Soapbox Speakers

The ‘Irish Parliaments’ at the Rocks.

Before 1833, all public meetings in New South Wales were forbidden without permission from the sheriff. Further, the Governor appointed the chairman of the meeting.

William Charles Wentworth challenged this convention. Wentworth held a rowdy meeting calling for self-government for New South Wales. A second meeting in July 1833 forced the sheriff to vacate the chair. That meeting proceeded without the sheriff’s permission. In effect, Wentworth won freedom of speech in Australia.

From there, an open air forum called “the Irish Parliament” began in the Rocks area of old Sydney Town. Judging from the political activism of the time it would be fair to say that such a forum may have existed as early as 1840.

“ Here the grey-beards spouted their hoary wisdom in the shelter offered by Observatory Hill. A forum of opinion as free as it was sweeping and with no Hansard to act as a check. Such “Irish Parliaments” were a legacy of the days when in Gloucester Street (and other streets) balcony oratory held forth. Taverns and inns were the place of meeting and natural fervours were the presence and promise of Daniel Deniehy, Dr Dunmore Land , Henry Parks, William Daley, WJ Spreison and others. Heat was more noticeable then light.”
‘Heart of the Rocks of old, by Isadore Brodsky.

(Before the observatory was built in 1858 the area was a semaphore station known as Flagstaff Hill, from which were sent signals to the Governor’s house in Parramatta.)

References:
‘The Liberators’, by William Joy. Library of Australia Classics. p 36, Chapter 4 ‘Freedom of Speech’.
‘Heart of the Rocks of old’, by Isadore Brodsky, P 85.

Steve Maxwell. plnsteve@gmail.com

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