The Archives for Speakers’ Corner, Sydney.

This site is the archive for the videos and posts created for the Sydney’s Speakers’ Corner website:


25. A visit from Tim.

“We are only vulnerable and ridiculous through our pretensions.”
Delphine de Girardin.

1. It was a beautiful winter’s dayand Steve Maxwell looked resplendent. This thoughtless scribe didn’t think to take a photo, so you’ll just have to imagine Steve looking resplendent. When you’ve done that go on to the next line.

Steve spoke about the upcoming 4th July, Independence Day. He explained how the American revolution influenced Australia’s early history.

2. Today poor Mr B suffered from the antics of his garden gnomes. They were impatient and chattery, and rude even, and they kept inaccurately predicting what Mr B would say next. Worst of all, they were dissenting.

As a result, Mr B was grumpy and frustrated. Not a pretty sight.

Speaking of garden gnomes, here is a work of art by the artist Bill Barton.

3. Other subjects discussed:
– Uncle Pete spoke about education and was scathing of certain teaching methods. (He doesn’t have the highest respect for the subject, ‘Social Sciences’, either.) And, he was critical of David Gonski (a man hired to design education reforms and their funding).

– Mr B spoke about Australia’s low standard of living. He wasn’t referring to the normal meaning of the term; he was suggesting that many Australians have low standards in how they live their life. Eg. There is too much theft, he said, too much complacency, and too much selfishness, and too much complaining about trivial matters. We have to lift our standards, he said.

– If you were held down and injected with a drug that prompted you to kill someone, and then became well again the following day, should you go to jail for the crime? That question was easy enough for the grasshoppers to answer, but the questions then became harder. The line between who should go to jail and who shouldn’t became blurred.
Mr B gave us one of his wackiest ideas: a prison sentence could be cut short if a prisoner exhbited insight. He said each prisoner should write an essay explaining why what they did was wrong. If the letter wasn’t insightful enough they wouldn’t get early release.   Mr B received plenty of flak for that brain explosion!

– In courts, judges award longer sentences to people who show no remorse. Is that fair?

– Is banning plastic carry bags a good idea?

– Last week Peter the Younger spoke about global warming and this week Mr B responded. To do so he first explained how ice ages come about. (Hint: it has something to do with the changing tilt of the Earth as it revolves around the sun in an elliptical orbit.)

– Mirko again got up onto the Ladder of Knowledge and spoke about his ‘two polarity gravity field’, for goodness sake.

– Helmut enthralled passers-by with his talk of matter and energy.

– Ray remained near the kiosk and spoke about God. Two atheists turned up to give him a hard time.

– An audience member, Tim, has done his PhD on property rights and naturally wanted to talk about it. The poor fellow had to squeeze two hundred terrabytes of knowledge into ten minutes. He did well, and happily answered questions. Unfortunately, he had to deal with dissent as well. Perhaps we should ban dissent at Speakers’ Corner? Now there’s an idea!


4. During our unusual creature series, this amblypygi subscribed to our Facebook page. Why haven’t you?


5. Steve Maxwell  has given us another interesting episode of his Passing Parade.

Steve cleverly kept an article he found in a 1947 edition of ‘The Herald. (Presumably he didn’t keep it at the time of publication because he hadn’t yet been born.) That 1947 article is reproduced below. Steve adds a postscript at the end.

“But Quiet Flows the Yarra”  The Herald, 7th January 1947.
(The title of the article is a reference to “And Quiet Flows the Don”; a popular epic novel of 1940’s by Russian author Nikhail Alexandrovich Sholokhov (1905-1984).)

The little man in the bowler hat and the butterfly collar waved his umbrella and flickered his way through the crowd. He couldn’t stand it any longer. “It’s a dirty lie,” he shouted. Then he jabbed his umbrella at the speaker. But he had lost his coherence in his age so he just stood there, wavering on the verge of a stroke.

The speaker hardly flinched. He has been treated with umbrellas regularly, every Sunday afternoon for close on 50 years. The little man was an Irishman, you could tell from his brogue. He had obviously never been to the Yarra Bank before, otherwise he would have known that “ Chummy” Fleming has been saying those same old things about Archbishop Mannix and the Pope for decades.

Yes “Chummy” is still dishing it out from the same old rock platform, under the same old elm under the same red banner proclaiming ANARCHY to the four winds. The incident I have just described took place last Sunday. (January 1947)

At 84, he can still draw the crowds at Melbourne’s most famous Sunday institution, but can’t hold them like he could in the days,  when he often paid for his anti-church and anti-government prejudices with a week-day term in gaol.

Yet there is still a flicker of the old “Chummy” left. I found on Sunday that it doesn’t pay to move on too quickly when he takes the hat round at the end of his “address”. Regulars of the Speakers’ Forum say “Chummy” is the master renters. They told me on Sunday that two speakers, the Man in Mortar Board (who stuck it on with sticking plaster on windy days), and Luke the evangelist, have passed on.

