Soapbox Speakers

1. Botanic Park

In 1836, the South Australian colony was established through free migration directly from Great Britain. No convict transportation was assigned to South Australia.

British politician Edward Wakefield (1796-1862) campaigned for colonization and self-government in the empire. His system of settlement took no account of aboriginal rights and took tight control of land and labour. Adelaide soon became a centre of trade and commerce. Rich mineral deposits and agricultural land ensured the success of the colony. It was not long before trade unions organized, among the miners from South Australia and Broken Hill, (N.S.W.). Once the population reached 50,000, self-government was granted in 1851. The first parliament under responsible government was elected in 1857.

The Botanic Park’s Speakers’ Corner began as a religious forum. Open-air religious meetings were common in the streets of Adelaide during the 1840’s and 50’s. And the first report of a Speakers’ Corner was found in the Botanic Garden’s Annual Report from 1887 where there appeared this significant announcement:

“On Sunday afternoon some religious sects, the Salvation Army, and the Crusaders, assembled in “THE CIRCLES” for worship and as long as no damage is done to the location, I do not see any reason for preventing such assemblages.”

For the next seventy years, Botanic Park Speakers’ Corner was the beating heart of Adelaide’s public politics. Non-conformist protestants began to flourish in the colony – some with the motto “WHERE THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS, THERE IS LIBERTY”. But the spirit of The Lord works in mysterious ways. The Methodist Weekly of 1912 complained about their losing their grip on the working class. “Men who formerly were in our churches are now at the Botanic Park on sabbath afternoons or at some other political gathering. The leader of the Labor and socialistic movement is largely outside our churches”.

As the 19th century closed, the rise of the working-class platforms began to grow and outnumber the religious platforms. The 20th century saw the rise and fall of Speakers’ Corner.

Steve Maxwell, Oct 2019


The Botanic Garden’s Annual Reports
The Botanic Gardens of Adelaide and State Herbarium.
The Mortlock Library South Australia

‘Free Speech in Botanic Park’ by L.P. Jervis.

Sound of Trumpets History of the Labour Movement in South Australia   P59. by Jim Moss

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