Soapbox Speakers

Charlie King.

In the early 1930’s, when Charlie King was a youth, he peddled his bicycle to the Domain and listened to the speakers as often as he could.

The Second World War interrupted his life, as it did so many others. He fought the Japanese in Papua New Guinea, and after the war entered the building industry. His fascination with Speakers’ Corner continued.

In the 1950’s he studied atheism by reading widely and listening carefully to Frank Barnes, an accomplished Domain stump orator. His interest in atheism went beyond the Domain, and he became a member of the Rationalist association of New South Wales. 

When Frank Barnes became too ill to continue his atheist platform in the Domain, Charlie left the Rationalist Association and established his “Free thought” platform.

Disaster struck Charlie in 1979 when a wall collapsed, pinning him under the rubble. He was paralysed in his legs for six months and slowly recovered in the Prince Henry Hospital spinal unit. Charlie held an undying admiration for the nursing staff and doctor of Prince Henry Hospital.

Come drizzle or sunshine, Sunday after Sunday, Charlie would arrive at the Domain ready to debate anyone. His greatest day came on April 15th, 1990, when 1500 Christians flooded into the Domain to celebrate Easter under an ecumenical banner. Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox. It was like the old days of the Domain Speakers’ Corner. He covered everything, from life everlasting, the Ten Commandments, and the Virgin birth.

One young Catholic lad, Adam Smith from Sydenham (aged 12) asked Charlie what he thought would happen to him (Charlie) when he died. Charlie replied “I’ll go straight to the university”!

Charlie King passed away in 1995. A fitting obituary was written by the late Bernie Rosen (domain speaker and communist):

The death of Charlie King, a Rationalist speaker at the Sydney Domain for nearly 34 years, leaves a gap in the intellectual life of our community that will be hard to fill. Charlie took over the platform from his illustrious predecessor, Frank Barnes, who rendered incalculable service to the cause of scientific education and rationalism. 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. During the Vietnam War Charlie, Pastor Arthur Neville and myself organised three Domain peace rallies. Charlie was an ex-serviceman who fought the Japanese in Papua New Guinea during WWII. Like Frank Barnes, he encouraged and trained new public speakers and organised a forum at the Florence Bartley Hall every Sunday night. The best tribute that I can pay my friend Charlie King is that he served Australia well in both war and peace. I join his many friends in expressing my condolences to Mrs. King, his son Raymond and family.

Steve Maxwell.

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