Soapbox Speakers

Archive for the ‘News for Speakers’ Corner’ Category

News for Speakers’ Corner, Sunday 23rd April

In News for Speakers' Corner on April 24, 2017 at 11:31 am

“The greatest horrors of our world, from the executions in Iran to the brutalities of the IRA, are committed by people who are totally sincere.” 

John Mortimer.

1. Mr B’s propensity to give his grasshoppers 4 minutes to speak, and then answer questions, seems to have become a habit. Today’s extra speakers were the usual suspects: Albert, Jean, Mirko, Rhonda and Helmut.

Helmut was asked to speak about his days of being a professional wrestler in Sydney. He explained how he had wrestled as Helmut Rommel for more than three years, having 167 matches. How many did he win? There was no point in asking him, given that the winners were decided beforehand, he explained. No match did not have a pre-determined outcome. He told us what he was paid. He gave anecdotes. He was required to be a good guy, which he thought was stupid. After all, Germans were the bad guys in those days. (He is Austrian, it must be noted.)

Helmut also spoke of the bodybuilding world and its scandals, and that was interesting too.

Killer Karl Kox, one of Helmut Rommel’s opponents.

2. The best work of the Higher School Certificate art students from NSW high schools (public and private) is being displayed in the NSW Art Gallery, directly opposite Speakers’ Corner. The speaker claimed that some of that art work is far better than much of the rubbish the gallery owns and displays.

There was hum of agreement, and Mr B was in danger of launching into his regular diatribe against the gallery. Thankfully he was distracted, and the audience were spared another dose.

3. It was asked, is this sign below racist? (The owner of a Melbourne milk bar stuck this sign to his window.)

Mr B certainly found the mix of ‘blacks’ with dogs objectionable, though he conceded that the poor phrasing was probably due to the writer’s poor English.

For the sake of the argument we assumed that the ‘black’ kids of that age were indeed stealing. The following questions were asked:
(1) Could the ban simply be a financial move?
(2) What about the fact that the shopkeeper is only prohibiting 14 to 18 year olds? Older ‘blacks’ are welcome? Does that change our perspective?
(3) What if the shop owner didn’t include Sudanese kids, only Aboriginal kids? Or vice versa? (In other words, skin colour wasn’t an issue.)
(4) What if the shop owner was white, and he found that only white skinned youths of that age stole, and he prohibited only them? Would he be racist?
(5) What if the shop owner was Sudanese and he was only banning Sudanese teenagers of that age?
(6) What if the shopkeeper knew some of the black kids and trusted them, and made them exceptions?
(7) What if there is a gang of young white kids, aged from 14 to 18, and they all wear a blue bandana to show they’re in the gang. To stay in the gang they’re expected to steal, and they steal from the shopkeeper regularly. What if the white shopkeeper put up a sign that said: ‘Members of the blue bandana gang are prohibited’? Does that mean he has a prejudice against the colour blue? Does it mean he has a prejudice against bandanas? Or a prejudice against blue bandanas?

 Or does he have a prejudice against teenagers who choose to wear blue bandanas? Does he have a prejudice at all?
(8) For those of you who still think the sign is racist: let’s say the shopkeeper is obliged to pull down the sign and as a consequence loses $1,000 a year, every year, to theft. Would you be prepared to reimburse him?

Discussion was vibrant.

4. The Something Nice segment. To charm some and irritate others.

5. A few months ago Mr B explained why there is no such thing as a Scotsman (or Swede, Tongan, Aborigine, Jew etc.) He even made a video of the talk which has resoundingly been ignored. The video below expresses the same sentiment, but says it much better. Lift your game, Mr B.

6. Other topics discussed:
– Waterlogged homes in Wooloomooloo prompted a discussion about the merits of housing developers using their own inspectors to self regulate.

– Mr B railed against the idea that someone could be charged with ‘blasphemy’, and he expressed concern about the idea of people voting for a candidate simply because that candidate shared their faith. He would prefer that people vote for the person they think is best for the nation.

– Peter the Younger read another pleasing John Clarke poem, and then the group discussed Mary Gilmore’s poem, ‘The House’. Its reception was lukewarm at best, with Mark The Grinner being genuinely distressed.

– Bad statistics. To say that you’re nine times likely to be killed by a bee than a shark is a gross misrepresentation of the facts, Mr B claimed, indignant.

7. Our Facebook page is still short the ten million subscribers it seeks. And try our Archives site if you want to know more about our speakers or see past posts.

News for Speakers’ Corner, Sunday 16th April.

In News for Speakers' Corner on April 17, 2017 at 11:41 am

“The louder he talked of his honour, the faster we counted our spoons.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson.

1. Welcome back, Steve Maxwell! Steve told this scribe that today went well for him and he felt no pain.

His theme for today was “Australia: Who are we? Why are we here? Where are we going?”

After an afternoon of soul searching and debate with his grasshoppers, a consensus was reached. Their answers:

“We don’t know who we are, we don’t know why we are here, and we have no idea where we are going.

That’s a good day’s work, Steve! See you next week.

2. Today was Easter Sunday. Tony arrived late, and it was suggested that it was because he had trouble finding the Easter eggs he had hidden for himself in his garden the night before.

