Yarra Bank Speaker's Forum

In the 1890s, Melbourne was becoming increasingly politically active, and Melburnians needed a venue where voices could be heard. Early colonial leaders had gone out of their way to avoid creating a public space, worried that it could lead to public disturbances.

People began gathering to discuss politics in locations all over the city, including the Eastern Markets, Trades Hall, Queens Wharf, Studley Park, and in pubs all over town. Undercover police monitored such meetings, noting speakers commenting on such dangerous notions as: 'Socialism, Anarchy, Democracy, Capitalism, Dynamite, One-Man-One-Vote and other social reforms'. Moreover:

Her Majesty the Queen and members of the Royal Family, governments... landlords, capitalists and clergymen' all came in 'for a great deal of abuse'.

– Detective Wardley

Labour Council of N.S.W., 2005, Workers Online, viewed April 2011, <http://workers.labor.net.au/120/

This quote comes from a website that published an excerpt from a book. Although the site is no longer active, we know it acknowledged the book, Radical Melbourne by Jill and Jeff Sparrow as the source of the quote.

Luckily we recorded this information in our notes so even though the site's gone, we can still find the quote if we need to.

The Wayback machine internet archive is another tool you can use to find sites that aren't around anymore. Here's a snapshot of what the Workers online site used to look like  - http://web.archive.org/web/20120328184820/http://workers.labor.net.au/120/c_historicalfeature_speakers.html

One location for public political forums lasted longer than any other: the Yarra Bank Speakers Forum. It was held every Sunday on the south side of the Yarra, down from Princes Bridge on flat ground near the boatsheds. Certain groups spoke regularly, but anyone could stand up and have their say, either from their place in the crowd or while standing on one of the stumps dotted around the area.

The discussion of issues of national importance saw the meetings attended by government officals, churchmen, MPs and judges. The Yarra Bank Forum also provided a rare opportunity for women to take part in political events, and speakers such as Vida Goldstein regularly took to the soapbox.

The meetings were more than just education in current ideas and political thinking. They offered Melburnians free entertainment on Sundays, when shops and other forms of entertainment were closed.

However, with the invention of television and the increased ownership of cars, the people of Melbourne began to be less reliant on the Yarra meetings for entertainment value. Public political debate has also become much less widespread, and by the 1960s, the Yarra Bank meetings were in decline.

Painting showing a trade union meeting on the banks of the Yarra River.
Lithograph of the Eastern Market, at the corner of Exhibition and Bourke Streets.
A badge celebrating May Day.
A flag with the word 'Anarchy' stiched in white.