Soapbox Speakers

2. Location, Location, Location.

Adelaide’s Botanic Garden was established in 1855. Botanic Park, the site of the Speakers’ Corner, was acquired in 1866 to make the garden (34 hectares). It is a large area between the Plane Tree Drive and MacKney Road.

The Salvation Army held its first Australasian meeting in the Botanic Park under a grove of gum trees in the centre of park. On 5th September 1880, John Gore (1846-1931), a young dark eyed intense young man, stood on the tailboard of a cart under a gum tree and issued an invitation to all onlookers: “ IF THERE’S ANY MAN HERE WHO HAS NOT HAD A MEAL TODAY LET HIM COME HOME WITH ME.”

There is a large stone with a plaque on the site commemorating the event. Access to Speakers’ Corner was from the north gate of the Botanic Park. It was at that location that Speakers’ Corner first developed.

People began to gather at the Park to hear other Speakers. This gave Botanic Park a reputation as Adelaide’s version of Hyde Park, London. From 1890 onwards, lively public debate took place. People would surround popular speakers’ platforms. These “CIRCLES” became known as “RINGS” and their platforms were also called “STUMPS. (The early settlers would cut down a significant tree and use the stump as a speakers platform and meeting place.) When tree stumps became rare in growing towns, orators used wooden boxes to stand  and a good voice to attract the crowd. People would be standing by – cheering or jeering as they felt inclined. No modern amplifiers were used.

In 1948, the Botanic Garden board of governors (the parks authority) made it an offence to address a meeting in the park “UNLESS THE BOARD HAD FIRST GIVEN ITS CONSENT IN WRITING”. All speakers had their names recorded and a police report called for before approval was granted. A permit for nineteen days would be issued. Permits were rarely refused but there were many attempts made to close these ‘rings’ down. It was not until 1951 that the authority imposed a total ban on the Sunday-afternoon gatherings of speakers at its original location.

They did however re-locate Speakers’ Corner to an inconvenient place far from the north gate. The new location was at the west gate (close to Frome Road) in Botanic Park in a spot behind the City Zoo near the bridge over First Creek. Because of its difficult location and the long delays in building a promised wooden platform with three rows of bench seats, the relocated Speakers’ Corner failed to attracts audiences.

Steve Maxwell, Oct 2019

REFERENCE: Biography – John Gore – Australian Dictionary of Biography  The Salvation Army – an Historical Perspective- by Major Donald Gates

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