1. Themes
  2. A to Z

People's Forums

A number of sites have featured over Melbourne's history as the location of people's forums. Halls were a popular venue for public meetings, but outdoor areas such as parks and vacant city blocks were favoured for impromptu congregation or performance, particularly of a political nature. In the 1860s, the Eastern Market hosted open-air services, lectures and political demonstrations, while rival 'stump orators' competed for the attention of the crowd. The rise of socialism and trade unions, along with the 1890s depression, saw the focus turn first to the wharves, then to Yarra Bank. In 1897 at Studley Park, 'The Lawn', a people's reserve on a flat piece of ground near the boat shed, attracted thousands on Sundays to hear speakers and musical performances associated with the Tocsin Club and the Victorian Socialists' League. Other places of socialist congregation included open ground off St George's Road near Merri Creek, Queen Victoria Statue, the Kings Domain, Port Melbourne Pier, South Melbourne Market and Albert Park Baths. Often a Sunday afternoon ritual associated with left-wing politics and accompanied by social events and band performances, people's forums were rituals of protest and politicisation, a chance to recruit outsiders to a cause and display oratory skills. Their demise is associated with the decline of the Communist Party of Australia and the rise of the mass media and talk-back radio as forums for public debate and expression. Recent attempts have been made to re-establish people's forums in inner-city parks.

Andrew May