Soapbox Speakers

Steve Maxwell’s Passing Parade.

A Pageant of World Soapbox Personalities.

Steve Maxwell is not just a legendary speaker at Speakers’ Corner – he is also a historian writing a series about the world’s Speakers’ Corners and their speakers. From time to time he presents a new article.

Steve Maxwell

Speakers’ Corner – UK

1. Who was the first person to speak at Hyde Park, London?
Why did he speak? How did it begin this century old tradition?

2. From where did Speakers’ Corner begin?
How did free speech come about?


Speakers’ Corner – Sydney, Australia.

1Who was the first Aboriginal person to speak at Hyde Park, London?
This extraordinary man went to England to save his people. What became of him?

2. Donny Dodd: an Aboriginal speaker from 1980 to 2000.
Donny learnt a thing or two from Aborigines living in Sydney, and for twenty years spoke in the Domain to help redress injustice.

3. The “Irish Parliaments” in the Rocks.
Before 1833 people needed permission to have a meeting in NSW. Until one man came along . . .

4. Spare a thought for the shorthand writers. Intelligence gathering in the Domain.
The police tried to intimidate the speakers at Speakers’ Corner, and would take notes, using shorthand, on what the speakers said.

5. Parramatta’s Speakers’ Corner.
Read about the only person prosecuted in Australia for blasphemy. And such a harsh punishment!

6. The Voiceless Memorial.
Over a century of free speech in the Domain deserves some recognition, don’t you think?

7. Jim Thorburn, of the Socialist Party of Great Britain.
Jim was a gun speaking in the UK, but moved to the antipodes and spoke in The Domain.

8. Frank Barnes.
Frank’s father was a religious hypocrite, and that may have helped shape Frank as one of the best, and most blasphemous, speakers ever at the Domain.

9. John Ambler.
John Ambler tried to take Speakers’ Corner to Circular Quay. Unfortunately, a few Nazis turned up as well.

10. Charlie King.
Charlie was a self-educated man who had acquired considerable erudition on a range of subjects. He employed his oratorical ability to campaign constantly for the cause of world peace.

11. Egon Erwin Kisch
Egon saw enough of Hitler’s Germany to know that Hitler was bad news. But as he prepared himself to speak in Sydney’s Domain . . .

12. Senator Donald Grant (1888-1970)
15 words gave this man 15 years jail.


The Meeting Trees

1. The Trees of Knowledge
Charlie King used to speak in the Domain under his Tree of Knowledge. But he wasn’t the first. Trees have played an important part in history as meeting places for ideas and trysts. In this article Steve writes about a few of them.


Speakers’ Corner – Queensland, Australia

1. Patrick Coleman
To speak in Townsville you needed a permit! Patrick didn’t get one, and got into a heap of trouble. As a result, Australia was in breach of its obligations under the UN Human Rights Conventions.
 These pesky speakers!

2. Brisbane.
Only recently did Brisbane aquire its Speakers’ Corner. The speakers there can talk of Queensland’s turbulent past.

3. The Red Flag Riots
What happens if, straight after World War I, you get returned soldiers on one side, and Bolsheviks on the other? You get mayhem!


Speakers’ Corner – Adelaide

1. Botanic Park
Speakers’ Corner began as a religious forum.

2. Location, Location, Location.
The speakers needed written consent!

3. The heyday of Adelaide’s Speakers’ Corner.
Percy Brunton, the peanut king!

4. The soapbox rings.
The political parties get in on the act.


Speakers’ Forum – Melbourne, Australia

1. “The Atheist Call”
Steve recounts how one man’s challenge changed another man’s life.

2. The Yarra Bank.
A Speakers’ Corner that was shuffled around.

3. Chummy Fleming on the Yarra Bank
Learn about the man who made the Yarra Bank popular.

4. “But Quiet Flows the Yarra”  The Herald, 7th January 1947
(with a postscript from Steve Maxwell)
What was it like in 1947?

5. Jack Bradshaw (1840-1930)
What happens when an ex-bushranger decides to become a speaker?


Speakers’ Corner – USA.

1. The Boston Common.
One of the first Speakers’ Corners in America.

2. The Bughouse Square Debates  (Part 1).
One of America’s most exciting Speakers’ Corners, for many years, was at ‘Bughouse Square’ (Washington Square). Every year, for one day in July, it lives again.

3. The Bughouse Square Debates (Part 2)
Saul Bellow was intrigued by the “Hobo College” that sprung up every Spring.

4. The Bughouse Square Debates (Part 3)
An update on one of the few Speakers’ Corners still going.

New York, Part One: The New York Commons.
‘The Sons of Liberty’ erected the Liberty Pole, to rally support for their boycott of British goods.

6. New York, Part Two: Union Square, and an anarchist.
Emma Goldman, the eloquent anarchist.

7. New York, Part Three. Union Square and another woman’s voice.
Leonora O’Reilly, another interesting activist.

8. The Decline and Revival of Union Square.
Motorcycle cavalcades attempt to disrupt free speech.

9. Columbus Circle – Part 1.
Columbus Circle (Central Park) and Coney Island had a short flurry of activity, as did Harlem in Manhattan, Tompken Square, Washington Square and Wall Street. Only Union Square has survived the march of time.

10. Columbus Circle – Part 2.
A bigoted religious soapbox speaker takes the issue of free speech to the Supreme Court and changes the free speech landscape forever.

11. New York, Coney Island, and Moses Bartiz.
In Coney Island it was risky business being a socialist. But that didn’t stop peripatetic Moses Bartiz.


Speakers’ Corner – South Africa.

1. ‘The Stone’.
Who would have thought that a Speakers’ Corner would be where to mixed race political parties were founded?

2. Soapboxing on the Grand Parade, Capetown.
The Grand Parade has seen the likes of “Cissy” Gool and Nelson Mandela.

3. The Johannesburg Town Hall steps.
It was Johannesburg that set Mandela on the course that led to the destruction of Apartheid.

4. The Rhodes Memorial, South Africa.
Cape town’s Speaker’s Corner got off to a rowdy start.


Speakers’ Corner – Singapore.

Singapore’s Speakers’ Corner.
1. Who would have thought Singapore would have a Speakers’ Corner?


Speakers’ Corner – The West Indies.

1. The West Indian soapboxes who influence the world.
Meet the two men who influenced Malcolm X. Discover the roots of a big chunk of North American music.

2. Woodford Square Speakers’ Corner, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.
A Speakers’ Corner in which the speakers are taken seriously?


Speakers’ Corner – Italy

1. Speakers’ Corner, Rome
Although Rome has had free speech for thousands of years, say the wrong thing and you might lose a tongue!


Speakers’ Corner – France.

1. The Speakers’ Corners in Paris.
Which speaker in Paris thought they should all go nude?

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