Speaker’s corner at the Domain. Sydney, NSW, Australia. 1973

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. 

Free Thinker

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. 

Sister Ada Green

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

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.

Member of the audience

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?

11 thoughts on “Speaker’s corner at the Domain. Sydney, NSW, Australia. 1973”

  1. John Webster, still living in Tasmania, was the recent subject of a short ABC documentary, done out of the Perth office (I think), by a chap named Adam Collins. I was also trying to track down Webster for many years and Mr Collins was very helpful.

  2. Webster passed away on Friday 12 Dec 2008 after a very short illness, at the age of 95. He remained independent and living in his own home until the very last. He also spoke on Sunday nights at the Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross, Sydney, where he encouraged others to have a go at speaking. I knew Webster extremely well and I will miss the independent, feisty, irreverent and extremely funny old bloke. He was a very dear friend.

    The person in the top picture is Charlie King, who died several years ago, in the 1990’s. He was an Eskimo immigrant to Australia and spoke on the “freethinkers” platform. He ran a speakers forum in Kings Cross for several years at which I spoke on occasion.

    Charlie had a razor sharp wit, but the wittiest of all was Webster without a doubt.

  3. I am 77 and i was a heckler, spoke on the humanist and freethinker platform, wayside chapel and domain for years and then i went to canada. I know webster, bill dwyer who died in in a traffic accident on a pushbike and all the rest . I muiss those heady days aagainst the vietnam war etc. I was in love with ted noff’s cousin, who rejected me. see my website or email me and write about the old days.

  4. The highlight of my first visit to Sydney in 1974 was definitely the spell-binding Webster, sharpest and funniest orator of all time. He had thousands rolling in an agony of mirth on the lawns at his excoriating wit. He was the only speaker who could shut the Hare Krishnas up, no mean feat at all. Charlie King was no Eskimo- he was an Aussie as they make them!!! I have a photo of Charlie,taken as he remarked on Catholic bishops “prancing around like bloody transvestites” – no Eskimo would use a term like that, I’m sure:) Very sad to hear of the passing of these two mesmerising characters. My one regret is that I was not able to record their wit and wisdom…

  5. I am now living in Las Vegas but was a “pommie bastard” in the 70’s

    One of the highlights of Sydney was Sunday to hear Webster

    Is there any Webster video?

    Sorry to hear he has died

  6. I attended many a Speakers Corner in the Sydney Domain during the early 70s and one speaker in particular whose pictures is above ( the first fellow in the hat ) is Charlie King . Charlie was a boiler maker and self educated at the public library in Sydney . I spoke with him outside of the Domain and even attended a Union meeting with him . He was a wonderful old fellow .

    regards to all ; norman

  7. Eskimo immigrant, LOL. Charlie grew up in Mascot, Sydney. he went to Gardener’s Rd Primary School. He was Australian born – to Australian born parents – James and Contradena who originated in the Alexandria area of Sydney. He also served in WW2. He use to drive my grandmother to visit us on Saturday mornings for many years. He always was spirited and in good form – although as a young child – most of what he said went over my head. He wanted to have his body given to the University of Sydney. Sadly his final wish wasn’t understood by his family members.

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