Nevertheless, big crowds are still flocking to the Bank of Melbourne’s best free show. New apostles and new ‘isms have place, and the old chemist with the stethoscope dangling around his collar, who dispenses free medical advice and answers questions on the prostate gland, is still going strong.

Luke’s mantle has fallen on Dave, an evangelist who has no teeth and no singing voice. A badge in his lapel announces that “JESUS LOVE ME.” and like Luke, he has to put up with the members of the audience who persist in reciting his sermon in unison with him.

Joe Williams was thundering away at the Communists across the way.

Joe a former boxing teacher, who is a master of invective, is the greatest entertainment draw these days. He can hurl abuse for hours on end, keeping up swithering fire at neighbouring speakers all the while.

Joe seems to devote himself entirely to attacks on communism. He opens with a tirade against the crowd around Communist Party rostrum. On the next pitch he launches into a very home-made dissertation on dialectical materialism and he ends with a venomous attack on Stalin.

One raucous-voiced interjector was getting the better of Joe for a time on Sunday, so Joe stopped and let him go. “You know,” said Joe. leaning forward confidentially when he finished, ‘I think you could learn to love me if only you tried.’

Joe had his audience with him again in a flash. He challenged other interrupters to come up and have it out. They never do.  Joe is an ex-boxing instructor and looks it.

Under the elm tree, on the other side of the Communist platform, also hurling abuse at their speakers and Joe, was A.G, Payne. Payne calls himself a university lecturer, mainly because students invited him up to address them at a lunch-time meeting last year. He always carries the copy of the University newspaper Farrago, which reported his address for the benefit of sceptics.

‘Don’t interrupt a scholar and a gentleman -you’re a low-down monstrosity, you’re a miserable skunk,’ is his favourite method of dealing with persistent hecklers.

Behind Payne’s pitch, strung up on the railway fence, is a banner announcing ‘Socialist Labour Party – Revolutionary political action backed by scientific industrial organisation.’ beneath it, addressing the wind, is a short middle-aged women in a wide brimmed hat stuck in place with an enormous hatpin. She speaks with closed eyes but her high pitched voice rings monotonously on. A regular told me that, only three or four ever meet around her. As he was telling, Casey dropped over to interrupt her. Casey, apparently, is the Yarra Bank’s best-known interjector. He spends a brief period at each pitch Sunday after Sunday. Usually he takes up his stand on the rockery alongside the speaker, asking questions on subjects ranging from the existence of the devil to the A plus B theorem of Douglas Credit. Casey keeps it up until one or the other speakers suggests he tell the crowd why he left the Salvation Army. He likes that. That gives him the floor.

But not all the speakers are eccentrics. The Yarra bank started after the maritime strikes of the 1890’s. Militant unionists chose the Melbourne docks opposite the Yarra Bank to establish an outdoor speaker’s forum from which they attack the Government of Victoria. When the strikes ended trade unionists relocated the Speaker’s Forum on the open ground of Yarra Bank. It soon became the traditional rallying grounds for May Day and a regular Sunday forum.

Tom Man, the English strike leader and politician, spoke there as did Ramsay MacDonald, the future British Prime Minister.

The biggest crowd that assembled there, over 100,000 people, was during the ant-conscription rallies of World War One. Labor leader Mr. Secuillin MHR. Frank Brennan, Maurice Blackburn, E J Holloway John Cain and John Curtin Australian Pre-minister, all developed their oratory skills on the Yarra Bank. Best of the Communism speakers was the veteran D.G. O’Day. He attracted a regular crowed of 500.

Dominican Catholic priest Fr. Vincent Ryan held a large meeting on the Catholic Evidence Guild. He was an impressive sight, dressed in medieval robes. He only paused from time to time from his mission to preach faith and morals to drink lemonade.

A small number of vendors did a steady trade in ice-cream and lemonade. Only one vender who did before WW2 is remembered: The Peanut King was a Melbourne eccentric who dispensed his wares resplendent in top hat and frock coat.

Postscript from Steve Maxwell:

Unlike the 24 hours news and views we are so used to in this time of instant information the orators of Melbourne were governed by the setting sun.

Dave was chanting to one of his own hymns as the sun set. Joes’ and Payne’s audiences had split up into small circles arguing on their own. How can you call our Sunday dull when you had the Yarra Bank, less then five minutes from Flinders St Station, any Sabbath afternoon?

Like the wandering Jew, Yarra Bank soapboxers were cast out of the Speaker’s Corner, not by a sudden attack but due to a slow decline in attendance and the onset of modernity. Black and white television was introduced to Melbourne on the 4thof November 1956, only 18 days before the Melbourne Olympic Games. The Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies gave an opening speech. In 1957 the final quarter of the Australian Rules Football was televised.

By 1960 most people in Melbourne had access to television. It was a game changer. Newspaper, radio and the soapboxers were challenged by the new media much as the internet is a challenge nowadays. The city grew and the population dispersed into suburbia.