This scribe has just received some photos from the Danish Delight, Pia. I will intersperse the posts with them.

Speaking of Easter Egg hunts:

3. Mr B urged us all to buy only free range chocolate eggs. Then in a more serious vein he compared Easter egg hunts with today’s western society. He pointed out that although older children find more chocolate eggs in the garden than younger children because they have the advantage of age, height, nimbleness & experience, at the end of the hunt the eggs are combined and shared equallly among all the children. However, in our society, those with the the advantages (born into wealth, with high intelligence, going to the right school . . .) aren’t so quick to share their ‘Easter eggs’ with those less fortunate (those forced to stay home to care for a loved one; the intellectually or physically disabled, the uneducated . . . ).

4. Today, on Easter Sunday, we all felt it appropriate to have a minute’s silence for J.C. And so we did.

Then Pete the Younger solemnly stood on the Ladder of Sensitivity and read two of his poems as a tribute. As usual, we enjoyed them.

John Clarke was certainly a talented and likeable man.

Our Danish visitor Pia recited an old favourite and got a good laugh for her effort.

Dave, an artist who brought along a whopping big painting featuring Christ on the cross, also read a poem. Both his painting and his poem gave every person who trivialised the real meaning of Easter a harsh metaphorical wallop. Both painting and poem were wonderful! Thanks, Dave!

Then Mr B had to let the side down with some doggerel:

Daisy the Beautiful
Oh daisy with thy flower of gold,

Thou art a thing of beauty to behold, 
growing there in the dark, dark ground,
the ground where worms and slugs abound.
But when you flower in the bright, bright sun,
we know the slugs have lost and thou hast won.
Rex Dawe.

5. If the poem below doesn’t make sense to you now, it might this coming Sunday when Mr B and his grasshoppers discuss it.

6. Mr B invited members of the audience to get up and speak. Cyclone Rhonda spoke about the need for Australia to become a republic and left all of us in her wake. A fantastic effort.

Norm had the crowd intrigued with his views on education. He received lots of questions. Good work, Norm!

Albert the Whisperer claimed that Jesus Christ was mortal and the resurrection was a put-up job. He agreed that Jesus Christ was effectively just a soapbox speaker.
(Does that mean that when the Second Coming finally occurs, the returning messiah will be a soapbox speaker? Should we be speaking to Steve Maxwell and Mr B with more respect?)

This scribe suspects that the ‘dead man’s fingers‘ fungus is the closest thing we’ll get to a person being resurrected.

Dead Man’s Fingers fungus

7. We spoke about the man in the U.S. who was dragged off the plane and suffered injuries as a result. Mr B explained why the man was at fault, and that whatever injuries he received, he deserved them. (Mind you, the man will win millions in a law suit.)

8. Mr B nearly fell over when a grasshopper expressed interest in his assertiveness tips. (Everyone else thought she was a plant.)

Today’s tip? He told us to not try to be mindreaders. When there is something we don’t understand, let’s ask. Click here for more information.

9. The ‘Something Nice’ segment. To charm some and irritate others:

10. Mr B discussed a video of a Muslim woman explaining to another Muslim woman how an angry husband should hit his wife with a scarf. Mr B defended the woman, and said that the media were unconscionable in their self-righteous protest. By saying that she was condoning violence, and that it was outrageous that she did so, the media were simply trying to gain viewers.

He hoped the media would turn their focus back to the high rates of real domestic violence in anglo society.

11. We discussed a knotty problem about Australia’s intake of refugees. How many should we welcome? Were the people who were against the idea of welcoming more refugees lacking in compassion, as advocates suggested, or were there other factors? Should logistics be part of the decision? Is it a question of values?

Mr B claimed that 99.9% of Australia’s population were willing to take refugees, but differed in the number that they’d take. Further, he claimed that 99.9% of Australia’s population would baulk at taking every displaced person on the planet, which means that nearly everyone would at some point feel compelled to say, ‘That’s enough. No more refugees.’

The conclusion? We should talk more and be less self-righteous. And every overt advocate of refugees should be asked the simple question: “Of the 40 million refugees who would be willing to come to Australia, how many would you accept?” Because as soon as they attempt to answer the question, they have to face the fact that whatever number they give, it would mean they too would be rejecting refugees. (Unless they said, ‘All of them’, in which case, they should be locked in a closet.)

12. Other subjects discussed:
– ‘Why did the Vikings bury their soldiers with their swords?‘, Mr B wanted to know. After all, if they had dug the soldiers up a few years later they would have found that the sword had not been whisked away to Valhalla. (Nor had the soldier, for that matter.) That would have told them to not waste swords by burying them.
One grasshopper patiently explained to Mr B that it was the spirit of the sword that accompanied the soldier to Valhalla. (As though that made more sense.)

– Women should not be expected to love their bodies, said Mr B. They already have enough problems with their self-esteem without having to deal with their failure to heed that banal advice.
One grasshopper suggested that perhaps we should be encouraging women to stop hating their bodies.

13. Lost property. The speaker asked the crowd if anyone had lost a roll of $100 notes wrapped in a rubber band. They had found the rubber band.

14. A big ‘thank you’ to the kind grasshopper who handed Tony Boyce and Mr B an Easter Egg each after the meeting. Both the egg and the generosity were appreciated!

