Soapbox Speakers

Senator Donald Grant (1888-1970)

Donald Grant was born in 1888 at Inverness, Scotland. He migrated to Australia in 1910, where he found work in a paper mill. Grant became worried by the fear of impending war and joined the Australian Freedom League in 1912. By the outbreak of war he found himself increasingly attracted to the IWW (Industrial Worker of the World), which was also a militant labor organisation.

Donald Grant emerged as an important anti-war speaker in the Sydney Domain. During the first World War he attracted large crowds with his personal magnetism. His activities lost him his job in the paper mill. and he was blacklisted in every state in Australia. Grant survived unemployment as best he could by helping the IWW.

In 1915, Tom Barker, editor of  “Direct Action”, an IWW newspaper, was jailed for producing a poster  which read, “To arms!  capitalists parsons, politicians, landlords, newspaper editors, and other stay at home patriots. Your country needs you in the trenches! workers follow your masters!”.

The following Sunday on the Domain, Donald Grant was recorded in short hand by police spies as saying:

“For every day Barker is in jail it will cost the capitalists ten thousand pound”.

These are fifteen of the most famous words spoken on the Domain. Donald grant received a sentence of one year in jail for each word uttered. He was arrested in October 1916 while visiting Broken Hill, along with eleven other members of the IWW. All were charged with treason.

The charges were later altered to “arson and sedition”. Grant was convicted on all counts and given his sentence of fifteen years. Other members of the IWW received sentences ranging from eleven to twenty years. The IWW was accused of burning down a wool storage building.

New South Wales trade unions engaged E.E.Judd to investigate the police case. His investigation proved a conspiracy between the government and the police.

The IWW, the Labor Party and the Australian Freedom League launched a widespread campaign to free the men. In 1920 a Royal Commission found that IWW and Grant had been wrongly convicted.

In later years, Grant joined the Labor Party. He was elected to the Sydney Municipal Council and later was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Council. He was an adviser to External Affairs Minister H.V. Evatt in 1943, and was elected a federal senator for 16 years.

Steve Maxwell, 2019

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