The Yarra River’s south bank was the site of regular Sunday-afternoon speakers and meetings. The first May Day celebration Melbourne began on May1st 1892. It was lead by the anarchist Chummy Fleming. May day processions would begin at Trades hall and ended at the Yarra Bank Speakers’ Corner where unionists would set up for public speeches.  He started marching 30 minutes before the official march and waited for the main march to catch up with him. He passed away in the mid 1950’s.

24. Cut the ABC’s funding.

Asked of ex NSW Premier Bob Carr: “When did your scepticism first emerge?

“When I was 15 or 16, wandering through the Sydney Domain on a Sunday afternoon, listening to an orator from the Rationalist Society flinging out challenges to biblical orthodoxy. “

(From this weekend’s Sydney Morning Herald)
My thanks to Glenda Browne for bringing it to our attention.

1. When you read a storyyou can’t ask the author “Is this true?”. You have to let the author take you on a journey and you discover whether or not it is true when the author intends you to discover it. But when a speaker at Speakers’ Corner sets about tellinga story he isn’t allowed to let the story unravel at its own pace. No, not at Speakers’ Corner. Instead, the poor speaker gets his impatient garden gnomes asking, “Is the story true, Mr Speaker? Is it? Is it?” The speaker is forced to confess that it is indeed true, or it isn’t. Thus, any impact that the ending of the story might have is deflated. Sigh.

Honestly, the speakers at Speakers’ Corner deserve medals and accolades for putting up with their listeners’ interruptions and demands.

The reason no one pays the speakers at Speakers’ Corner is because no one could pay them enough.

Here is one speaker who has put up with an awful lot over the last four decades. Good on you, Steve.

2. Mr B began one topic 
by explaining that his mother used to work in the council’s library. Each year the library would wastefully spend their allotted funds like crazy, for fear that if they didn’t, their budget would be reduced the following year. Then he introduced his topic: “Religion is no longer the opiate of the masses; it’s television.” A few grasshoppers nodded to concur. But when Mr B demanded the federal government reduce the ABC’s funding by 50%, suddenly they were up in arms! Fans of Peppa Pig and Dr Who were outraged!

Here are some facts gleened from Mr B’s exhilarating talk:
– The ABC received in this financial year $1.2b. Next year it will receive $1.36b.

– Plus, they receive nearly $200 million from other sources of revenue. That’s close to $1.4b each year.

– Mr B reckons Sydney’s taxpayers should not have to fund FOUR ABC television stations and TWELVE radio stations in Sydney. “We don’t need that many, no matter how addicted to television we are,” he said. “Nor should the taxpayer pay for four codes of football to be broadcast. Why the hell should the taxpayer be paying to have the Hornets vs Lizards football game broadcast?” he wanted to know. “Yes, television is the opiate of the masses, but that doesn’t mean the taxpayer should fund all that opium.”

– The ABC’s purpose is to ensure every person in Australia has access to the news in case of bushfire, invasion, etc. “We don’t need to spend $1.4b each year to ensure that,” he said. “And you can still have your Peppa Pig, Dr Who and David Attenborough programs. Just get rid of the fat.”

– What fat, Mr B? Well, apparently 45.4% of the $1.4b (that’s $635,600,000) is used to pay salaries. If every employee received $100,000 a year that means there must be over 6,000 employees. (If the average salary is $50,000 that means there are 12,000 employees.) Assuming 40 of the 54 radio stations are regional stations and require ten people each (that’s generous) that means the other radio stations and television stations combined employ very approximately 5,600 people. That’s about 294 people per station. “There’s the fat!” he exclaimed. (The figures are rubbery but you get the point, dear reader.)

– And, according to the leader of the Australian Conservatives, Cory Bernardi, the ABC spends $2m each year paying Google (.5m) and Facebook (1.4m) to promote the ABC. “Should the taxpayer shell out money to promote the ABC to itself?” Mr B wanted to know.

– “Plus, when there is even a whiff of cuts to its funding, the ABC indulges in extreme self interest by making the topic one of its leading stories,” claimed Mr B. “They use their radio and television programs to promote their cause, hogwash the listeners, and protect their honeypot. As a result, no federal government is game to reduce its funding for fear of a voter backlash. So, the funds (increased each year) keep rolling in, year after year. The ABC naturally wants to spend the funds (or it will look stupid) so be prepared for more waste, and more television and radio stations. Mr B concluded by saying that his mother’s library was just an amateur when it came to profligacy.

Your scribe wasn’t 100% convinced by Mr B, but this new ABC logo is a touch worrying.

The new ABC logo.

3. Peter the Younger drew a big crowd when he took the Ladder of Knowledge. He patiently explained to us all why humans are NOT necessarily causing global warming or climate change, and why human activity is not causing damage to the Great Barrier Reef. He received plenty of ‘feedback’ and handled it well. He had an answer for every objection. It was the most exciting part of the day.

Peter did a fantastic job and it’s a shame he isn’t a permanent speaker.

4. From the big topics to the small.
During the week Mr B used the formula “Area of a circle = πr2” to calculate how much of a pizza base is covered with topping. From a nearby pizza restaurant the results are:
Large pizza: 76% has topping on it.
Small pizza: 77%
That means nearly ONE QUARTER of a pizza doesn’t have topping on it.

