Saturday, 8 May 2010

Nil bastardo carborundum


Starting life as an English colony, many of our customs and institutions are based on the British model. As we gained our independence peacefully, respectfully and democratically, we had no reason to overthrow these customs and institutions. The centre of my city resonates with English names. We have a Hyde Park, we have a George Street, and we have a Domain.


The Domain (Demesne) was officially established in June 1816, but the land was set aside for public use way back in Phillip's governorship. During the early 19th century, there was much hoohaa by developers who bemoaned that such fine harbourside land was set aside for plants and flowers. Do property developers never change?

In the early 1960s a swathe was sliced through the land to accommodate the Cahill Expressway and the dominance of the motor car, effectively splitting the Domain from the Royal Botanic Gardens. The '60s was a water-shed time in many ways, and by the end of that decade a social institution within the Domain was withering on the vine.


Along the pathway which now edges the Cahill Expressway, on a Sunday afternoon, could be found the misfits, the misguided, the enthusiastic and the bombastic. this was the site of 'Speakers' Corner' modeled on the 'corner' in Hyde Park in Londoon.

My older brother would drag me along to hear this bloke, or that bloke, to raz, to puzzle, to laugh and to be embarrassed. There were communists, sexual liberationists, republicans, monarchists, anarchists and plain nutters. It was absorbing.


The speaker/ranter with the most reknown was simply known as Webster. He would mount his wooden step ladder, and hold a massive crowd enthralled for a couple of hours, responding to all interjections with wit, alacrity and a snearing disdain. It was his style. His audience lapped it up.

Webster died at the end of 2009 in Tasmania. He was well into his 90s. The government refused to allow his ashes to be buried in the Domain, so late one night, when the clouds were dark and stormy, a small band of admirers snuck down there and cast his ashes to the wind.

This memorial is not just for Webster, but for the social institution that was 'Speakers' Corner'. Nil bastardo carborundum - Don't let the bastards wear you down. Fight back! Speak your mind. Have an opinion. Work out your personal ethics and stand firm.

10 comments:

Unknown Mami said...

"Don't let the bastards get you down" -INDEED! RIP, Webster.

brattcat said...

I, too, had an older brother who introduced me to and steered me through the crazy world of the 60s. These are shots that give us an ladder-height perspective on Webster and a time not that very long ago.

Miguel Martinez said...

Curiosa costumbre.
Siempre me a llamado la atencion.

Jayne said...

I have heard of Webster, what a great tribute post :)

Bruce Caspersonn said...

An enthralling post well done. I wonder if Doctor's prescriptions were ever written in Latin, or their lousy writing made it look that way.

Tulsa Gentleman said...

I thought it was non carbarundum illigitimi - don't let the bastards wear you down. Same difference. Good post, good sentiment.

J Bar said...

Great memorial. I knew a bit about this but now I know heaps more.
Sydney - City and Suburbs

Joan Elizabeth said...

I had heard much of people spruking on the soap boxes but not having lived near Hyde Park in the 60s or 70s never saw it in action. Thanks for the photos present and past.

Clytie said...

We need more people like that - willing to face ridicule and shame - to speak their mind. And make a difference.

Eleonora said...

Perfect post Julie. Perfect