Thankfully, the eggs were made of chocolate, unlike this one:

This beautiful work of art was created with fine drills and steady hands.

14. Someone has left a comment at the end of last week’s post. Make of it what you will.

15. Everyone who visits our Facebook page before midnight tonight (Easter Sunday) will receive an extra chocolate egg from the Easter bunny on Monday morning.


News for Speakers’ Corner, Sunday 9th April

In News for Speakers' Corner on April 10, 2017 at 9:52 am

“. . . the old idea that ‘Mother Nature’ knows best is a concept that could only have arisen in a comfortable, well-fed society which has forgotten what it is to struggle for existence. Nature is not motherly, she is red in tooth and claw, she ravens for food – and she has no favourites.”
John Wyndham.

1. Cyclone Rhonda is back, up from Melbourne! When she stood on the Ladder of Knowledge she wowed the audience with a string of opinions. She and Norm had a few words to say to each other, which only added to our amusement.

Later in the day she agreed to debate with Mr B the idea that Australia should become a republic, and she won the debate easily by not bothering to present her point of view. She used the opportunity to talk about 1970’s communism and Chiang Kai-shek. A brilliant manoeuvre that left Mr B looking silly.

Rhonda will be at Speakers’ Corner for another two weeks.

Rhonda, visiting from Speakers’ Forum, Melbourne in 2015.

If you’d like to see Rhonda in action, click here to see a few video highlights.

2. Other grasshoppers were invited to speak too, and each was given five minutes plus question time. Kieran explained why he thought Donald Trump’s bombing of the Syrian airfield was a good idea. He spoke well and is obviously informed.

Mirko spoke about his phonetic language. He nodded sagely when the group, working together as a team, finally managed to decipher one of his printed phonetic messages. He felt vindicated.

Mark the Grinner spoke about perfectionism, and about the relationship between reality and our growing addiction to electronic devices. He also briefly mentioned selfies. He should know that it’s not just humans who take selfies:


3. Steve Maxwell almost made it to Speakers’ Corner today, but a minor setback in his recovery meant that we won’t see him for another week. No backflips or cartwheels for another month, Steve. Doctor’s orders.

4. Mr B admitted that he struggles to complete questionnaires, and to give an example he felt the need to describe the time he was in a spa with eight others and had an awkward experience.

Peter the Younger suggested that most questionnaires are designed to get the result they want anyway, so perhaps it’s not such a bad thing that Mr B struggles to complete them.

5. Today’s assertiveness tip was:
‘Get out of the habit of using filler words like ‘um’, ‘er’, ‘like’, ‘sort of’ and ‘you know’.

What does that bad habit have to do with assertiveness?  Click here to find out. 

To practise, a few grasshoppers took turns to play the ‘Half a minute’ game in which they had to talk for 30 seconds without using those filler words’. They made the task look easy.

6. Mr B told the tale about Ulysses sailing by the island of sirens. He said that like Ulysses, we also have to  tie ourselves to a metaphorical mast when we are presented with temptations that can disable us.

If that doesn’t make sense see this chapter on his blog.

7. This week’s paradigm. (A paradigm is a pervasive belief held by most people in society, even though that belief might be weird to an objective and sensible observer.) The paradigm: “We are entitled to a high standard of living.”

People who have adopted that paradigm (most of us) have little interest in sacrificing comfort for change.

A few months ago South Australia experienced a number of power blackouts, prompting displays of indignation and blame. Yet not once did someone say, ‘Let’s accept the blackouts. Rather than spending hundreds of millions of dollars rectifying the problem and wasting resources, and increasing energy bills and pollution in the process, let’s simply shrug and get out the candles. Let’s put up with the inconvenience now and then.”

As expected, Mr B’s grasshoppers objected to the idea, and a discussion about the merits of coal mining and renewable energy sources ensued. That’s precisely what happens when a paradigm is prodded.

8. The something nice segment. To charm some and irritate others.

(A strange meme. A little girl with paper wings attached probably won’t fly. She’ll just plummet. But hey.)

9. Other subjects discussed:
“I am better than no one, and no one is better than me.” Is that true? Or are some people better than others?  Views were divided.

– The parable of the king and the artist. (That’s the story of how the king wanted a picture of peace in his palace.) The story went down well if you could consider stony silence as ‘going down well’.

– Land tax. It was proposed that every investment property is taxed not on the area of the land itself, but on the amount of floor space of a building. So, instead of having 20 apartments that are each charged one twentieth of the land tax for that block of land, each apartment would pay the full tax. That’s 20 times the revenue for the government (for that example), and it would prompt owners to let their properties instead of leaving them empty. It was a brilliant idea, spoilt only by two troublemakers who put forth sound objections.

– Do each and every one of us have a ‘pearl’ inside us, as we try to deal with a past irritant still within us?

10. The poems. Peter the Younger read one short, sharp poem, while Mr B supplied a longer one.

by Robert Service

‘Twas on the sacred First of May
I made a sentimental sally
To buy myself a slender spray
Of pearly lily of the valley;
And setting it beside my bed,
Dream back the smile of one now dead.