“So what?” said three grasshoppers. “We like the crust.”


5. Mirko got up to speak and Uncle Pete
again had trouble grasping Mirko’s scientific gems. We have to admit, Mirko is very patient with those who have trouble understanding the very basics of physics and chemistry.

Mirko was talking freely about Mother Nature when the inquisitive Uncle Pete asked him, “What about Father Nature?” As quick as a flash Mirko provided the answer: “Father Nature is the software programmer that allows Mother Nature to do her work.” That floored us all. Mirko has obviously given that question a lot of thought already. Have we barely scratched the surface of his knowledge?

The extraordinary thing is: Mirko is serious when he comes out with this material. It’s just as well he gained his knowledge from advanced aliens, otherwise we might doubt the veracity of his claims.

6. From the audience Kyle got up to speak. He quickly overcame any nervousness he may have been feeling and spoke about how history itself is muddied by our historians more than we care to mention. The example he gave was of a German fellow, John Rabe, who saved more than 200,000 Chinese lives from the Japanese army in the Nanking massacre. When John Rabe returned to Germany soon after World War 2 the allies took a dim view of his Nazi heritage, but eventually the Chinese expressed their appreciation of him.


7. Infinity yet again!
Uncle Pete stood on the Ladderof Knowledge and explained Zeno’s paradox of Achilles & the Tortoise. But he explained it with the example of a frog in a well. (Why he didn’t use Achillles & the Tortoise is still unclear.) Then he explained the flaw in Zeno’s paradox. (Yes, he’s a party pooper.) Uncle Pete received considerable flak from the audience for his effort.

Later, Mr B also briefly discussed Zeno’s Arrow. At any point in an arrow’s flight it cannot take up more space than itself, so it can only be in one place at any one moment of time. An infinite number of snapshots would reveal an infinite number of stationary arrows. That means motion is impossible, said Zeno. That’s the theory anyway. Uncle Pete was willing to put an arrow through the heart of the speaker to prove motion is possible. Oh dear.

Then some bright spark wondered if Zeno had trouble catching a bus.

Then a not-so-bright spark wondered what Xena (presumably the Princess Warrior) was doing with a frog in a well.

Then someone else began talking about the actress Lucy Lawless and the conversation degenerated pretty quickly from there.

8. Other topics discussed:
– Are some people above average in their intelligence while others are below, as Mr B claimed? Or do we have different types of intelligence that make comparisons pointless, as a school teacher claimed?

– We spoke briefly spoke of nuclear resonance fluorescence.

– We also discussed the likeability of two of television’s giants: Tom Ballard and Joel Creasey.

9. Her Majesty the Queen of Englandhas subscribed to our Facebook Page. So too has her husband, Prince Philip.

The sea swallow joins our series of unusual creatures.

Sea Swallow


23. Talk of ghosts!

“I never make the mistake of arguing with people for whose opinions I have no respect.”
Edward Gibbon

1. He’s back!

2. The subjects discussed today:
– Steve Maxwell spoke of ‘The History Wars’ mentioned in the Weekend Australian. The article claimed that the ugly side of western civilisation does not diminish civilisation itself. Steve disagreed.

– Uncle Pete explained the possible science behind spontaneous human combustion.

– A passer-by called Tim gave us a Marxist perspective on why goods are produced and sold. He spoke clearly and coherently, and answered questions well. He did a good job.

– Mr B explained the skeleton differences between communism and socialism. Helmut provided us with a few jokes about communism like, “Communism: What’s yours is mine and what’s mine is none of your concern.”

– When Mr B was undercover in hospital he found himself watching daytime television. Today he let loose. His vitriolic about Dr Phil was unpleasant, and his observations of the show ‘Ellen’ were unsettling. And, he accused the makers of an underwear advertisement of plagiarism. “How dare they steal my term, ‘grasshoppers’!” he lamented, “The advertising executives who visit Speakers’ Corner should be ashamed of themselves.”
(The fact that he stole the term from the 1970’s television program, ‘Kung Fu’, doesn’t seem to concern him.)

– Some people say they don’t believe in a god but claim there is a “life force” that created us all. Mr B went to town on those people. He explained that if the life force is not a sentient entity it could not have chosen to create the universe and we who live in it; and if it is a sentient entity then they do believe in a god after all, because any sentient, omnipotent ‘life force’ must be a god. Using the weasil words ‘life force’ to pretend you don’t believe in a god will not cut the mustard, he said.

– Ray remained speaking near the kiosk, and we have no doubt that he calls his god ‘God’ and not the weasil term ‘life force’.

– Helmut told us that in his wrestling career he had had 167 wrestling matches, many of them against famous wrestlers such as Spiros Orion, Mario Milano and Killer Kawolski. Helmut was obliged to lose to those famous wrestlers, he explained, but when he faced wrestlers of his calibre the winner was decided by the toss of a coin in the locker room before the match. The length of a match was pre-determined too, with promoters assisting by giving a secret sign to tell them it was time to close the match.

