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.

Donny died in November, 2018 and here is an added note from this scribe:

Your scribe met Donny a few times and on each occasion Donny was likeable and well mannered, and a pleasure to be with. When he spoke on his podium he was entertaining, informative, and exasperating.

Thank you, Donny, for your significant contribution to the health of Speakers’ Corner.

Donny Dodd in December 2017.

Here are some photos of Donny over the years, courtesy of Steve Maxwell.

At 2pm Donny gets ready to speak at Speakers’ Corner



The people come to listen to Donny.

Here are six photos of the many platforms Donny spoke from:







Donny gets heckled.


Donny heckles too.


Donny gets advice.


Donny gets on the radio. Mirko stands in the background.


Donny lets a good speaker on his platform.


Donny addresses the people on National Soapbox Day.


Sunset on the Domain. Time to go home.

Goodbye, Donny!




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