But when I asked how much a spray?
The figure seemed so astronomic
I rather fear that my dismay
Must have appeared a little comic.
The price, the shopgirl gravely said,
Alas! was fifteen francs a head.

However, I said: “Give me three,
And wrap them in a silver paper,
And I will take them home with me,
And light an ‘in memoriam’ taper,
To one whose smile so heaven bright,
Was wont to make my darkness light.”

Then lo! I saw beside me stand
A women shabby, old and grey,
Who pointed with a trembling hand
And shyly asked: “How much are they?”
But when I told her, sadly said:
“I’ll save my francs for milk and bread.”

“Yet I’ve a daughter just sixteen,
Long sick abed and oh so sad.
I thought – well, how they would have been
A gift, maybe, to make her glad . . .”
And then I saw her eyes caress
My blossoms with such wistfulness.

I gave them: sought my garret bare,
Knowing that she whom I had loved,
Although no blooms I bought her there,
Would have so tenderly approved . . .
And in the dark I lay awhile,
Seeing again her radiant smile.

11. Check out our Facebook page. It has exactly the same material, so why not?

News for Speakers’ Corner, Sunday 2nd April

In News for Speakers' Corner on April 3, 2017 at 8:32 am

God, grant me the senility to forget the people I don’t like, the good fortune to run into the ones I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference.

1. Mostly, the weather was pleasant enough. Though a big chunk of the meeting itself was not.

Mr B will be hiring a body guard from now on:

Professional wrestler Mario Milano.

2. Steve Maxwell is recuperating well after his successful operation. Let’s hope we see him this coming Sunday. (And recognise him.)

3. The Domain Trust has finally installed a much needed ramp for the disabled. Thank you, Trust!

4. The ‘something nice’ segment. To charm some and irritate others.

5. We hope the crowds at Speakers’ Corner continue to grow. We’d like around 200 people, but on drizzly days we are lucky to get 10% of that figure.

6. Grasshopper numbers may be down next week due to the Palm Sunday march in support of refugees at 2pm. The hecklers are encouraged to go on that march. Nay, urged.

7. Mr B felt obliged to talk about ‘The Groom of the Stool‘, the man given the job of attending to a king’s bottom after the king has defecated. This practise began in the middle ages and ceased in 1901, when King Edward 7th took the throne (so to speak).

It was a well paid high status job. That’s because the groom’s close association with the king fostered trust. He was able to look the king in the eye (so to speak).

When asked if a form of toilet paper was used, Mr B admitted that he did not know. He was also negligent in not explaining the groom’s role when the king took a pee. This scribe wants to know if the groom had to hold it for him and aim. All of us wanted to know that.

We learned that there have been 41 Grooms of the Stool serving the last 17 kings, and that the female equivalent was called ‘The First Lady of the Bedchamber‘.

Why did Mr B inform us of all this? He claims he wanted to point out a paradigm that we ‘are in’. A paradigm is a collective belief held by a society that seems normal to those living in that society, but appears weird to those living in another country, or in another time. For example, decades ago most western people believed that women shouldn’t vote, work, or inherit property. Most people thought that view was right and sensible. That belief was a paradigm. We can look back and think ‘That’s weird. How could they have believed that?!‘  That’s because we are no longer influenced by that particular paradigm and can see the absurdity for what it is.

We have absurd paradigms of our own, says Mr B, but we can’t see them because we are ‘in them’.

We can look back and see clearly that for a human being to hire another human being to clean their backside for them demeans both parties, yet we think it’s morally okay for one human being to hire another human being to clean their abode for them. Mr B thinks the two practises are on the same continuum. He says that if we want our house cleaned we have a moral responsibility to do the job ourselves. (Exceptions exist.)

Of course, no one agreed with Mr B. But he would say we don’t agree with him because we are ‘in’ the paradigm that says the practise is okay. We can’t yet see the absurdity of our belief. He says that in 100 years people might look back at us and say, ‘How could they have believed that that was okay?

He forgets that we’ll be dead by then.

A Groom of the Stool

8. Other subjects discussed:
– The merit of the government’s move to lower the company tax rate, and the tax rate’s relationship with globalisation.

–  This week there was no assertiveness tip. It was tactfully left alone. But poems were read on the Ladder of Sensitivity and all three were enjoyed by this scribe.

– Is it fair that taxi drivers, having invested hundreds of thousands of dollars buying a taxi licence, now have to compete with Uber drivers who have paid nothing to provide the same taxi service? And that due to this, the taxi drivers have had their taxi licences plummet in value? Which means that effectively, every shift they have worked may have been a financial loss. ‘Is that fair?’, it was asked.

– Mr B recommends changes to the high school curriculum. He said that instead of asking teachers to teach a language, history and geography, let’s pay them to teach basic but important life skills such as financial competence and how to cook a healthy meal; how to change a spark plug, a tap’s washer and a flat tyre; as well as emotional intelligence and assertiveness skills. He reckons we should be helping children prepare for a life of unclear and changing career opportunities, and that building emotional resilience and basic life competence in the kids would be a good start. Yes, all students should get those skills from their parents, he agreed, but the majority don’t, he added.
It would not be unreasonable to say that his suggestions were met with disagreement.