– Mr B gave us seven reasons why there cannot be an afterlife. Part of that talk was an explanation as to why there can be no such thing as a ghost.

3. When the sun crept behind the skyscrapers it got cold, so Mr B finished early and Helmut took the ladder at 3.45pm. Helmut spoke about the interchangeability of light and matter. Forty minutes later we collected the chairs and called it a day.

4. Our Facebook page has over eightysubscribers, but each post only reaches around 20 people. Go figure.

Another photo from the ‘unusual animal’ series:

The blue footed booby.


22. Geoffrey Chaucer and the Parson’s Tale

“For souls in growth, great quarrels are great emancipations.”
Logan Pearsall Smith

1. Although the weatherwas uninspiring it was a good day. At one point an American chap called Logan stood high on the Ladder of Knowledge, and with his strong, arresting voice he did a fabulous job. He spoke mainly about people’s relationships with one another. It was quality, interesting material and as one listener said of him, “He is a complete and utter natural.” Logan is welcome back any time he likes.

We got lucky in other ways, too. Peter the Younger argued with Steve Maxwell about Climate Change, and was prompted to get up onto the Ladder of Knowledge and speak about it. That prompted Ben the Whisperer to do the same! Both men spoke well. That is good news! It appears that while Mr B is away malingering we have the next crop of quality speakers shooting up. We have discovered that there is considerable depth in Speakers Corner, and it’s pleasing and heartening to see.

Where Mirko fits into that depth it’s hard to say, but he had a good rave again today.

Uncle Pete didn’t get to speak but Steve Maxwell did. Steve spoke about the fact that historians have strangely ignored the history of birth control. He gave one exception, from Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The Parson’s Tale speaks about such matters, and apparently it  includes references to abortions, condoms and other less orthodox forms of sex. Not bad for the 15th century!

Mr B is still away, though he expects to be at Speakers’ Corner this coming Sunday. If the Ladder of Knowledge isn’t too crowded, he hopes to say a few words.

2. Helmut surprised us yet again.He spoke about drugs in sport, and it turns out that he is a big fan of tennis. He gave a point by point description of the French Tennis Open. Helmut is one of the few people who could make such a description interesting.

These two dogs appear to be interested in the tennis too.

21. Special Notice.

A handful of you would have realised that the posts have been irregular lately. There is a reason for that and I can now reveal it to you. The dutiful Mr B has been in hospital, undercover. He wanted to ascertain the quality of Australia’s health care system, and to do so he spent five nights in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit faking blood clots in his lungs. He then felt obliged to spend another five days in recovery in a ward, to get an overall perspective.

He is now out of hospital, but unfortunately he is suffering the effects of all the medications the doctors forced upon him. He should be well enough to return to Speakers’ Corner on the 17th June. It is then he will give his grasshoppers a two minute report on his findings.

All this time, your diligent scribe had to remain near Mr B to ensure he didn’t inadvertently end up with a lung transplant or something. That would have been taking things too far. That’s why I couldn’t attend the meetings recently.

But from what I have heard, the meetings have been going very well without him. That’s good to hear!

20. It’s a community!

“An epitaph is an inscription which hopes the virtues acquired by death will have a retroactive effect”.
Ambrose Bierce

1.  Today the camera-shyJohn August began speaking on the Ladder of Knowledge. However, before he got into his stride, a photographer turned up. John promptly vacated the Ladder. Then Mr B gave us some bull dust about his experience under anaesthesia, and then was replaced by Mirko. Mirko had a few things to say about H2O and the sun’s hydrogen, and the crowd were entertained. Then Uncle Pete took over and gave a very interesting appraisal of the National Appraisal Program for school children, NAPLAN. In his engaging manner, Pete made a good point about the tests that this scribe hasn’t heard elsewhere. He even earned a round of applause.

It was a friendly atmosphere today. The place really does seem to have a sense of community. It was a pleasure to be there.

Unfortunately, your scribe had to leave. I was keen to get back home to watch the replay of Meghan and Harry’s wedding.

2. Speaking of Mr B: as you know, Mr B has recently had surgery to have two wisdom teeth and an appendix implanted. He tells me that some of you have offered him assistance while he recuperates. He informs me that he would like to humbly take up your offer.

Mr B would like his house painted, inside and out. He is well enough to choose the colours. As for the paint and brushes, he wants quality and he doesn’t care how much they cost. He says he might even contribute a few dollars himself.

Would all of you who offered assistance please turn up tomorrow morning and form a working bee. Mr B is prepared to put up with the inconvenience for the next two weeks and we thank him for that.


3. On behalf of Mr B,this scribe would like to thank Peter the Younger. Mr B left early, a bit out of sorts, and the gracious Peter walked him all the way to his car, to make sure he got there safely. It’s people like Peter the Younger who give Speakers’ Corner its sense of community. Thank you, Peter, for looking after Mr B! Much appreciated.



19. Catheter stories

“Tell me and I forget; show me and I remember; involve me and I understand.”

