set up the type of self-supporting Baptist mission pioneered by William Carey in India, combining teaching and commercial activities where the natives could become  self–supporting.  His short book, ‘Africa for the African’, published in America in 1897, sets forth many of his ideas.

His first attempt  in Nyasaland  met with opposition from the colonial authorities. In South Africa his plans were rejected. He was barred from central Africa in 1903. Yet he had many supporters who advocated an “Africa for Africans”. He moved to Basutoland where he could  work as an independent missionary. In 1915, one of Booth’s supporters, John Chilembwe, led an uprising in Nyasaland (Malawi.)  Booth came under suspicion and was deported from Basutoland to Britain. He was later permitted to return to South Africa, but when his health failed he went back to Britain and died there in 1934.

 Booth and Syme’s deaths passed unnoticed. Their contribution to radicalism in Australia and Africa has also passed almost unnoticed. What makes change can depend upon one’s meeting a challenge in the most unlikely places between the most unlikely people.

Steve Maxwell.

– Wikipedia; Joseph Booths (1851-1934) Missionary.
– Wikipedia; Josephs Syme ( 1841-1906 ) secularist.
– The Making of a Maverick Missionary: Joseph Booth in Australasia p 48
– Harry Longworthy, The Life of Joseph Booth .P23

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