The Free Speech memorial was built to commemorate the free speech fights by workers and the unemployed in the area in the 1930s and in particular a young artist, Noel Counihan.
The free speech gatherings were organized in response to a Victoria state government law banning “subversive” gatherings. Dozens of members of the Unemployed Workers Movement were arrested, and unemployed meetings at the intersection of Phoenix Street and Sydney Road, Brunswick were dispersed by police. As part of this fight, a young Counihan addressed a crowd from a locked cage on top a truck. Police had to cut him out, to the jeers of the crowd, as he continued speaking.
Noel Counihan (1913-1986) was a painter, cartoonist and illustrator of national standing noted for his socialist-realist style and radical outlook. In 1949 he was an Australian delegate at the World Congress of Peace held in the Salle Pleyel, Paris. In 1950 he illustrated a book of 12 poems by Jack Lindsay, “War or Peace.” Here is one of the poems and the accompanying linocut:
The Scared Man
The faces change,
the faces are still the same.
You pass in the street today
the men who crucified Christ,
the man who thrust your brother
into the Auschwitz-flame,
the same one or another
who plays the ravening game
with all things bought and sold,
all murderously priced.
They are afraid,
these men of the ruthless hour,
who will wreck the world with a grin
rather than slacken their hold.
The atom-bomb that they nurse
is their greed in its ultimate flower:
their rule is wholly a curse,
destruction their only power,
World-end the last toss of their coin
for an earth that is bought and sold.