Speaker’s Corner in the Domain was established in 1878 as a venue for free speech, and continued to draw large crowds up until the mid-1970s. When I was about 17, I used to go the Domain nearly every Sunday to listen to the speakers and to photograph them and the crowds that they would attract. Although the Vietnam war was in full swing, most of the speakers were concerned with local political and religious issues.
What I used to love about Speakers Corner, was not so much the philosophical debates, but the quick wit of the speakers. The fellow in the picture below was an atheist (sorry I can’t remember his name), and some of his comments were hilarious.
He was so down to earth and fearless. I remember one comment in particular about a child guru who was coming to Australia for the second time. There were billboards all over Sydney advertising the child guru’s visit, proclaiming “the second coming”. The Speaker dismissed the visit with, “He’s only 12! He hasn’t even come once!”
At the other end of the religious spectrum was Sister Ada Green, who was a little old lady evangelist.
I found Ada Green interesting because she was so old (she was probably in her late 70s, when I saw her) and I felt as though, through her I had some kind of contact with the mindset of the late 1800s here in Australia. I’m sure Ada didn’t like what she saw in the1970s, what with all the free love and drug use that was just starting to enter Australian society in a big way at the time. Ada just seemed to belong to another earlier age when temperance movements were all the rage.
In a category all on his own was John Webster, otherwise known as just plain “Webster”. Webster was my favourite speaker and he used to draw the largest crowds.
Webster didn’t appear to have much time for organised religion or politics, but he was very interested in sex of the kinky variety and was extremely funny. He gave the impression that he’d say things just for the thrill of shocking people and stirring them up. Pick any sacred cow you want and I am sure that Webster lampooned it with his ribald wit at some time or another.
I once heard Webster say that he’d been born in Ireland, and had been enlisted by the IRA to drive a semi-trailer (tractor-trailer for you Americans out there) full of explosives to London, where he was caught by the police and imprisoned for several years. Of course I have no way of knowing whether or not that was true and as a matter of fact, I don’t think that anything that he said could be taken as the absolute truth. He sure didn’t sound Irish and I would’ve said his accent was an educated English one.
One thing I can tell you for certain about Webster was that he was very entertaining.
I wonder what became of him?