Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 20, No. 14. September 26, 1957
Victoria Story (7) — Victoria Walks The Streets
Victoria Story (7)
Victoria Walks The Streets
"Our heroine Victoria is in trouble again." said "Spike's" editorial in 1947. "The villain still pursues her. . . . Her box was ready, she had kept out of scrapes for a long time, she had been quite civil to the eligible young men of the Junior Chamber of Commerce. Then suddenly, swoop! With a flourish of his red-lined opera cloak, the villain whisked her away. Her distracted aunts found her walking the streets."
Yes, Victoria walked the streets in 1947, and it became quite a habit in the next few years.
The issue was Indonesia's independence. The Dutch Government had agreed to this by treaty, but had broken the treaty in a flagrant attempt to reimpose their sovereignty. Sydney students had demonstrated outside the Dutch Consulate, and Victoria followed a few days later.
The Socialist Club had been formed in 1946, largely by returned servicemen with the star-dust of anti-fascism in their eves and a passion to keep alive the democratic ideals of the war. The club called a lunch-hour meeting on Indonesia—filled to overflowing—addressed by a Dutch student who had lived there and a functionary of the U N. Association. A petition to the Dutch Minister was drafted and over 300 signatures collected in the College. As a climax, a midday demonstration way planned for Friday. 30th July.
Over 200 students lined up at the Cenotaph that still, sunny winter day. A returned serviceman carried the New Zealand flag, and another the Indonesian. Others held banners with such slogans as "Stop Dutch Aggression" and "Students Demand U.N.O. Action". Others gave out copies of a printed leaflet titled "Indonesia Calling".
Police formed a cordon across the line of march as the procession moved off along Lambton Quay, but the leader hid his face behind his flag and walked right through. The rest followed.
It was only when the marchers reached the D.I.C. Building (where the Dutch Minister had his office) that things began to happen. A carload of police was disgorged "to protect the building", and a posse of constables laid hands on the students with banners, and took their names, addresses, and banners. Some confusion followed, and a complete blockage of traffic in Panama Street and Lambton Quay, for which the demonstrators could scarcely be blamed. At police bidding, the crowd quickly dispersed.
The aftermath was twofold. A special meeting of the Student Association called to disaffiliate the Socialist Club for "bringing discredit on the College", ended amid cheers when the resolution was decisively defeated, in the Magistrate's Court a week later, when six students and a number of watersiders were charged with "holding a procession without a permit". The Magistrate dismissed the charge in a memorable judgment which referred to the freedom to demonstrate as "a cherished right of the British nation".
And so Victoria was vindicated, and the pattern was set for two street demonstrations organized by the same club in the two following years on the subject of conscription.
But there were other political dustups m those years. Major C. F. Skinner, then Minister of Rehab., had spoken at V.U.C. and was the Socialist Club's natural choice for a patron. In 1946 he made an utterance which the club regarded as "red-bailing", and they requested his resignation, which was promptly tendered. There was some discussion as to whether Mabel Howard. who had publicly dissociated herself from her colleague's remarks, should be asked to fill the vacancy, but it was finally given to Mr. F. L. Combs. The controversy earned some comment in the press, including Colvin's cartoon reprinted on this page.
Early in 1948 the Gottwald Telegram incident occurred. The Debating Club had carried a motion condemning the events in Czechoslovakia which had led to the Communist capture of power, and decided to table students at Prague University condoling with them. A wit on the Student Association Executive moved that Exec, send a cable to the Communist Premier Gottwald congratulating him on the "triumph of democracy in Czechoslovakia". This was carried with only four votes against!
In the panic that ensued, the whole Exec. except those four opponents fell from office on the no-confidence motion of a packed general meeting, and Minhinnick celebrated with a cartoon in the "Herald of V.U.C. as Tenniel's Duchess, speaking roughly to her (Exec.) baby, who was screaming "Gottwald!" with an approving Cheshire cat (representing the public) looking on.
But this was a nine days' wonder. Some of the offending Exec. members were returned at the next secret ballot, and Association policy continued on its militant way. V.U.C.S.A. went on record against conscription a year before the referendum on the subject, before any other organization in the country had woken up to the issue. It was when Prime Minister Fraser declined to receive a deputation of returned servicemen students that the first demonstration on this subject was organized, a march of 200 from the library to the Cenotaph (screams of "Sacrilege!" from the R.S.A.), where a wreath was laid with a suitable inscription.
The Association supplied speakers' for the "No" platform throughout the referendum campaign, and the Socialist Club staged another demonstration the day before the vote was held.
The referendum itself was certainly a defeat, but once again Victoria seems to have lived through defeat to vindication. Conscription certainly looks as if it is on the way out.
She can lake comfort in the knowledge that she did not walk the streets in vain.