The Dominion, Friday, August 28, 1925. p. 10.
Peeps at Parliament: Wandering in Corridors and Cabinet Comforts
"We have just listened," said the Minister for Lands, in polite but scathing tones, "to a characteristic speech from the Labour benches."375
Now, while we hesitate to accuse so important a personage as the Minister of Lands of making a misstatement, partly because it wouldn't be polite, and partly, likewise, because it wouldn't be altogether safe, we really feel it our duty to correct him in just one little particular. If, when he said "we" he meant us—that is, the occupants of the Ladies' Press Gallery—we had not just listened to a characteristic speech from the Labour benches. On the contrary. We don't even know whether, in the Minister's opinion, Labour-Socialist speeches are characterised by their sound common-sense, by their moderation and reasonability, by their justice tempered with mercy, or even by their charming old-world courtesy towards their fellow-members. The reason for our utter and abysmal ignorance upon these all but vital points is really quite simple. We were, until the Minister for Lands most unkindly disturbed us, peacefully sleeping, as innocent as a baby, or perhaps, seeing that there were two of us present, I should say as innocent as twins. The House, dear readers, sat up till half-past two, as ever was, yesterday morning, and we, kept in our seats by a devotion to duty probably unparalleled376 in the history of the entire human race, listened to the entire Opposition airing its views on the Railway Estimates, and, as a matter of course, on the perpetrator thereof—poor Mr. Coates.377
I've told you, I think, of those queer little, twisted, inconsequential corridors that wind in and out and round about, and, when they have conducted the unwary traveller to a point wherefrom he cannot, unless equipped with a pocket wireless set, hold any manner of communication with civilisation, simply turn tail and slip away into the darkness.378
Let me here, for the benefit of those who may go wandering and succeed in losing themselves in these corridors, reveal an infallible method of extricating oneself from the labyrinth. You can't walk far along any corridor in the House without becoming pleasantly aware of a faint, fragrant, and unmistakable trail of cigar-smoke—a trail which, in Indian sign-language, announces to the initiated that a Cabinet Minister has passed that way. One has only to stick closely to that trail and one will find oneself, in less than no time, back in the old familiar haunts of men. Cabinet Ministers don't go far from civilisation. Civilisation is, if you follow me, so extraordinarily comfortable.
But let me tell you all about the insides of the Cabinet rooms. Well, even to be a private secretary (a personage usually more aloof and unapproachable that the Ministers themselves) is to live in the lap of Parliamentary luxury. The private secretary's room is beautifully fitted out with big, deep, comfortable sofas—the kind that Mr. Speaker has, upon our frequent solicitations, so thoughtfully provided for the occupants of the Ladies' Press Gallery. (N.B. That last sentence was intended to be ironic.) But the private secretary's room is nothing—positively nothing—to the sober magnificence of the room in which the Cabinet meets to discuss business, and fat cigars, and—er—well, other matters of interest.
The walls are panelled in cedar and maple, the gift of the Canadian Government, the room is lighted with swinging lamps of alabaster, and the couches—Oh, the couches! As a general rule, I don't believe in bribery and corruption—one is so apt, don't you know, to get found out—but I really do think that the occupants of the Ladies' Gallery would feel rather kindly towards the individual who succeeded in securing similar divans for their use. Imagine, if you can, the spectacle of those highly dignified ladies who, as a general thing, spend their time in looking as if they were listening to Labour-Socialist speeches, solemnly endeavouring, at the instance of their guide, to find out just how high the Ministerial couches would, given due provocation, bounce. You can't? Well, I didn't really think you'd be able to. But that is just exactly what happened last night.
Then, hidden away in an entirely different part of the building, is the room for Native Affairs. Never tell me again (if you thought of so doing) that the architect who saw to the internal affairs of the House hadn't an imagination. The room for Native Affairs is the gift of various Maori chiefs, and is built to represent the inside of a Maori whare. Paua379 shells glisten at you like watching eyes from the twisted chairs, from the table, and from the wall. Carvings—the fine art of a changing race—ornament every part of the room. From one wall an extremely unprepossessing but doubtless benevolent Maori god looks thoughtfully down. He was put there, I am told, for the express purpose of keeping an eye—a cold and glistening paua-shell380 eye—on the doings of those commissioned to watch over the children of his race. I'm sure that he exercises a discreet and beneficial influence upon his department. I know that if I, for one, did or said anything I shouldn't have said or done, with those paua-shell381 eyes looking cross-ways at me, I'd be—how does the old song go?—"afraid to go home in the dark."382
Once before I told you something of the wonderful view from the roof of the House—but to really get some idea of its beauty, one has, by dint of much exertion, to climb thereon on a starry night. Far below are the dark streets and little yellow lights of the town. Beyond them, the quiet black harbour waters, and lights that twinkle, clear-cut and cold as stars, over on Petone beach. From yet another point of vantage, one can look down, in a fashion which would make a cat burglar dizzy, into a little shut-in courtyard wherein one half-sees383 tiny tree-ferns and shrubs, like the miniature trees set by tradition around the Noah's Arks of our extreme youth. I don't want on any account to put ideas into your head, but I do think that if one felt one really had to commit suicide, one couldn't make a more spectacular exit from an uncharitable world than by simply jumping off the roof of Parliament House. It would be quite five minutes before one felt the bump. Seeing that there are still four or five weeks to come (and go) before the end of the session, I may yet have occasion to act upon my own suggestion. One never knows.
376 Dominion: unparelleled.
377 See Hansard 207: 681-743.
378 Hyde might have been consulting this column when she wrote the chapter "The House is in Session" for Journalese. The chapter follows this column in mentioning in sequence the winding corridors, the cigar smoke of the Cabinet Ministers and the beauty of the Native Affairs Select Committee room (p. 39).
379 Dominion: Pawa.
380 Dominion: pawa-shell.
381 Dominion: pawa-shell.
382 "I'm Afraid to Go Home in the Dark" was a Tinpan Alley song composed by Egbert Anson Van Alstyne (music) and Harry H. Williams (lyrics). The same songwriting team composed "Goodnight Ladies," which Hyde refers to in her column for 3 October 1925.
383 Dominion: one-half sees.