9. If you would like to be presented with advertisements while perusing these snippets, go to our Facebook page.


News for Speakers’ Corner, Sunday 26th March

In News for Speakers' Corner on March 27, 2017 at 11:36 am

“The problem with the gene pool is that there is no lifeguard.”
Steven Wright

1. A recovering Steve Maxwell began Mr B’s meeting for him while Mr B farted about parking his car. Steve had a good crowd ready for Mr B when he finally arrived.

Throughout the day members of the audience were invited to get up onto The ladder of Knowledge and speak. Each was given precisely five minutes (with a warning at the four-minute mark). The participants were Peter the Younger, Mirko (heaven help us), Uncle Pete, Albert, Mark the Grinner and Helmut. Every one of them did a good job.

Quokkas on Rottnest Island

2. Steve is having another op this week. We all wish you well, Steve. Have a speedy recovery.

3. A speaker
 suggested that the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, is a right royal wally for saying to journalist Neil Mitchell: “Does giving everybody a $276 a night in travelling expenses in Canberra pass the sniff test? Yes, I think clearly it does, assuming you think that’s the right amount. As long as the cost is the same across the board it’s a fair system.”

Malcolm was referring to government frontbencher Michael McCormack’s habit of staying overnight in his wife’s investment property when visiting Canberra, and claiming the $276 entitlement from the tax payer. (He received $48,000 over three years.) Malcolm thought that was fair and reasonable.

Two grasshoppers valiantly tried to justify McCormack’s entitlement claim, but even they ended up joining the audience in taking a dim view of it.

Why isn’t the media highlighting the lack of integrity displayed by McCormack and Turnbull? Why isn’t there outrage?

By the way, if you are a politician living in Canberra you still get an $87 entitlement a night, ninety days a year.

4. The usual suspects plus Helmut
took turns to stand on The Ladder of Sensitivity to read a poem. (This scribe points out that they took turns so that our fervent reader does not mistakenly think all four men stood on the Ladder together and read a poem in unison. They didn’t. But maybe one day?)

Here is one of the poems:

5. Today’s assertiveness tip was ‘Don’t be a “Maybe”‘. When you say something like, “I might come back later” when you don’t have that intention, you undermine yourself. Both parties know it’s a lie, and you just look feeble and wishy-washy. For more information click here.

To make the point, Mr B gained Uncle Pete’s assistance in a role play set in a mens clothing store. But Mr B mistook Helmut for a mannequin, and things went downhill from there.

By the way, apparently you can buy a shirt at Target for $3.

6. The ‘Something nice’ segment, to charm some and irritate others.

7. The seven wonders of the world were briefly discussed.

8. To prove that success has no importance, Mr B claimed he hadn’t succeeded in life, but was still happy. But troublesome hecklers kept contradicting him, arguing that he was successful. They gave him compliments, and made statements similar to the one below. Poor Mr B.

9. There were two young women in the audience and Tony Boyce felt obliged to claim that they were wearing provocative clothing. Fortunately, the women had figured Tony out by then, and laughed off his observation.

Ah, Tony.

I guess Boyce will be Boyce.

10. Other subjects discussed:

– Just how much does an omniscient god know? Could it know what it’s like to be a mortal human being?

– There are four arranged marriages for under-age girls in Australia every week. Should the Muslim community be singled out? Do the media unfairly focus on the Muslim community?

– The parable of the carrot, the egg and the ground coffee beans. (Mr B tells me he is enormously grateful for Uncle Pete’s insightful and pertinent interjections questioning each segment of Mr B’s story with the might of science. The interjections added an extra dimension to the parable.) This scribe agrees. Had Aesop had a man like Uncle Pete by his side helping him write his fables, Aesop would now be a household name.

– The story of Farmer Brown and his dog at the gates of heaven.

– The story of ‘The Last Leaf‘ by O Henry. (I guess you could say it was the story of O.) To justify his telling of the story, Mr B tacked on a homily at the end. Gracious of him.

– Are psychics psychic? (Hint: Nuh.)

11. Postscript: When Mr Bashful complained to this blog last week about the ‘stitch up’ done to him on the Cyberhate documentary, this scribe thought he was being paranoid. But the producers sent him an email and here is an excerpt:  ” . . . the whole project was just a ruse to capture your one mistake to discredit you on national television.”

There! Mr B has his nemeses alright.

12. Our efforts to create a new social media platform, called BigChat, have stalled indefinitely, because we still can’t figure out what HTML is. So, keep going to our Facebook page.

News for Speakers’ Corner, Sunday 19th March

In News for Speakers' Corner on March 19, 2017 at 10:06 am

“I don’t like violence. I’m allergic to it. I come out in cuts and bruises.’
Jack Fraenkel

1. This week we promoted Speakers’ Corner. It’s part of our five-year plan to make Speakers’ Corner Australia’s best and most famous tourist attraction. (The five-year plan expires in April.)

Helmut did his bit. At 4am Tuesday morning  he got someone to clock him with the butt of a gun, and then he rang an ambulance. The media were soon broadcasting that  ‘a well known speaker at Speakers’ Corner has been attacked with the butt of a gun‘. Straight away, interest in Speakers’ Corner soared, with hits to this website going through the roof.

Well done, Helmut. Keep up the good work.

