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The Collected Parliamentary Reports of Robin Hyde

The Dominion, Thursday, August 20, 1925. p. 10. — Peeps at Parliament: A Spot-Less Member — Waiting for the Fire Brigade

The Dominion, Thursday, August 20, 1925. p. 10.
Peeps at Parliament: A Spot-Less Member — Waiting for the Fire Brigade

In a way it seemed quite a quiet and inoffensive little Bill that Sir Maui Pomare, with paternal pride, presented to the House. I refer, as you know if you're really good citizens, to the Nurses' and Midwives' Registration Bill. It floated into the House as softly as a feather, and went off like a 5th of November double-banger.

All this, good people, befell on the night before last, so you must forgive me for offering you a rechauffee342 of the proceedings.343 I assure you that nothing but the very stodgiest of suet pudding was dished up yesterday. However, just to satisfy everybody all round, we shall have suet pudding for our second course. In the meantime, revenons a nos midwives.344

The Bill has twenty-nine clauses and some hundreds of subdivisions. Mr. McCombs, Labour's champion bantamweight, was ready and willing to dispute them all, and ask for more.345 Dispute—about anything and anyone—is Mr. McCombs's strongest point. He will, if given the opportunity, argue on any given theme till the cows come home—and even after that. Members come, and, in more frequent instances, members go, but he talks on for ever. Happily the time of the House is strictly limited. Otherwise, at this very moment, the Government (or such members of the Government as were not blissfully asleep) would still be considering the desperate question of whether local bodies can or cannot financially assist in the running of their own maternity hospitals. The Government, be it understood, is, under the Bill, to make them a present of the buildings that they may require. You might think, being, like myself, hopelessly unsophisticated, that this is rather generous of the Government. But it isn't. You ask Mr. McCombs. It is just one more underhand Capitalistic scheme to pile up straws on the already overladen camel's back.346 Wonderful how that camel lasts out, isn't it? One might almost think that it didn't feel the strain of its burdens quite so much as Mr. McCombs hopes—I mean fears—it does.

Let us endeavour to explain. (That's what Mr. McCombs was doing, more or less unsuccessfully, for practically the whole of the evening's session.) The Government, or, rather, a Government now both dead and gone, established maternity hospitals in the various big centres of New Zealand at the expense of the Consolidated Fund—known to laymen such as you and I as the nation's cash-box. This was, as you will be ready to admit, a humane and enterprising thing. The hospitals were vitally necessary. Nobody else seemed willing or able to provide them, and so the Government of the day, with fatal good-nature, took the work in hand and built and subsidised the hospitals itself. The consequence is that every small town in New Zealand, from Auckland up, is waiting, cap in hand, for the Government to come along and build and maintain its hospitals out of the Consolidated Fund. There are some people—we name no names—who would, if their houses were on fire and their wives and seven small children chanced to be entrapped in the flames, stand safely outside the burning building and wait for the Government to send along a subsidised fire brigade. It is the principle of the thing, if you follow me, that counts … not the mere women and children. I don't think that that is putting the position too strongly. The women of the backblocks—pioneer women, the salt of New Zealand—are under the present system, in many instances, neglected in this vital matter of maternity cares. And with them suffers the new generation.

Talking of milk has brought me to the question of fluids in general, and the question of fluids in general brings me to Mr. Parry. Peccavi! We have most deeply sinned.347 In other words, an error has crept, like a snake in the grass, into these columns. You will remember that yesterday we referred, with a certain amount of admiration, to Mr. Parry's self-confessed cubic capacity? Well, it appears that when Mr. Parry stated, in that airy little way of his, "that £9 for wine was merely a spot," he was not perfectly serious. In other words, he was striving hard to be funny.348 I am informed, on fairly reliable authority, that Mr. Parry has never, in the whole course of his career, imbibed anything but water, except, of course, in his infancy, and quite too young to know any better. But now that he has become a man, and has put childish things—or some of 'em—away,349 he is a thorough-going advocate of the principle that

When it comes to slaughter
You'll do your work on water.350

His entire existence is, so to speak, spot-less. One might almost guess as much from some of his more arid speeches, mightn't one? Anyhow, I hope that this little explanation will make everybody feel quite happy and comfortable. I dreamed, last night, of poor Mr. Parry walking through long lanes of constituents, every one of whom tapped him fraternally on the shoulder and remarked, "What's yours?" I won't tell you what I dreamed Mr. Parry said in answer to them. This is a family paper.

