Soapbox Speakers

Donny Dodd: Aboriginal speaker in Sydney’s Domain (1980 – 2000)

It is interesting to see that among the early speakers were Aborigines.

J.A. Froude, a white supremacist, must have choked over his own words when in the late 1870’s he said, “I saw a number of black groups gathered, as with us, round persons who were addressing them. I went from one group to group, to hear what was going on. It was Battersea or Hyde Park over again. At one was a temperance orator, clamorous for local opinion. At another, a nigger eloquently declaiming on the same subject. The crowd listened respectfully, but languidly, brightening up, however, when the addresses were exchanged for one of Sankey’s hymns.”
(James Anthony Froude, celebrated historian, man of letters and biographer of Thomas Carlyle. Froude was a believer in Social Darwinism.)

When he was a child, Donny Dodd remembers the Island as a prison. You needed a special pass to leave the Aboriginal reserve. His grandfather was imprisoned on the Island; his only crime was being an Aborigine. (Donny, two generations later, was also a prisoner of apartheid – Queensland’s version.)

Donny escaped Palm Island in the 1960’s and got a job on the waterfront in Sydney. Donny learnt about Aboriginal politics by carefully listening to the Aboriginal women who had settled in Sydney. Their stories inspired him to try and redress the wrongs done to his people. In his stint in the Domain he would unfold his banner proclaiming “Aboriginality”. On mounting the platform he shouted to attract an audience, and with the loudest voice in the Domain he quickly attracted one. He spoke every Sunday, following a long tradition of aboriginal oratory in the Domain from aboriginal activists John (Jack) Thomas Patten, Pearl Gibbs, William Ferguson, Tom Foster (open-air preacher), Governor of SA and Pastor Doug Nicholls, and Chicha Dixon. Most of them spoke in the 1930-50’s.

Sydney’s Farm Cove, including the Domain, was a traditional sacred site to the Eora tribe.

Steve Maxwell.

References: Gerry & Lester Bostock “Lousy little sixpence”, Chicha Dixon letter 1996, Alick Jackomos OAM., Jack Horner. And, ‘Invasion to Embassy’ by Heather Goodall.



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