The Dominion, Thursday, July 2, 1925. p. 10.
Peeps at Parliament: An old lady talks — Interludes of an afternoon sitting
I honestly think that there's nothing harder in this world than sitting down, in very cold blood, and endeavouring to pay attention to somebody's speech when one's new silk stockings are clinging damply and dismally to one's—ankles. Going up to the House yesterday I splashed my way through an inland sea of puddles and left squelchy footmarks on the beautiful crimson carpet all the way along the corridor. I'm sure that the moment my back was turned an orderly with a whisk-broom popped out and removed all traces of my passing. Nobody could help getting fond of that carpet. Anyhow, as I've said before, my shoes were wet, my stockings were wet, and my eyes were wet (nearly) with sympathetic tears for the above-mentioned orderly. How he must hate Cabinet Ministers who take nines in boots! But, as I was just going to say, you can't blame me, considering the general dampness of the atmosphere, if these notes are somewhat dry.
To die, they say, is a very big adventure: and to live is a series of little ones.41 Coming along the corridor yesterday afternoon I ran almost into the arms of a lady in black. Taking into consideration the fact that I was exceedingly moist and muddy, she was very kind about it. Does anyone know just how conversations are started? Perhaps they start themselves. Anyhow, for just a few minutes, before the members came in, I talked with a lady who had sat through and survived seventeen sessions of Parliament.
She was very tall and gracious and stately, and she had known Mr. Massey when he was a mere boy. "The finest speaker and straightest man in Parliament, my dear," she declared, with a little wave of her hand which indicated contempt for our mere moderns. "Somehow, now that he's gone, I've lost heart over Parliament. There's nobody nowadays to touch him…"
"Mr. Coates?" I suggested timidly. "A good boy," she replied tolerantly. (Fancy anyone calling our dignified Prime Minister that!) "Mr. Massey trained him and he will stand fast for the old traditions and the old party."
Just then I interposed a question about the present Liberal Party. She smiled—an enigmatic little smile which might have meant much, but which certainly said nothing. Milady was discreet. "And the Labour Party," I ventured. She pursed up her mouth and shook her head. "Schoolboys—mere schoolboys" she exclaimed, with a little grimace which meant, I think, that if she were the schoolmarm—I mean the Speaker—they would be very well disciplined schoolboys indeed. I would have enjoyed a continuation of the discussion—I've such quantities to learn about the devious ways of the State, not to mention the statesmen—but just at that moment the bell rang. It always does, doesn't it?
Perhaps you're wondering why I don't stop talking about totally irrelevant matters, and, coming down to earth and tintacks, tell you just exactly what happened in the House itself. But tintacks are such uncomfortable things to come down to, aren't they? However, to tell you the absolute truth of the matter—I do hope you appreciate that! —for fully an hour after the proceedings opened I was hopelessly and completely lost. Parliamentary proceedings are as bewildering to a newcomer as Parliamentary corridors—only more so. And this time there were no friendly orderlies to direct my erring footsteps into the proper path. I'll tell you exactly what happened.
First of all, the ordinary business of the day was transacted: some of it seemed to my inexperienced eye to be most extraordinary business. But that's as may be, and, anyhow, what does it matter?
For the first time in the present session the spotlight turned full upon the Liberal benches—from which, by the way, many of the old familiar faces were missing. At one stage of the proceedings six Liberal members—I counted 'em—were left blooming alone. The rest were probably transacting important public business in front of a cosy fire. But the few remaining were a particularly gallant few. Mr. Sidey (a mild and somewhat petit man with a fierce moustache) got up and made an impressive speech all about agricultural colleges, fusion, and midwifery.42 As far as I could gather, the hon. member's main idea was, "Let there be light—on everything except the fusion negotiations."43
Of course, as you've guessed long before this, the Labour benches didn't "lie low and say nuffin' "44 for a whole hour. Even if I hadn't heard a word of it, I would have known that Mr. Sidey's speech was impressive by watching the Labour members scribbling out those impromptu interjections of theirs on the backs of their order papers. For instance:
Mr. Sidey, in discussing agriculture, declares: "We must take measures for the advantage of the—"
Mr. Monteith: Liberal Party?
