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Counihan’s Cage

a radio feature produced by Lyn Gallacher

The scene is Sydney Road, Brunswick, Victoria. It’s 19th May 1933 and Friday night shopping is in full swing. But an angry crowd is gathering. These are not shoppers. These are protestors. The depression has hit this area hard. Police are on high alert, and when they hear a young man, called Noel Counihan, speaking from inside a cage, chained to the verandah post, of what is now the Duke of Edinburgh Hotel, tempers fly. The police attempt to break the cage open and finally resort to using a battering ram as the crowd cheers for Noel.

In the 1930s Brunswick was a close-knit working class community where people supported one another during tough times. High unemployment rates meant that visits from the bailiff, evictions and underfed children were common place. The Brunswick and Coburg Gazette at that time featured many stories about ‘arrests’ and ‘punch-ups’. But when Noel climbed inside his cage it made the metropolitan dailies. The Sun News-Pictorial ran the headline Two Exciting Arrests Stir Shopping Crowd in Brunswick, (May 20, 1933) and The Herald went with Speech from Steel Cage – Young Artist Fined 15 pounds (May 22, 1933).


The story of Noel Counihan and his role in the ‘free speech’ fights is an important one because it continues to bring into focus our ideas of what constitutes an egalitarian society and what it means to have a ‘fair go’.


To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Noel Counihan’s birth, the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick (named in honour of Noel) held a special exhibition called In The Public Interest. It featured some of Counihan’s prints, as well as the work of like minded artists. All of whom used art to express a concern for justice.



NB: Melinda Barrie’s Free Speech Heritage Walk is available here as a PDF download.

Listen to the program here …

Hindsight HHT - Counihans Cage



William Kelly


Melinda Barrie


Mick Counihan


Michael Gurr


Peter Lyssiotis


Victor Griss





Lyn Gallacher, Producer


Jason Jacobs, Sound Engineer




© 2013—Lyn Gallacher & ABC RN

Filed under: radio features, works