1. Your scribe turned up today, as did Mr B. It was a wet and miserable.

Before the meeting was even under way Helmut, Greg and Mr B privately compared catheter stories. Mr B’s story paled in comparison to the other two stories, so he should shut up from now on.

Only a handful of regulars were there to hear the first speaker, Helmut. And, only seven chairs were provided. But they were enough, because it soon began to rain.  Those hardy souls simply relocated to under a fig tree.

Steve Maxwell remained too, but Ray cleared off. It seems God had given him the afternoon off by making it rain. Your scribe had had enough, and left.

2. Occasional visitor and permanent troublemaker Gary Stevens has sent in this photograph of a toy. He claims it looks a lot like Mr Bashful standing on his soapbox.

Mr Stevens is being grossly disrespectful. The toy looks nothing like Mr B. However, in the interests of democracy I present this photograph to you all. Poor Mr B.

This does not look like Mr Bashful.

3. If the above comparison is not disgraceful enough, Mark the Grinner has compounded the crime. He sent Mr B the disturbing meme below, knowing that Mr B has had recent surgery.

Mark the Grinner tried to pretend that it was his companion Sue who sent it in. We all know Sue wouldn’t do that.

The meme has discombobulated poor Mr B. His doctors estimate that it has set back his recovery by at least a fortnight. This is outrageous. Mark the Grinner needs to take a long hard look at himself.

4. Mr Bashful felt the need to send this to all nurses. At least it’s sensible, unlike the rubbish above.

5. If you would ratherread these posts on Facebook from now on, you can.

Blue footed booby



18. The Trees of Knowledge.

“Only two things can spook a horse. Anything that moves, and anything that doesn’t.”

1. Unfortunately, your poorscribe has been unable to attend the meetings lately or report upon them. I have had to leave my home at short notice, which is a shame because the constabularly have some questions to ask me about how I tried to save the three kittens from the burning building (previous post). I always like to assist our police force but for the moment I can’t.

I’m writing this in the Community Centre of a small country town.

In another unrelated matter, I have a children’s toy Easter Egg for sale. It is a bit like a large Kinder Surprisebut without the chocolate. This gaudy bit of kitch is yours for just $20.


2.  Mr B informs me that his operation to have his wisdom teeth put back in has been so successful he now wants to have an appendix transplanted into him. He knows something is missing in his life, and he figures it must be his appendix. It was removed when he was ten.

He won’t be well enough to be at Speakers’ Corner this coming Sunday 13th.


3. Years ago, speaker Charlie Kingspoke under the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ but he wasn’t the first to speak under a special tree. Soapbox orator Steve Maxwell has written an article about how, throughout the ages, trees have been a focul point for meeting groups.

The Trees of Knowledge
by Stephen Maxwell.

Trees are wonderful lifeforms. It is no accident that they play an important part in human culture.  The Old English word for a gathering place is “tryst” meaning “time and place”. Trees that have had a tradition as meeting places are called “trysting trees’’.

Trees chosen as trysting trees were usually in a prominent place or had unusual properties, such as a large size, or with lighter and smoother bark. Or the tree stood on its own at the side of a road or in a forest clearing, or near a water source.

In ancient times, food bearing trees were a source of food, shelter material and even natural medicines. Under the shading trees a tradition of learning and sharing took place.

Some trees become so highly regarded that they were worshipped.

Plato’s academy stood outside the walls of Athens beside a grove of olive trees dedicated to the Goddess Athena. The Roman, Sulla, destroyed the olive grove in 86 BC. In spite of the ravages of time, the area remained active long enough to influence the Arabic revival of Baghdad in the 8thcentury. That revival was the forerunner of The Renaissance and the beginning of the modern age.

Before the invention of mass media, village people would gather to hear news and talk politics around a common prominent landmark, such as a large tree. In some places, such trees had religious (and in others, political) significance.  In this short article, I explore the history of significant trees relating to Speakers’ Corners.

At the site of Marble Arch in Hyde Park, London, stood The Tyburn Tree – which was never a tree but a hanging machine (a type of gallows) where eight prisoners could be dispatched at once. Not a tree at all! Public executions were popular spectacles. If a prisoner was favoured, they could give a last speech before being hanged. But there was another reason why people would gather there and that was to collect clean water from the Tyburn Brook or from the River Tyburn flowing through Regents Park under Buckingham Palace. The river was once reputed to have some of London’s best salmon fishing.

Most Speakers’ Corners developed under a Tree of Knowledge.

Famous Trees of Knowledge in History.

The Bodhi Tree (in Bodh Gaya, India) 
According to sacred texts, the founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama, attained enlightenment (“bodhi”) after sitting and meditating for seven days under a fig tree in an Indian village. The sacred Bodhi Tree at the Mahabodhi Temple is touted as a descendant of the original specimen under which the Buddha sat. Offshoots across the world are said to have been propagated from the original, such as the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi in Sri Lanka, which was planted in the 3rd century BC.