2. On the following night there was a glimpse of Speakers’ Corner on the ABC’s Cyberhate documentary, hosted by Tara Moss.

What was the result of that welcome publicity?

For a start, our Epiphany Specialist, Mr Bashful, has expressed dismay. He says that in his six years of being an infallible pillar of wisdom at Speakers’ Corner he has not once been wrong, except on just one occasion. And how is it, he wants to know, that on the day of that rare occasion cameras just happened to be rolling? And why, of all the hours of footage taken that day, and of all the hours in which he expressed his searing insights, did the film producers choose to include in their documentary just that one solitary blunder?

It’s a conspiracy, he claims. A stitch up. A coup. Obviously, the producers had planned this well in advance. They would have hired a think tank to examine his rock-solid arguments until a tiny flaw in his logic was found, and then employed the disarming Tara Moss to catch him out.

Why go to all this trouble to taint his reputation, he wants to know?

3. This scribe thinks that Mr B’s reputation wasn’t just tainted . . .

Apart from utterly destroying Mr Bashful’s reputation, the documentary was going to remind Sydney-ites that we’re still here. So, after the documentary concluded, did people rush to their computers to google “Speakers’ Corner Sydney?”  Was this site inundated with hits? Did this site crash, unable to handle the cyber traffic?

Well, no. On Tuesday this site received plenty of hits from people googling Helmut, but on late Wednesday night and on Thursday, after the documentary had aired, we received fewer hits than usual! Oh dear.

Ah, but after seeing Helmut’s antics on the news, and after watching Tara’s documentary, did people make a mental note to visit Speakers’ Corner on Sunday? Did they flock to Speakers’ Corner today? Did the speakers arrive at 2pm to find a madding crowd waiting for them? Were the speakers hailed like rock stars?


Were the crowds bigger than usual?


Even slightly?

No. They were smaller than usual.


4. How well did the book signing go? Not well. No one presented a book to have signed. (This suggests that the ‘5 book limit’ was unnecessary.)

Mr B was adamant that had this book been presented to him . . .

. . .  he would have refused to sign it. When he first read it months ago he claimed it was one of the most enlightening and absorbing books he had read in a long time. He is reading it again, studiously searching for flaws in Tara’s logic. When he finds a flaw he will announce it at Speakers’ Corner.

Here is some advice for you, Mr B: know when you’re beaten.

5. In short, it would be fair to say that Speakers’ Corner is impervious to publicity.

6. Mirko got up onto the Ladder of Knowledge for five minutes and talked about Mother Nature’s role in the end of the  Universe. Thanks, Mirko!

7. Two anti-vaxinators, Leigh and Renata, bravely took turns to stand on the Ladder of Knowledge and present their point of view. They spoke clearly and robustly without umming and aaahing, and coped well with the ire and the flak they received from the hecklers.  They did a good job!

They would probably be critical of the man below:

When asked why he didn’t patent it, he replied, ‘Can you patent the sun?’

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

9. Poems from Peter the Younger, Uncle Pete and Mr B. Even Nobel Prize winner (cough, snigger) Bob Dylan got a mention when this excerpt from his song, ‘The Masters of War‘ was recited:

I hope that you die
and your death’ll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I’ll stand over your grave
‘Til I’m sure that you’re dead.

10. Today’s assertiveness
tip will be just as popular as last week’s, no doubt: Don’t use the term ‘Are you sure?’.

Bill: ‘Do you mind if I sit here?’
Jane: That’s fine.
Bill: ‘Are you sure?’

Bill: ‘Would you like a second helping?’
Jane: ‘No thank you.’
Bill: ‘Are you sure?’

In the first instance, Bill is afraid of being a burden to Jane. In the second, Bill is concerned Jane does not want to burden him. Either way, Bill has a ‘burden’ issue which will undermine him in other aspects of his life.

Although Bill’s intention is to appear polite and concerned, he appears weak. An assertive person would accept the person’s decision. When we immediately accept a person’s decision we give them respect. We assume their decisions mean something. Giving them that credit increases the connection we have with them.

For slightly more information click here.

11. Mr B told the story about Alice and the Dark Forest. Was that fear in the eyes of his grasshoppers when he came to the scary bits? Or were they just desperately trying to keep their eyes open?

Click here for the story about Alice and the Dark Forest.

12. Other topics discussed today:
– The merit of the implementation of The Richmond Report.

– The president of the ACTU, Sally McManus, suggested that it’s okay to break unjust laws. Is she right?

– The sexuality of transgender people.

– The two kinds of happiness.

– The source of anxiety.

– Mr Bashful’s ambivalent feelings about the homeless.

As usual, Helmut took The Ladder of Knowledge late in the day and kept the crowd entertained until it was time for us all to go home.

13. We now have an astonishing 48 subscribers on our Facebook page. Admittedly, that is 31,400 fewer than has Tara Moss.

And you can try our Archives.

Special News for Speakers’ Corner.

In News for Speakers' Corner on March 16, 2017 at 9:30 am

There is to be a book signing this Sunday!

If you were watching the Cyberhate documentary on ABC2 television on Wednesday night you would have glimpsed some of our speakers. The documentary was hosted by Tara Moss and she did a good job of it. Her only flaw was to outsmart speaker Mr Bashful.

