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: https://speakerscorner.org.au/steve-maxwells-passing-parade/patrick-coleman/
the Druid garden: https://druidgarden.wordpress.com/tag/speakers-for-the-trees/

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.



www.tolpuddlemartyrs.org.uk        http://www.tolpuddlemartyrs.org.uk/story

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.



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


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


Steve Maxwell. 12-4-18.