The City of Darwin
Darwin’s Tree of Knowledge is an ancient Banyan located behind the civic centre on Harry Chan Ave. The tree looks like a Bodhi Tree. This native Australian  tree has the same genus but is a different species to the Bodhi Tree under which the Buddhists ‘Gautama’ received enlightenment while sitting beneath a bodhi in faraway India.

The local aboriginal people ‘the Larakia’, the Europeans and Chinese have an affinity for this remarkable tree. For the Larakia, is it the because it is the last remnant of the rainforest that once covered the area. For the European pioneers it was a mailing address conveniently opposite the local hotel. For the Chinese it was a meeting place where friends met and talked. The tree is heritage listed and has survived cyclones, bombing in WW2, and land development.

The Tree of Knowledge at Barcaldine, Queensland, Australia
Barcaldine is a small town in Central West Queensland. It played a major role in the Australian labour movement.

In 1891, Barcaldine’s Tree of Knowledge was a ghost gum over 200 years old. it was one of the focal points of the shearers’ strike held by Queensland shearers. Due to the severity of the 1890 depression, wool prices tumbled. Sheep station owners tried to cut wages and import foreign workers  at a time when unions were becoming strong enough to strike for an 8-hour day and better working conditions.

Striking shearers regularly met under the Tree of Knowledge. They raised the Eureka Flag and pledged to fight the bosses. The shearers were not alone: the maritime workers’ unions supported them with strike action.  It was a bitter struggle at the brink of war. However, at the same time a major cyclone devastated Queensland and routed both the well-armed Queensland army and the armed shearers. When the weather passed, so had the possibility of revolution. Many of the strikers were jailed. Unions realised that they had to get parliamentary representation to counter the excesses of the system. They formed the Australian Labour Party.
  One year after the strike, union leaders gathered under the Tree of Knowledge and elected the first labour representative to stand for parliament.

Local members of the Barcaldine Historical Society say that around the years of 1935-1943, prior to WWII, people would stand on crates in the main street of Barcaldine’s Oak Street between the Shakespeare Hotel and the Commercial Hotel.  Up to 200 people would attend the political meetings and rallies.

Apparently it was not the same after the war. In the 1950’s a faction within the Labor Party broke away from the ALP and formed  the DLP (Democratic Labour Party). The DLP would meet on the corner of Box and Yew Street. They held meetings from the back of a truck. The new party would often get a hostile reaction. The DLP disbanded in the 1970’s.

The Barcaldine Tree of Knowledge was proclaimed a tree of historical significance.

In the 1990s’ the ghost gum was saved by a dedicated team of tree surgeons, headed by John Cheadle. However in 2006, the tree was deliberately poisoned with herbicide. It killed the tree.  In place of the tree a plaque now commemorates the loyalty, courage, and sacrifice in 1891 of the stalwart men and women of the west from whom, beneath this tree, emerged Australia’s labour and political movement.

Townsville, Queensland.
During the Federal Election in 1998, Townsville Council erected a speaker’s platform and named it “SpeakersStone”. They placed it near the Flinders Street Mall, in honour of a long forgotten “Tree of Knowledge”.
  Patrick Coleman, an advocate of freedom of speech, revived the tradition of Speakers’ Corner in the mall were the tree once lived.

For more information about:
Patrick Coleman:
the Druid garden:

The Liberty Tree (Boston, Massachusetts)

On 14th August 1765, a defiant group of American colonists ‘The Sons of Liberty’ rallied beneath the mighty boughs of a century-old elm tree to protest the enactment of the highly unpopular Stamp Act. The young rebels decorated the tree with banners, lanterns and effigies of the British Prime Minister. Over the next decade, patriots regularly gathered around the tree for meetings, speeches and celebrations until British soldiers and Loyalists in Boston chopped it into firewood during the summer of 1775. The Liberty Tree became such a powerful patriotic symbol that towns throughout the colonies followed Boston’s lead in designating their own versions of a Liberty Tree.

More on The Boston Common, one of the first Speakers’ Corners in America.


Emancipation Oak (Hampton, Virginia)
In the fall of 1861, the children of former slaves who had escaped to the refuge of Union-held Fort Monroe gathered underneath the sprawling canopy of a southern oak tree to listen to African-American Mary Smith Peake as she taught them how to read and write. Previously, slaves had been forbidden an education under Virginia law. Underneath the same oak tree, now on the grounds of Hampton University, African-Americans congregated in 1863 to listen to the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in the South, issued by President Abraham Lincoln.

The emancipation oak at Hampton University


The Kalayaan Tree (The Tree of Freedom)
This Siar tree is  located near the front of the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception in Malolos, the Philippines.
The tree was planted by Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo during a lull in the Malolos Convention. That convention lead to the first  Philippine Republic which was established after the Philippine Revolution against the Spanish Empire (1896-1897).

Directly under the tree is a monument symbolising the meeting of Filipino revolutionaries, represented by statues of Gregorio del Pilar and Gen. Isidoro Torres; Don Pablo Tecson, a legislator; Padre Mariano Sevilla, a nationalist leader of the church and Doña Basilia Tantoco, a woman freedom fighter.

The Kalayaan Tree in the Philippines.