As a result of their reinvigorated fame, the speakers will be signing books this coming Sunday at Speakers’ Corner.

There are very few books they won’t sign. Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf and Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint are probably two exceptions.

There is a limit of five books per person.

News for Speakers’ Corner, Sunday, 12th March

In News for Speakers' Corner on March 13, 2017 at 10:49 am

‘Be not daunted by your life,
hit it with a fork and knife.’
P. S. Balding.

1. We don’t just live on a goldilocks planet, we live in a goldilocks city. The weather was perfect, and Steve Maxwell was up and about feeling much better! It seems our homeopathic prayers were answered. Steve spoke for a while before heading off to a Rationalists’ meeting.

2. One of the topics discussed today was the efficacy of natural medicines. Current medicines owe a lot to nature, yes, but does that mean natural medicines must therefore be efficacious? One grasshopper seemed to have that view.

There is, it was suggested, a big difference between ancient knowledge and ancient stupidity, and it’s important to differentiate the two.

3. Beware the Ides of March. That’s this coming Wednesday. Julius Caesar wasn’t careful on that day, and look what happened to him.

4. Word has it that if you watch the documentary, ‘Cyberhate‘ this Wednesday night, at 9.32pm, on ABC 2, you might catch a glimpse of two of our speakers. But remember, that day is the Ides of March, so be careful.

Of course, if you come to Speakers’ Corner you will  see a lot more of our speakers, and get to see them in 3D. And it won’t be the Ides of March.

This scribe will be watching the documentary. For some time now he has believed that one of the speakers possesses their own special ‘X’ factor that makes them mega movie superstar material. He believes this documentary could ‘discover’ them, and launch them  into a stellar movie career. Imagine seeing Mirko on the big screen! You read it here first, folks.

5. Poetry stalwarts Peter the Younger and Uncle Pete (no relation) stood on the Ladder of Sensitivity and presented poems, as did Mr Bashful. Here’s one from Uncle Pete:

6. Mark the Grinner, who is not interested in poetry, made damned sure the Ladder of Sensitivity had transformed back into the Ladder of Knowledge before getting up on it to speak. He did an excellent job critiquing our political and economic system, and entertaining the grasshoppers.

7. Ray, our fundamentalist Christian speaker, kindly stopped by to answer a question posed by Mr B. The question’s purpose was to “put Ray in an atheist’s shoes” so that he would understand what it’s like to be an atheist. However, Mr B’s frustration was palpable when he thought Ray wasn’t answering the question, and he disgraced himself by becoming overbearing.

Here’s a supportive message for you, Ray:

8. The subject of rape was broached. The speaker made the claim that if a young man is not perceptive enough when having a kiss and a cuddle with a young woman, he may end up having sex with her yet not realise she was not in full agreement with the plan. She might give in to having sex, yet feel awful afterwards. He, meanwhile, might assume that she was as interested as he was. Result: upon reflection, she might afterwards claim she was raped, and when he finds out that he has been accused of raping her, he might feel bewildered and angry.

As you might imagine, a discussion ensued! It was a grasshopper free-for-all. Should young women be more clear in what they want and don’t want? Should young men be more perceptive? Are we victim blaming? Where are the male role models? Does the influence of a positive male role model make any difference to a horny young man in the backseat of a car? How many bewildered young men have been charged of rape in a police station, and in America, ended up in jail? How many men are pressured into having sex with a woman when they haven’t wanted it?

Here’s something from the Postsecret website:


9. That discussion led to ideas about the best way to meet people.

10. Mr B gave a brief (though not brief enough) summary of the assertiveness tips explained so far. One grasshopper even remembered one of them! Today’s tip was: ‘Don’t live in Wimp City’. Don’t begin a sentence with wimpy words like,
– sorry  ( ‘Sorry, I have to leave now.’ Instead, try: ‘I have to leave now.’)
– I don’t think  (‘I don’t think I can allow that.’  Try instead, ‘I can’t allow that.’)
– Just wondering  (‘Just wondering, why is the sky white?’  Try instead, ‘Why is the sky white?’)

For more examples and more clarity click here.

11. The ‘Something Nice’ segment, to charm some and irritate others.


12. We discussed paradigms. According to Mr B, they’re core beliefs held not just by a person, but an entire society. Such beliefs are strong and pervasive. Our job, says Mr B, is to identify the paradigms influencing us, and try hard to free ourselves from the disabling ones.

13. Other subjects discussed:

– Liquid Natural Gas companies are selling the nation’s gas overseas, making gas dearer here in Australia. Is it right to have millions of Australians paying more for a necessary utility, so that the management and owners of the LNG companies can have bigger salaries, and make bigger profits?

– It is well understood by thinking Australians that homeopathy has no efficacy apart from its placebo benefits. So how do we explain the speaker’s extraordinarily coincidental non-placebonic “cure” of his eczema? Answer: we can’t.

– Trans fats, despite the speaker’s initial claim, are unsaturated fats and they’re bad for the body. Very bad. Far worse than saturated fats. You’d think our loving government would therefore enforce food manufacturers to not use them, or at the very least, force the manufacturers to reveal the trans fats on their ingredient labels. But nuh.
Domino’s Pizzas were asked twice if trans fats were in their pizzas. Twice they didn’t reply. What would that suggest?

