Free speech is surely something to fight for… Memories of the Free Speech movement in Brunswick, Melbourne, Australia, 1933

The following 22 minute edited excerpt from an interview I recorded with Ted Bull (1914-1997) between 1988 and 1990 recalls Ted’s memories and reflections on the Free Speech movement in Brunswick, Melbourne, in 1933. The struggle is commemorated today by a monument in Sydney Road, Brunswick, but the lessons – the need to defend and assert free speech – remain valid.

Ted Bull was arrested on the free speech protests. As he recalls: “You’d get half a dozen words out and you’d be arrested. Not only arrested but the coppers would take you behind the Town Hall and they’d give you a bloody ‘doing over’ – and a good ‘doing over’ too”.

For overseas listeners, a “stump” in this context refers to a spot where a speaker regularly set up – usually a street corner – to speak to passers-by. Crowds would gather and this was seen as dangerous by the state at a time when communist ideas were gaining support. Also, when Ted refers to “the hook”, he means his work as a waterside worker – or ‘wharfie’ – in the days before widespread mechanisation when much of the work was manual and sacks were carried using a hook.

At the time of interview, I had no idea that someone had been shot during the free speech struggle in Brunswick, which happens to be my ‘hometown’. Ted talks about ‘Shorty’ Patullo who was shot by police and hospitalised. It was also surprising, though shouldn’t have been, to learn that in addition to the police it was die-hard Labor Party supporters who would disrupt the stumps.

The 1933 struggle is probably best remembered for the makeshift cage in which Noel Counihan (1913-1986) locked himself in Sydney Road in order to give his speech without being arrested.


The above is a 22 minute edited excerpt but the full interview runs for about 20 hours, based on a whole-of-life approach, and is available in full via the National Library of Australia’s on-line catalogue.