Tolpuddle Martyrs- the pioneers of the Trade Union movement.
The Tolpuddle Martyrs were six 19th century agricultural labourers living in the Dorset village of Tolpuddle (on the River Piddle eight miles East of Dorchester, the county town, and 12 miles west of Poole. The estimated population in 2013 was 420.)

Folklore said that in 1834, local agricultural labourers were barred from meeting in church halls and other indoor spaces. The six men swore a secret oath and formed a secret union called ‘The Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers’. They met regularly under the village sycamore tree’s spreading branches discussing their long hours and small wages.
  When they formed the union they knew it would be outlawed. That made them pioneers of the Trade Union movement. In 1834 they were arrested and convicted for swearing a secret oath as members of a union. On 18th March of that year the Tolpuddle Martyrs were sentenced to penal transportation to Australia.

  The 300-year-old tree is still growing in the village and  is regarded as the birthplace of that first Trade Union movement. The village also hosts an annual festival, ‘The Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival’ and a rally in July.

The Martyrs tree


The Federation University Australia
Known at the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ or ‘Big Tree’ is a Tasmanian Blue Gum. It was chosen as the central focus of the Mt Helen Campus University of Ballarat, Victoria, Australia. When the site was purchased in 1966 the architects and planners inspected the site and decided the ‘Big tree’ must remain as a central landmark in the layout of the Campus amenities. The tree is on the National Trust of Australia’s (Vic) Register of Significant Trees (number T11430).

Federation University Australia was formed when the former University of Ballarat and the Gippsland Campus of Monash University were amalgamated.…/tree-of-knowledge

The Tree of Knowledge in Ballarat

Rockhampton, Mount Morgan, Queensland.
On Friday, February 18, 2011 Rockhampton’s iconic Tree of Knowledge came crashing down in Morgan St, taking an electrical service line with it. Until then, the fig tree had offered a leafy and favourite resting place for many generations, since being planted in 1920.

  Council staff removed the tree. The tree had a fungal disease that had decayed the tree’s root system.
  Established in 1858, Rockhampton is one of the oldest cities in Queensland. It was nicknamed the “City of the Three S’s”: Sin, Sweat, and Sorrow”
  A mixture of cattle ranching, Chinese gold digging, sailors’ migration from England, South Sea Island Aborigines, and a publican ensured that Rockhampton had a rip-roaring history as it soon became the second largest port in the state.

Rockhampton’s Racecourse Riot By Carol Gistitin Paper … – Library

Crocodile Creek – Central Queensland Family History Association Inc…/crocodile-creek

“TREE OF KNOWLEDGE FALLS.” MOUNTMORHGON ARGUS,’ 9th march 2011 Rockhampton Qld.


Steve Maxwell. 12-4-18.

17. Daniel Ford’s book on Speakers’ Corner

‘We should, I believe, be judged by our compromises more than by our ideals and norms. Ideals may tell us something important about what we’d like to be, but compromises tell us who we are.’
Professor Marghareta

1. Unfortunately, your diligent scribewas unable to attend Speakers’ Corner today and can therefore not report on what happened. No doubt Steve Maxwell was at his brilliant best, Ray would have been spreading his important message in his own affable way, Helmut would have again bathed the crowd with his charisma and science, and Mirko’s weekly science lesson would have been a treat.

If anyone else got to speak, this poor scribe missed it.

Mr B would not have been there either. He is having his wisdom teeth put back in. He’ll be away next week too.

Why was this unlucky scribe not present to record what happened today at Speakers’ Corner? Because I am suffering mild smoke inhalation. Yesterday, a four story building was on fire, and someone in the street screamed, “My kittens! My three beautiful kittens! Please, someone save them!” Naturally, I ran into the building with a sledgehammer to break down doors. I was determined to save those kittens!

Unfortunately, I didn’t find the kittens. But I did manage to save two jewellery boxes and a bag of gold sovereigns someone had hidden in the back of a sock drawer. But being a hero has its drawbacks; the mild smoke inhalation has forced me to stay in bed and recuperate.

2. In 1970 and 1971 Daniel Ford took photographs at Speakers’ Corner and he has now placed the most splendid of them in his new book, “The Outside ‘in’ Place“. Daniel has kindly allowed your grateful scribe to exhibit a few of those photos. Enjoy!

You can buy Daniel’s book. It is A4  80gsm double-sided laser-printed, with laminated covers, comb-bound. The photos in both books (hard copy and PDF) have a much higher resolution than in the examples below.
Hard copy: including postage: $26
PDF file (via download link): $12
To get a copy contact Daniel:

Photos under the copyright of Daniel Ford.





3. Thank youto the person who sent in this look-a-like of Steve.

4. Special notice:this scribe has for sale this diamond ring, valued at more than $30,000. A quick sale is necessary. It smells of smoke, so you can have it for just $5,000. More jewellery will be for sale over the coming weeks, but grab this ring while you can!

5. For no reason, have a look at our Facebook page.

And for no reason, try our Archives site.

Afterwards, make a mental note to yourself to have a reason for doing things.