Soapbox Speakers

Archive for March, 2019|Monthly archive page

News for Speakers’ Corner, Sunday 24th March.

In News for Speakers' Corner on March 25, 2019 at 10:52 am

“It is because Nature is ruthless, hideous and cruel beyond belief that it was necessary to invent civilisation.”  John Wyndham.

1. Mirko was up and about, and fiery. Angrily he insisted we “speak logic”, and he jumped on anyone who did not comply with that demand, which was nearly everyone. Mirko does indeed run a tight ship. It’s just a shame that ship is lost at sea.

Rob Gonsalves

2. A woman called Jo helps runs storytellers NSW and this morning their group had a special session  in the Botanic Gardens to celebrate World Storytelling Day. Your inquisitive scribe  was there to listen and he enjoyed the event, even though the stories were for kiddies. The tellers have an appealing way of telling stories.

Jo accepted an invitation from Mr B to join us at Speakers’ Corner afterwards, and she kindly agreed to stand on the Ladder of Knowledge and tell us a story for adults. (No, not that type of adult story. Get your mind out of the gutter.) The story was about a man seeking good luck. Jo’s gestures, facial expressions and vocal variety made this scribe realise just how much a story can be enhanced with a little effort.

Thank you, Jo!

Unfortunately, Mr B learnt nothing from Jo. Straight after witnessing the good example Jo set, Mr B was bellowing at his grasshoppers in a less than savoury manner. Pretty soon it was a free-for-all. The talented, colourfully dressed, pleasant-natured Jo, who only an hour earlier had been entertaining young kiddies with delightful stories, now sat surrounded by insults and buffoonery. It was like having Bambi sit midst a pack of rabid hyenas.

In other words, we disgraced ourselves.

Jo, from Storytellers NSW.

3. “When the stone-age people were hunting dinosaurs . . .” So said Mr B before he was promptly interrupted by Uncle Pete, and others, telling him that humans never co-existed with the dinosaurs.

The thing is, a year ago Mr B stood on the Ladder of Knowledge and said birds had evolved from dinosaurs but were not actually dinosaurs. “After all,” he explained, “the word ‘dinosaur’ means ‘terrible lizard’, and the superb blue wren is neither terrible, nor is it a lizard. To call a blue wren a dinosaur is absurd.

That sound reasoning didn’t wash with his grasshoppers, who said he had no idea what he was talking about and that birds are indeed dinosaurs. During that week he checked, and found that the “experts” do say birds are dinosaurs. So, when Sunday came around the honorable Mr B did the right and noble thing and humbly admitted he was wrong. He couldn’t argue with the experts, he said.

Privately he thought, “Piffle. Birds are not dinosaurs.”

That was a year ago. Since then Mr B has “gone along” with that “revelation” and occasionally thrown in statements like, “When the stone-age people were hunting dinosaurs . . .” just so that he can be “corrected”. Today when his grasshoppers jumped in to tell him humans and dinosaurs did not coexist he pointed out that on the contrary, we have hunted dinosaurs. That’s why the dodo and the Moa became extinct. We eat millions of dinosaurs every day. They’re called ‘chickens’.

His grasshoppers get sucked in every time.

Today his grasshoppers again took umbrage and said it was a poor use of the word ‘dinosaur’. But given that ‘birds are dinosaurs’ they don’t have a hollow leg to stand on.

He will suck them in again.

A superb blue wren, with some kale in the background.

4. Does Mr B understand the process of natural selection? Or is the problem his propensity to apply it to behaviours? Should he apply the process to behaviours when there is no evidence (and can’t be any) to prove that is justified? Uncle Pete says ‘no’ and Mr B says ‘I do, I can and I will’.

5. What was life really like in ‘the good old days’? Mr B based his observations on the many examples given in Richard Glover’s book, ‘The Land of the Avocado’.

After a while the question became, “Are young people more resilient than the kids of yesteryear?’ Mr B said ‘yes’ while others said ‘no’. Mr B felt the need to distinguish between ‘stoicism’ and ‘resilience’ and he pointed out how many old people are walking around ‘wounded’. But was he right?


6. When people say they want to limit immigration are they unfairly being called racist? The Australian Bureau of Statistics found from the 2016 census that Australia has a higher proportion of overseas-born people (26%) than the United States (14%), Canada (22%), New Zealand (23%) and the UK (13%). In the major cities it’s nearly 50%. Further, 49% of our entire population has been born overseas or had at least one parent born overseas.
So, if someone asks for a limit on immigration, are they really being racist? Especially if their objection applies to all human beings equally? Should we be asking that? Should we be aiming to reduce our population for environmental reasons?
But then, Mr B’s figure of 26% is compared with only four of 200+ nations. Is he cherry-picking?
And, perhaps a better way to determine whether a person is racist is to ask them if they want to limit immigration from particular regions.
But then, Peter the Younger pointed out that it’s not race many people object to, it’s cultural practices and cultural values.
It’s a discussion that will receive more exploration in the coming weeks.

7. Other subjects discussed:
– Mr B’s life hack (helpful tip) for this week: don’t pee in the shower. The explanation as to why was unpleasant enough, but Mirko took that unpleasantness to a whole new level. We had to change the subject, pronto.

– Mr B read a poem he thought was funny, but at its conclusion all we heard were the crickets. Not one person even smiled. (The poem was about a ne’er-do-well going to heaven and stealing St Peter’s pearly gates.)

– Why didn’t the Aborigines domesticate pigs in the 60,000 years of their occupation, like the Papuans did? Possible reasons were given.

– Helmut gave his thoughts on private schools and public schools. At first he seemed scathing of the public school system but by the end of his entertaining talk he was saying we should abolish the private school system. Go figure.

– Mr B and his grasshoppers attempted to answer a passer-by’s question, “Do deaf people talk to themselves?”

8. In our Unusual Creature Series we present to you the maned wolf of South America. It sniffed our Facebook Page.





News for Speakers’ Corner, Sunday 17th March

In News for Speakers' Corner on March 18, 2019 at 7:36 am

“Age does not give wisdom, it gives perspective.”
Robert Heinlen.

1. The special event was cancelled, not because Mirko’s aliens interfered, but because of the heavy rain that fell for much of the day.

Poor Tim, the organiser, put a lot of work into organising the twelve speakers, the film and sound crew, and the publicity. He deserved better. We at Speakers’ Corner send our condolences and hope he attempts many more ventures, and that all of them meet with astonishing success.

2. Have you ever wondered how Melbourne’s version of Speakers’ Corner is going? Steve Maxwell received a communication from someone called Rob Parker who lives in the southern hamlet. Rob has taken an interest in their Speakers’ Corner’ since 1960. (Your mathematical scribe suspects he is on the wrong side of 40.) Rob writes (slightly edited):

“It used to be on the Yarra River Bank. The mounds are still there, and it’s historically classified. In the early 1960s, 3,000 people would turn up, including Arthur Caldwell , MP.

However , for the past 20 years it has been in front of the library steps on Swanston Street. Over the past 12 months it has dwindled to non-existence. There has been a huge change in Melbourne because of crime and students here on study visas (100,000 a year). Maybe their past oppression makes them not want to accept freedom of speech, because they abuse the speakers with bad language.

Today, even the police struggle to accept the speaking. I had to intervene to tell them that this is history. 

Probably the greatest public speaker I’ve seen is Rhonda. In 1963 Rhonda (then Ron) spoke with fire and brimstone. So much so he was carted to the Yarra River and thrown in by hecklers. Ron had blonde hair then, and would speak at night on the corner of Bourke And Russell Street. On a soap box.

Rhonda hadn’t been speaking for a year, but now she’s back. I believe that a couple of speakers are heading up to your way , next month.

Best regards.
Rob Parker. 

There you have it!

And who will be visiting us next month? Rosalie and Rhonda, perhaps? Head for the hills!




3. In this week’s Unusual Critter Series we present to you one of the most unusual critters of all: Steve Maxwell. Here is the first of three articles Steve is writing for his absorbing Passing Parade series. The theme of all three articles is: THREE MEN WHO TYPIFY A GENERATION ON THE DOMAIN.

JACK BRADSHAW. (1840-1930)

Jack Bradshaw, self-styled “last of the bushrangers”, pamphleteer and regular speaker on Sundays in the Domain, was born in Dublin on May 9, 1840. He emigrated alone to Australia at the age of 14. Landing in Melbourne, Jack found jobs scarce. In desperation he left for the bush. By the time he reached the age of 20 he had travelled over most of Victoria, NSW and Queensland – working at odd jobs as best he could. During his wandering the young Bradshaw became fascinated by stories told over the campfire: stories of easy money and adventures of a life of crime. Romantic images inspired him to seek the company of bushrangers and petty criminals.

His romantic view of bushranging got the better of him. He believed that he and his new partner in crime, “Beautiful Davies”, a Sydney larrikin, could plan and carry out a bank hold up. Their first hold-up was a debacle. It turned out that the Bank manager’s wife was in labour. The irate midwife gave them such a tongue lashing that they left in a hurry! Next time, they successfully held up the bank at Quirindi in NSW on May 1880. Both men made a clean getaway, and divided the loot of  2,000 pounds. ( $100,000 ) Their plan was to split up for good and lie low. Bradshaw settled down as a respectable citizen and even married a squatter’s daughter in Armidale. However, Beautiful Davies rushed off to Sydney on a spending spree. It was not long before police arrested Davies and Bradshaw. They both received 12 years gaol sentences. Bradshaw was released in 1892. However, he was arrested for stealing registered mail and gaoled for a further 8 years.

Released in 1900, he found himself, age 50, unable to work because of his criminal past and too well known by police to lead a life of crime. He began to write down his misadventures, in a series of cheap editions. He then lectured and sold his books all over Sydney. Naturally he loved the Domain, where he would mount his ladder and lecture to the crowd. The people loved to hear his imaginative stories of bushrangers and reminiscences of a romantic past.

Bradshaw reminded the people that they had a past worth remembering. He always depicted himself as a bungler, which he wasn’t, to make his stories more acceptable to the public. The people wanted to hear and read about their past. At the time, hardly any Australian History was taught in school, and few books dealing with Australians were published. Jack Bradshaw was a reformed man and never committed another crime again.

He had found a way to make an honest living. He died, age 90, in St Vincent’s Hospital, Darlinghurst, just across the road from the gaol where he had served his twenty years’ sentence.

Steve Maxwell. 2019.


News for Speakers’ Corner, Sunday 10th March

In News for Speakers' Corner on March 11, 2019 at 10:28 am

“. . . Coca-Cola, Amazon, Baidu and the government are all racing to hack you. Not your smartphone, not your computer, and not your bank account – they are in a race to hack you and your organic operating system. You might have heard that we are living in the era of hacking computers, but that’s hardly half the truth. In fact, we are living in the era of hacking humans.
  The algorithms are watching you right now. They are watching where you go, what you buy, who you meet. Soon they will monitor all your steps, all your breaths, all your heartbeats. They are relying on Big Data and machine learning to get to know you better and better. And once these algorithms know you better than you know yourself, they could control and manipulate you, and you won’t be able to do much about it. You will live in the matrix.  . . if the algorithms indeed understand what’s happening within you better than you understand it, authority will shift to them.
  When Coca-Cola, Baidu, Amazon and the government knows how to pull the strings of your heart and press the buttons of your brain, could you still tell the difference between your self and their marketing experts?”
Yuval Noah Harari in his book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

1. Next Sunday (March 17th) will be special. Yes, it’s normally special because Mr Bashful speaks, but on Sunday, in preparation for the upcoming NSW State election, twelve representatives from twelve minor parties will be speaking, one after the other. Two of the parties represented will be The Shooters and Fishers Party and the Animal Justice Party.

Both Left and Right will be represented. And hopefully, the Middle.

Come along and enjoy the fun. Bring a question with you.

2. Someone playing the bagpipes approached Steve Maxwell (who was talking about the upcoming election) and kindly gave him a musical accompaniment. Steve appreciated it, but the fellow didn’t stay long.

This scribe will spare you the bagpipe jokes. Call that ‘State of the Art blogging’, folks. Any other writer would jump at the chance to use a bagpipe joke.

Besides, Bon Scott made this scribe appreciate the bagpipes.

3. Another fundraiser was kicked off today. Mr B wants a tailor-made stepladder. It needs to be at least six metres wide and he estimates that to have it made will cost nearly $2,000. He explained that he feels too constricted on the current Ladder of Knowledge. He needs to be able to strut back and forth like Benito Mussolini.

Your thoughtful scribe agrees. It’s a good idea. Please give generously.

Meanwhile, Mr B will use a bigger ladder, like this fellow below.

A Ukranian soapbox orator dealing with troublesome hecklers.

4. Why didn’t the Australian Aborigines use bows and arrows? Mr B gave seven possible reasons, despite earnest assistance from Peter the Younger.

5. Mr B has been changing the lives of his grasshoppers in a robust and meaningful way for six years, and figures it’s time they began to return the favour and help him out a little. He hoped they would answer a few questions he has been pondering. (Yes, high expectations, but to his credit the benevolent Mr B can see possibilities in his grasshoppers where few others can.)

He asked three questions today and will be asking more over the coming weeks. His thirst for knowledge is unquenchable.

Unfortunately, but as you would expect, his poor benighted grasshoppers had trouble even understanding some of his questions.

Here they are:

1. Mr B wanted to know, “If confident people find it easier to attract partners (and thus find it easier to pass on their genes) why haven’t we evolved to be more confident when meeting a potential partner? Why do so many of us become shy when we meet someone we are attracted to, when a confident approach would more likely be successful?”
His grasshoppers helped him out to a tiny degree.

2. “Air and water are ubiquitous and we need them daily, in large quantities. Sunlight is also ubiquitous for at least 12 hours. Why didn’t we evolve to need it in larger quantities? Why do we need only 10 minutes of sunlight a day? (We need 10 minutes to help our body produce Vitamin D if it’s not in our food.)
This is the question his poor grasshoppers had trouble understanding, so you can imagine just how bizarre their pitiful attempts to answer his question were. I guess it’s questions like this one that win great minds the Nobel Prize.

3. The humble Mr B also wanted to know, “What’s the thing about Julie Bishop and her red shoes?” One grasshopper said it was the outrageous price Julie had paid for them; another suggested Julie wore them to acknowledge that she had been in a fantasy land, like Dorothy.
Mr B told me privately he is not convinced of either explanation, but if the second explanation is correct, that would explain why so many politicians wear brown shoes.

6. Other topics discussed:
– Mark the Grinner explained why it was foolish of the Australian governments to sacrifice some of our manufacturers in favour of weapons manufacture.

–  Mark the Grinner also had a few words to say about the upcoming elections. He begged us to believe everything the politicians tell us. He gave that advice a few times, just in case we missed it. Had sarcasm been a liquid we would have drowned.

– A passer-by asked Mr B’s thoughts on the modernisation of Sydney, and Mr B had a few choice words to say about that.

– Ray looked dashing today as he attempted to save a few souls.

– Mirko said something today that one grasshopper thought was insightful and accurate. Your scribe hadn’t been listening, and nearly fell over when he heard that. It was like I had had a nap and woken up to find I had missed seeing Halley’s Comet.

– The topic of epigenetics came up. Mr B put forth the Dutch Famine example.

If you smoke and lose your feet, your daughter will be born without feet, and her daughter will also be born without feet. That’s epigenetics.

7. This week we present to you the Takin, or Gnu Goat, found in the Eastern Himalayas. It wants to be on our Facebook page. Its wish is granted.

News for Speakers’ Corner, Sunday 3rd March

In News for Speakers' Corner on March 4, 2019 at 8:04 am

“Necessity is the mother of invention. Boredom is the father.”
Henry Persig.

1. We had a new speaker turn up today, but your scribe didn’t hear him or see him. Steve Maxwell saw him and says his name was Ron, or Ray, or Robert, which means we don’t even know his name. What an inauspicous beginning!

We hope Rod turns up again and gives it another crack. If he lets this scribe know of his presence we will introduce him and film him. And hopefully get his name right.

Steve Maxwell had a dig at the Australian government and the Australian Federal Police, saying that the only reason an Australian ex-refugee in Thailand was not deported to Bahrain is because the man plays soccer well. It was his soccer team who made the effort to save him.

Again, Mr B came under-prepared. Mirko, Mark the Grinner, Peter the Younger and Helmut kindly assisted.

2. If you want to know if a media outlet is Left-wing, Right-wing or In the Middle, try this site. Thanks to Mark the Grinner for bringing it to our attention.

3. Mr B was told the origins of ‘Doh, Ray, Me. etc. Apparently, the words came from a 12th century rhyme sung by monks. The words represent the notes we know today and are arbitrary. Julie Andrews could have sung something like:

Bah, a grunt, a whinging grunt
Cad, a bounder through and through
Tip, a coin, I never leave
Fly, a thing that sits on poo
Phlegm, a sticky yellow gunk,


4. We heard a short poem.

5. We heard an interesting and unusual football fact: In 1922, while Bill Walton was playing for Port Melbourne, he was hired to coach Hawthorn in the following year. However, Port Melbourne refused to release him as a player. So, the next year, he played for Port Melbourne while coaching Hawthorn during the week. Twice he had to play for Port Melbourne against Hawthorn, and in one of those matches he supported a Hawthorn player. His teammates were so annoyed they tried to hit him.

Who would have thought that nearly one hundred years later, Mr Bashful would be holding two of Hawthorn’s premiership cups?

6. “Who is responsible for the Menindee Lakes disaster?” a passer-by wanted to know. (For overseas readers: due to mismanagement of the waterways, a million fish died because there was too little water for them.) Instead of blaming government departments for allowing other industries (like cotton) to use the water, Mr B blamed the voters. “After all,” he said, “we give the politicians the power to make those awful decisions.”

Mr B has such a low opinion of politicians he blames us for the standard of politician we get. “Keep the bastards honest” was one politician’s slogan. “The thing is,” said Mr B, “it’s we, the voters, who are the bastards.” He gave his reasons why.

7. Why didn’t the Australian indigenous people become technologically advanced during their 60,000 year occupation of the continent? A grasshopper said it was because they didn’t have one pervasive, uniting religion to unite them in a common cause.

Mark the Grinner said they didn’t need to develop technologically because they had what they wanted. After all, necessity is the mother of invention.

Mr B said it was because their relationhsip to the land didn’t allow an ‘invasion mentality’, which meant technological pollination would have been inhibited. Plus they didn’t have access to the animals Europeans had, so there was no incentive to build roads and other infrastructure. (You can’t harness a kangaroo to plough a field or transport goods.)

The revelations in Bruce Pascoe’s book, Dark Emu, were also mentioned.

8. Other topics discussed:
– Mr B mentioned the government’s “inability” to ensure a food’s trans fats – the most dangerous of fats – are revealed in its nutrition label. Peter the Younger said there would have been a few  trans fats in last night’s Mardi Gras.

– Mark the Grinner spoke about politicians’ self-interest and reluctantly answered questions from anyone impertinent enough to ask them.

– Do religions help guide people into living a good life? One Hindu man thought so, and Mark the Grinner tried valiantly to trash that idea.

– If parents regularly feed their children unhealthy food, should they be be prosecuted for child abuse? Ben the Whisperer informed us that is already the case.

9. In our Unusual Critter Series we feature the Armadillo Girdled Lizard. It’s a big fan of our Facebook page, but won’t admit it.


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