And now for our suet pudding. Well, suet puddings, apple dumplings, and roast legs of mutton were very much on the mind of our old friend Mr. Monteith yesterday afternoon, and I regret to state that they appeared to be giving him a pain. Somewhere, in the heart of this our city is a building which Mr. Monteith graphically described as a tin shed. And therein, every Saturday morning, little school-girls, charmingly arrayed in white apron and mob caps, congregate for the sole purpose of learning just how to "feed the brute."351 (When I say "brute" I do not specifically refer to Mr. Monteith. After all, there are others.[)] Anyhow, Mr. Monteith was terribly concerned over the matter of whether these nice little girls could or could not properly study this frightfully important home science in a tin shed.352 One might say that very few of them will be called upon in after life to supervise marble halls, and that even if this happiness is granted them they will probably, being but human, leave the making of their pies to those hirelings wrongly known as cooks. But apart from this altogether, does Mr. Monteith, bless his innocent heart, really believe that we women learn cooking in cookery schools? Permit me, as a mere female, to enlighten him. At cooking schools we learn how to concoct salmon mayonnaise and savoury omelettes for two. We discover how to make beef steak and kidney pudding for six go round among eight by the simple process of experimenting on the defenceless bodies of our families. In the course of time we become "good, plain, practical cooks."

People have widely divergent ideas on the subject of the Millennium. Some believe that lions are going to roam about the world, looking for opportunities to lie down with lambs.353 Others hold that a sure sign of the great event will be the completion of the Northland tunnel. I, personally, will keep my ears open for the last trump on the day when the Labour-Socialist Party don't take up three parts of the time accorded to the House. But I don't really think I'll live to see it. Generally speaking, our Labour-Socialists are—generally speaking.

342 A warmed-up dish; used figuratively to mean something old served up again (Oxford English Dictionary).

343 The Bill was debated on 18 August; see Hansard 207: 419-22.

344 Cf. François Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel.

"To returne to our wethers".

The phrase is a translation of the proverbial French phrase "Revenons à nos moutons," meaning to return to the subject at hand.

Gargantua and Pantagruel, trans. Sir Thomas Urquhart and Pierre Le Motteux (London: David Campbell Publishers, 1994), p. 26. See also the columns for 6 August 1925 and 3 September 1925.

345 See McCombs's motion and arguments for new amendments (Hansard 207: 420).

346 McCombs said that "[t]he Bill that is before the House proposes to transfer a cost to the Hospital Boards which is now borne by the Consolidated Fund. The effect of the clause would be to reduce the cost on the Consolidated Revenue. My amendment is to continue the position as at present, and pay the whole of the cost out of the Consolidated Revenue" (Hansard 207: 420).

347 "Peccavi" is an acknowledgement of guilt and Latin for "I have sinned" (Oxford English Dictionary).

348 See the column for 19 August 1925.

349 Cf. I Corinthians 13 v. 11.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

350 Rudyard Kipling, "Gunga Din," lines 4-5.

But when it comes to slaughter
You will do your work on water

The Collected Works of Rudyard Kipling, vol. 25 (New York: Ams Press, 1970).

351 From Punch (31 October 1885) and afterwards in common usage.

Wife of Two Years' Standing: Oh yes! I'm sure he's not so fond of me as at first. He's away so much, neglects me dreadfully, and he's so cross when he comes home. What shall I do?

Widow: Feed the brute!

(Concise Oxford Dictionary of Quotations).

352 Monteith said that "[s]ome four years ago Wellington had two tin-shed abominations in which children were educated. The one in Elizabeth Street had been removed and a new school erected, but the other remained, and any honourable member who inspected it would agree it was neither a credit to the Government nor to the capital city….It was to be hoped that the young women who learned home science there would find their home surroundings of a happier nature" (Hansard 207: 455).

353 Cf. Isaiah 11 v. 6.

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.