Soapbox Speakers

Voiceless Memorial

For many years Sydney’s Speakers’ Corner in the Domain had no memorial to acknowledge the historical and contemporary importance of the area as a site of public oratory.
That all changed in the year 2000. To celebrate a centenary of federation, The Federal and State governments funded Sydney Sculpture Walk, which was a major City of Sydney Council initiative consisting of five artworks.

One of those artworks was created by Debra Phillips, a well known Sydney sculptor and art teacher. Her work was called Viva Voce, and it was placed in the middle of the Domain – an area where public speakers once gathered. Her installation consists of a red stepladder (modelled on Charlie King’s red ladder) and five marble-clad soapboxes arranged amongst the trees. Viva Voca was opened by Sydney’s Lord Mayor, Clover Moore.

If my memory serves me correctly, “The Wizard ” of New Zealand (Ian Channell, formerly a popular university lecturer and Domain soapboxer) cursed the Nazi party from the Viva Voce on the same day it was opened. Apparently the leader of the Nazi party had proclaimed himself Wizard of Australia. Ian hated the Nazis and said there was room for only one Wizard. He thereupon cursed the leader of the Nazis to thenceforth utter nothing but nonsense, which Ian believed the Nazis already did.

The area where Viva Voce stands was a natural gathering place for speakers, but due to a long drought, garden water sprinklers were automatically turned on every afternoon at 2 pm. The speakers found a place closer to the Art Gallery where the water sprinklers could not reach them.

Then on Sunday 20th March 2011, another tribute to the soapboxers was opened in the Domain, directly opposite the Art Gallery: the Speaker’ Corner Memorial. It was opened by Dr Tim Entwisle, Director of the Botanical Gardens. The memorial is a large platform with a photographic plaque depicting Anne Duffy-Lindsay, a popular socialist speaker. It celebrates over 130 years of impassioned free speech and public debate in the Sydney Domain. The speakers on the day were the Rev. Bill Crews, Jack Mundey and myself. It was a wet day but, undaunted by the rain, the regular Domain speakers and hecklers were on hand.

The Memorial is used by the speakers on Sunday afternoon.

Steve Maxwell

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