Mr. Sidey (with needless emphasis): No! For the Department!
Mr. Monteith (somewhat disappointed): Oh!45
A touching little appeal for members to get the business of the House, including the election, finished before the exhibition (did I tell you Mr. Sidey comes from Dunedin?),46 is greeted with: "Well, we'll see what we can do for you!" from the Labour benches.47
Sir James Parr, Minister of Justice, followed up with a brief—or comparatively brief—resume of the fusion situation.48 Matters are, it seems, in an exceedingly delicate condition, and members must walk—and talk—warily. Treading on eggs is nothing to it. As for the mere public—well, the very keyholes of the Council Chambers are stuffed with cotton wool, and large "Trespassers will be Prosecuted" notices are pasted all over the walls. I wonder if they remember to cremate the contents of the waste-paper baskets?
The last part of Sir James Parr's speech touched a broader field, that of European politics and their connection with the Dominion. Somehow this talk of "old, unhappy, far-off things"49 and future menaces which seem all too close, made me rather sad. It's a queer old world, isn't it?—where everyone is crying out for peace and getting ready for war. There was talk of submarine bases, of aircraft which might threaten England, and earthly craft which might betray France.50 I wonder if we'll ever be allowed to forget?
Mr. Holland's amendment to the Address-in–Reply was a sort of anti-climax. All—or nearly all—the measures proposed in the King's Speech were dissected and flung aside.51 Apparently some people hold that the King can do no right. Did you know—(of course you didn't!)—that if one of our pet earthquakes was to deposit New Zealand beneath the sea, the world would be over 568 millions the poorer? Almost enough to arouse a passing interest in the heart of Rockefeller, isn't it? But according to Mr. Holland, almost all of it's mortgaged, so after all we needn't begin to think that we're people of importance.52
Labour seems to find a great deal wrong with the world, without knowing just how exactly to put it right. "The rates of interest have gone up!" declaimed Mr. Holland.
Plaintive voice from the Government benches: Everything's gone up!
That, I feel sure, was the voice of a harassed family man.53
Mr. Holland had just begun to find his stride when the Speaker adjourned the meeting. And that's the last that I heard of the amendment to the Address-in-Reply. An afternoon of it was sufficient—the evening I shall spend elsewhere.
Peter: To die will be an awfully big adventure.
The Plays of J. M. Barrie, ed. A. E. Wilson (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1942), p. 545. See also the column for 19 September 1925.
42 See Hansard 206: 93-99. The term "fusion" was used to refer to the negotiations on parliamentary co-operation between the government and the Liberal party.
43 Cf. Genesis 1 v. 3: a
And God said, Let there be light, and there was light.
44 Cf. Joel Chandler Harris, "The Wonderful Tar-Baby," from Brer Rabbit.
Tar-Baby aint sayin' nothing, en Brer Fox, he lay low.
Brer Rabbit, ed. Marcus Crouch (London: Penguin, 1977), p. 13. See also the columns for 29 July 1925 and 2 September 1925, and Robin Hyde, Journalese (Auckland: National Printing Company, 1934), p. 37.
45 No such exchange is recorded in Hansard.
46 The New Zealand and South Seas exhibition took place in Dunedin in November 1925.
47 Hansard records the interjection as follows: "An Hon. Member-We will see what we can do for you." (206: 99).
48 See Hansard 206: 99-105.
Will no one tell me what she sings?
Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow
For old, unhappy, far-off things,
And battles long ago:
Poems, in Two Volumes, and Other Poems, 1800-1807, ed. Jared Curtis (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1983).
50 See Hansard 206: 103-05.
51 See Hansard 206: 105.
52 See Hansard 206: 106.
53 Holland did mention the increase in rates but Hansard does not record the subsequent interjection noted by Hyde. See Hansard 206: 107.