A bright red stepladder stands on a grassy lawn near a plaque. In the distance are two marble sculpture resembling old-fashioned soapboxes, several trees, and a footpath.
A man stands on a marble soapbox in The Domain on a sunny day, while about a dozen other people look on. There are several bags and signs around the soapbox, one of which reads, "Domain soapbox every Sunday".
A marble sculpture resembling a wooden crate rests on a grassy lawn. In the distance are three similar marble sculptures and several trees.

The historical and contemporary importance of free speech and public debate were celebrated at Speaker’s Corner, a site of public oratory.

Artist: Debra Phillips
Curator: Sally Couacaud
This artwork is no longer at this location.

Artwork description

Commissioned as part of the Sydney Sculpture Walk for the Sydney 2000 Olympics, one red stepladder and five marble clad pedestals were arranged amongst the trees at Speaker’s Corner in the Domain. Viva Voce by Debra Phillips acknowledged the historical and contemporary importance of the area as a site of public oratory and celebrated the continuing vitality and importance of free speech and public debate.

Public Oratory was introduced to the Domain in 1878, establishing a location and a precedent for the direct exchange of ideas and opinions amongst the city’s populace. The subsequent tradition of regular debate under the Moreton Bay Fig trees, at points of history involving notable identities and crowds of thousands, marks Speaker’s Corner as both the living voice and democratic heart of the city.

Vernacular forms were employed to encourage the continuation of active debate at the site. The marble pedestals took the generic form of soapboxes and the steel A-framed stepladder was coated in epoxy red paint, each step incised with a word inviting interaction such as speak, heckle, listen, ponder, question. The sculptures were placed in close proximity to each other in order to enhance interaction between the speakers.

Viva Voce commemorated speakers such as the rationalist, Charlie King, who kept the site alive from 1960 to 1994 by addressing his audience from the podium of a red stepladder. In addition to local history, the use of marble drew upon the classical tradition of public oratory and ideals of democracy in Ancient Greece.


Debra Phillips completed a Master of Visual Arts (Research) at Sydney College of the Arts, The University of Sydney, in 1990.

Although photography is central to her practice, Phillips’ work also ranges across other forms such as sculptural objects, moving images, artist’s multiples and printed matter (including books, prints and newspapers).

Phillips’ practice focuses on her interest in systems of knowledge and understanding and their relationship to the making, thinking and shaping of individual and world views.


Artwork deaccession

Originally commissioned for ten years, Viva Voce formed part of the City of Sydney’s Sydney Sculpture Walk and public art collection for nearly 20 years.

Each work included in the Sydney Sculpture Walk has been a significant artistic and cultural contribution to this city, adding renewed interest and meaning to established city spaces.

A 2016 review of the Sydney Sculpture Walk has resulted in the deaccession of three works, including Viva Voce. This decision was not taken lightly.

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