This experience came as a complete surprise, and Steve Maxwell was the best part of it. Recently we had a chance to observe and interact with soapbox orators in the Domain, a lush park in Sydney, in an area known as the “Speakers’ Corner.”
The colorful Mr. Maxwell is known for his views on Australian history and politics, which he has shared from there since 1984. His soapbox on that particular day was a step stool on which he had climbed to the second step. Here are some highlights of Mr. Maxwell’s mode of operation.
He was just setting up as we approached him. We paused for a bit, the only people near him at the time, and we decided to keep walking. We took about five steps past him, and Mr. Maxwell called out to Ellen and me, “That’s all right. Just ignore me. You don’t have time to listen to me!”
With that, we stopped in our tracks, looked over our shoulders, and met Mr. Maxwell’s gaze. So we returned and stood in front of him. He began by talking about Australia’s history during World War II. Four young men in their twenties stood a few feet away. Slowly they walked over and joined us. Within a few minutes an audience of 15-20 people gathered within earshot of Mr. Maxwell, and he became quite animated.
His command of the audience was complete, his ideas ran freely, and we were, in a word, impressed. At one point he asked his audience, “Why did Australia ask America for the atomic bomb?”
I replied, “Power, Australia wanted more power.”
“Wrong!” Mr. Maxwell bellowed as he raised one hand in the air for emphasis. “Australia was afraid of Japan, afraid of being invaded!” Oh well, if I didn’t know the answer to something, at least I could offer a plausible guess, at least some of the time. But my answer was in the ballpark, even if it didn’t meet Mr. Maxwell’s expectations.
After several references to the United States as “America,” I asked him why he kept calling the U.S. “America,” since there are many countries across North America, Central America, and South America—all Americas. This seemed to have caught him by surprise, so he merely said that it’s a long-standing habit around the world to refer to the U.S. as America.
Soon after it was time for us to move along. As we departed, Mr. Maxwell tipped his hat and thanked us for listening.
We walked a few yards and came upon another soapbox orator, actually standing on a covered crate. He lacked the polish and pizzazz of Mr. Maxwell, so we only paused long enough to take the following photo of him.
I liked his sign, “Everyone is entitled to my opinion.”
Coming as it did on the next-to-last day of our trip to New Zealand and Australia, the memory of Steve Maxwell left one of my fondest memories of Sydney and the entire trip. Such a pleasant surprise.
I wonder what Steve Maxwell did before 1984.
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P. S. For a more complete view of Sydney’s soapbox oratory, see the excellent work at