Q1. Why do you do it? Why do you stand on a box or ladder and speak to the public?
Speakers around the world do it for any or all of the following reasons:
- To improve their public speaking skills. If you can speak at Speakers’ Corner and get a crowd listening, you can speak anywhere.
- Passers-by can provide valuable feedback to a theory you present.
- To be heard. For some people, being a soapbox speaker might be their only way of imparting a message.
- It’s fun. A speaker can engage in fervent debate, humour, and a touch of theatre, while dispensing with the conversational niceties abided by in day-to-day life.
- And some speakers are attention seekers, unfortunately. They’re the ones who deliberately say provocative things merely to shock the passer-by and gain their attention. And that’s a shame, because after a while they come to believe the awful things they say.
- Can you see that standing in a beautiful park on a sunny afternoon, conversing with people about your favourite subject, might be a pleasant way to spend an afternoon?
Q2. Do I need permission from the police to speak there? Or from the Botanic Gardens? From anyone?
It’s illegal to speak in the Botanic Gardens without a permit (Reg 69) but it’s legal to speak in The Domain without a permit, provided we speak between sunrise and sunset (Reg 70). So, no, you don’t need anyone’s permission. You have a legal right to speak there. Just turn up (with a ladder) and start speaking. (ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS AND DOMAIN TRUST REGULATION 2013, (as at 13 December, 2013) made under the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust Act 1980. New South Wales Consolidated Regulations.)
Q3. Can the speakers use microphones and loudspeakers?
No, not unless they have a permit from the Trust to do so. (Reg 71 – ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS AND DOMAIN TRUST REGULATION 2013, (as at 13 December, 2013) made under the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust Act 1980. New South Wales Consolidated Regulations.)
1. It’s our job, like speakers of the past, to get our message across without the aid of microphones.
2. if we used microphones we would interfere with one another.
3. We don’t want to irritate picnickers who don’t want to listen to us.
Q4. Can I talk about anything?
Free speech in the Domain is a furphy. The normal laws apply. For example, you cannot incite violence or vilify anyone or any race. You can criticise people but you can’t defame them. You can’t speak naked. Apply commonsense.
Q5. Is it for extroverts?
It’s for extroverts and introverts. I’m no expert in human psychology, but from what I gather, the extroverts are the attention seekers. They are the ones who will try to get a crowd at any cost – by trying to shock their listeners or by stealing another speaker’s crowd. When they don’t have a crowd, and can’t steal a crowd, they go heckle another speaker to get attention.
The introverts are there to inform. Yes, they like having a crowd, and enjoy the attention they get, but that’s not their motivation. Their principle interest is to engage in ideas.
Both extroverts and introverts can make good speakers.
Q6. In quiet times, do some speakers get off their box to become hecklers, to help another speaker draw a crowd?
Sometimes, yes, but it rarely works. And it’s usually not appreciated.
Andrew Toth is an occasional speaker and a regular heckler. He is good at drawing a crowd in both capacities, but it is as a heckler that he excels. Although you can’t see the crowd he drew in this example, you can see how he does it.
Q7. Why are some of the speakers eccentric?
In day-to-day life, eccentrics who believe they have something important to offer often don’t get the opportunity to express their ideas and be heard. Speakers’ Corner is about the only place which provides them with that opportunity. So, they come to speak alongside the ‘clearer’ speakers.
Whether you are eccentric or not, join us. Become a speaker.
Q8. Why is Speakers’ Corner only on Sundays?
Our choice. We could speak there any day of the week, but choose not to.
Q9. What do speakers talk about?
This answer applies only to the speakers in Sydney’s ‘The Domain’:
Helmut explains why Newtonian physics is wrong.
Steve discusses Australian history and politics, and knows more about the Speakers’ Corners of the world than anyone else in the world.
Mirko claims his new alphabet will revolutionise the world. Plus, he has discovered perpetual motion, and therefore, free energy.
Andrew (occasional speaker) is a convicted exhibitionist who explains why flashing and public nudity should be legal. He is also a regular heckler after 4.20pm.
Mr Bashful explains why all the happiness ‘experts’ have it wrong. He also has other odd topics, such as why we should burn the Mona Lisa. His site is: mrbashful.com
Ray is an evangelical Christian.
Tony the atheist gets stuck into Christians and the Church. He also declares that Israel should give back much of the land taken from Palestine
Q10. There used to be thousands at Speakers’ Corner. It’s now a shadow of what it used to be. Why?
In the early days many people couldn’t read, there was no television, and the radio didn’t discuss current affairs. So, to get the news and current affairs they would go to The Domain. Further, they couldn’t talk about socialism or communism, or any other risky topic, at their local pub; they might be thrown out or be ostracised. The Domain allowed them to discuss alternative points of view. It’s why Speakers’ Corner became known as ‘The University of the People’.
Nowadays, there are countless current affairs programs on radio and television. Indeed, with pay television we have a hundred channels to distract us from life. Pubs are now open Sundays, and so are shops. Football and other sports are now played on Sundays, at the highest level and at the lowest level. So, you can either watch the big game on television, or drive your kids to a park and watch them play. Facebook, video games and other cyber goodies also keep the masses occupied.
A big factor is that we now have more liberal attitudes. The controversies which prompted people to visit Speakers’ Corner years ago are now passé. We can discuss almost any topic with our friends or colleagues, or on the internet.
In earlier days there was fear and change in the air:
– the ‘threat’ of communism and socialism,
– world politics included the Cold War and the Vietnam War, which included conscription,
– the Women’s Movement was in full flight, with women asking for jobs, equal pay, and to be let into pubs,
– there was industrial upheaval, with big changes in employment conditions, and frequent strikes . . .
In short, in earlier years there were plenty of subjects to discuss with passion, and few ways to discuss them. Speakers’ Corner was necessary. Now there are far better ways to be informed, and the controversies are relatively tame.
But we at Speakers’ Corner aim to change with the times. We are slowly growing, and hope to make the place thrive again. Join us, if you will.
Q11. Can anyone speak?
Sure. Bring a box or a stepladder and give it a go! Click here for a few tips.
12. Are there other Speakers’ Corners around the world?
Yes, experiment with the blogroll at the bottom of this website.
And in Steve Maxwell’s Passing Parade you will find some of the history about those places.
Do you have a question? Ask it in the comments section and it might be answered here.