– Materialism. Mr B praised it highly, saying that if no person felt the need to have new and better things, we’d all still be living in caves. It wasn’t the ascetics or poor people who created the extraordinary, interesting world we have today, it was the wealthy and the materialistic wanting things.
Of course, materialism has its bad side too, with pollution being one of them.

14. Here’s a Banjo Paterson poem.

15. It has come to this scribe’s attention that he has neglected to inform you that we have a Facebook page. That unforgivable infraction will be remedied immediately: we do indeed have a Facebook page.

News for Speakers’ Corner, Sunday 5th March

In News for Speakers' Corner on March 6, 2017 at 11:16 am

“Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.”

1. In 1915 Ernest Shackleton and his men were stranded in Antarctica when their boat, ‘Endurance’ was trapped in ice and crushed. They lived on seals and penguins for eight months before using three lifeboats to sail a long journey to Elephant island. Disappointingly, there were no elephants left on the island to eat, so Ernest and five others took one of the boats on a dangerous 16-day 1,300km voyage in huge seas to yet another island, inhabited by whalers. (Note: that’s ‘whalers’, not ‘whales’.)  Their journey overland to find the whaling station was one of the most tiring and bitterly cold journeys ever endured. But they got there. A boat was dispatched and all the men from the ‘Endurance’ were rescued.

In short, Ernest Shackleton was a man made of the right stuff.

This scribe was reminded of Mr Shackleton when Mr Bashful turned up today at Speakers’ Corner, defying the  drizzle and impending rain. It was a prodigious effort.

2. It must also be noted that Mr B’s crew of grasshoppers were just as hardy because they too bravely turned up. As it happened, all were spared: rain didn’t come, except for a few seconds that prompted umbrellas to open. It ended up being an enjoyable day.

3. Good news about Steve! The operation on his eyes has been a success after all, though he is still recovering. Get well soon, Steve!


4. Uncle Pete stood on the Ladder of Knowledge to answer the question: ‘Will Malcolm Turnbull still be Prime Minister at the next federal election?’ As usual, he was forthright and entertaining. He then talked about the vagaries of education and answered plenty of questions. Another good effort, Uncle Pete!

Sue the Unflappable also had a few words to say about education; in particular, the misconceptions some people have about schools. As did Jacquie the Patient One.

Thank you to the three of you.

The meme below sounds contrived and corny, but it also makes some good points.



5. Three poems today thanks to Uncle Pete, Peter the Younger and Mr B. And a heady diatribe from Mark the Grinner. Here is one of the poems:


6. And here is another poem recited on the day, by Uncle Pete. An evocative anti-war poem.


7. Today’s assertiveness tip was eagerly anticipated by . . . well anyway, it was this: Ensure your question is answered. Many people use a gamut of ways to avoid answering a question, and the person asking the question often lets them get away with it. Don’t let them get away with it. Cling to your mast. That is, focus ferociously on what needs to happen from now on. In this instance, it’s having your question answered. For more details, click here.


8. Mr B suggested that we have two complete societies in the one city, with each person working a three-and-a-half-day week in one society, or in the other. That would double employment, eradicate overtime and penalty rates,  increase leisure time, allow two parents to give their infant seven days’ child care, and make schools factories, sporting fields etc. productive for seven days instead of five.

Two economies competing against one another.

Careers requiring workers for the entire 24 hours, like the police, fire-fighters and paramedics, could still work within those parameters. There would be other modifications for schools.

But when it was suggested that each football code would have two leagues, one for each society, one bright spark objected to the idea of having two A-league soccer leagues. There was a murmur of agreement.


9. The ‘Something Nice’ segment. To charm some and irritate others.


10. Other subjects discussed:
– The merits of reducing and maintaining current penalty rates. One brave fellow gamely defended the reduction of penalty rates while  everyone else seemed to be against the idea. Well done, brave fellow!

– The foolishness of astrology and the thirteen constellations in the zodiac. The thirteen constellation, no longer used by astrologers, is Ophiuchus, The Serpent Holder.

– People with Disassociative Identity Disorder (formerly ‘Multiple Personality Disorder’) can have physical differences specific to a personality. For example, one personality had blurry eyesight and needed spectacles, whilst another personality (in the same body) had 20/20 vision! In another person, one personality was allergic to orange juice but the other three personalities felt no discomfort after drinking the juice. However, if the “allergic” personality emerged after the juice was drunk by the non-allergic personality, their body would suddenly break out in hives. And, one person was colour-blind, but their other personalities saw all the colours.
(It prompts the question: how many of our own health problems have we “manufactured”?)

– The seven planets orbiting a star 40 light years away. Could at least one of them have intelligent life? Could we ever find out? Mr B gave an emphatic ‘no!’ Whether he’s right or not . . .

– Xeno’s paradox is the idea that someone who begins a foot race behind someone else can never catch up to them, because by the time they have caught up to where the other person was, the other person has moved forward. Ad infinitum.


11. Before you go to our Facebook page, check out this clever move from a librarian. (Thanks, Glenda.)




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

%d bloggers like this: