The Speakers Corner has been a rich part of Sydney’s history for almost 150 years, and there was a time when Sundays in the Domain were full of vigorous arguments on everything from communism, anarchism and warnings about the end of the world.
The recent COVID-19 pandemic has had a disappointing impact on the tradition, but in recent months the speakers are back, continuing a tradition which goes back to the 19th century.
The Speakers Corner began in 1878 when Pastor Allen, a Baptist social reformer, took to speaking there after the Government had closed Hyde Park as a venue for public speaking in 1874.
The Domain became a place where people could spend their Sunday listening to or discussing current affairs, philosophies, politics, and life. Some of it was funny, other speakers were totally serious, and it was often a place for outspoken heckling and barracking.
Mark Avery, or Mr. Bashful as he goes by at The Speakers Corner, has been a speaker for 12 years, speaking every week.
Originally taking to the Speakers Corner as a way of improving his public speaking, Mr. Bashful has spoken on over 300 different topics, from resilience and happiness, Aboriginal affairs and Zen Buddhism.
Mr. Bashful says that COVID has had a significant impact on audience turnout at the Speakers Corner. “COVID stuffed it up. We were slowly growing, getting regulars every week, slowly growing an audience. At some point you get a snowball effect. Once there’s 20 then it easily becomes 40.”
“But it’s hard to get 20, especially now because of COVID, there are no tourists. Once I had around 100 people. Once you get 60 or 80 people then it just grows, because people want to know what’s going on. Then you get really good discussions” says Mr. Bashful.
Mr Bashful believes that the Speakers Corner is not only important as a Sydney tradition, but as a venue to give people and opinions a voice and for the exchange of ideas.
He says: “I think that the Speakers’ Corner is important for some people because it’s a social interaction for some.”
“Everyone wants to be heard one way or another and I think there are a few eccentrics who are prepared to be heard in a park. I think that the ultimate motivation is to be heard, to be seen, to be felt.”
Mr. Bashful hopes that in future the Speakers’ Corner will be promoted by local council to better advertise the event. Something to ponder as we look to preserve out traditions and cultural heritage.
The Speakers Corner is held every Sunday at The Domain.