Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 31 Number 16 July 16, 1968
Jaques on the Plunket Medal
Jaques on the Plunket Medal
"Oratory is a dying art", said Mr Peter Butler when introducing the Plunket Medal oratory contest He should know—he won the contest last year.
"If you feel a tear in your eye, or a lump in your throat, or if you feel antagonism towards the speaker, then you are listening to real oratory." he said. Two hours, and a full quota of budding orators later the crowded Town Hall concert chamber seemed to have confirmed his original proposition. Nary a lumpy throat was seen; no handkerchief dabbed at a soggy eye-ball; there was no antagonistic murmur of discontent
"My spine tingles when I hear real oratory," said one spectator. Like many others he was to go home sans tingle.
In an orgy of liberal values, eight earnest young men preached humanitarian cliches to a well-fed, self-satisfied welfare stale audience.
But liberalism is self-perpetuating. In two cases out of three the contestants appealed to judges who were previous winners of the Medal—pathos-peddlers of earlier contests who would like to see their own youthful idealism sustained in others and who knew that each winner may one day judge a new generation of phoney philanthropists.
The chairman did not forget to promulgate the Great Plunket Medal Myth.
"I would not hesitate to compare this contest with any oratory contest in the world," said Mr Peter Butler, and he didn't
Predictably he invoked the memory of past winners who had done brilliantly in later life. Is this just another Plunket Medal myth? The contest programme proudly lists past winners to allow the public to indulge in little games of celebrity-spotting.
But do all the known names make up for all the unknown.
No-one, would claim the New Zealand Who's Who is a definite catalogue of who really is who, but it can be taken as general guide to the post-plunket success of past winners.
Of 61 winners, only eight appear. It might be argued that this fact is not a true [unclear: reflection] of their successes, as Who's Who lists only the living, and so early winners might be excluded. But of the eight who appear, seven won the Medal in 1928 or before. Of the ensuing 40 winners, (who should have a better chance of still being alive), only one appears
And so great is the prestige of the [unclear: Med] that of these eight entries only two [unclear: reco] that the "celebrity" won the Medal—in this contest which "compares with any in the world."
It seems the contest rates lower than a VUW Boxing Blue (B. M. Brown, 1954) apprenticeship to the building industry (W. J. Mountjoy, 1928).
Said Miss C. S. Forde, one of the judges "I would remind you that there are a few great speakers who have not won Plunket: Medals." Perhaps she meant that there are many great speakers who didn't even bother to enter.
But the contest finally ended after the stern-faced young visionaries had wrung every drop of drama out of their utopian discourses
The Governor-General, symbol of [unclear: a] that's wonderful in tradition, then popped up on cue to present the medal to the winner for his "brilliant oration".
"Anything I might say would be descenting from the sublimey to the gor' blime, said His Excellency. It was.
He said, "I really don't know what to say after all that excellent oration," but he did anyway.
"I think it was Stanley Baldwin who coined the definition that oratory is the harlot of the arts." he said. (Laughter)
"I knew him a little and I am not being rude if I say that his knowledge of the art was minimal." (More laughter)
"I would say that his knowledge of [unclear: harlo] was even less." (Even more laughter)
Having done his Vice-regal bit, His Excellency then retired to examine his [unclear: re] carnation while the Debating Society regrouped to prepare its 63rd assault on soc-iety's conscience and His Excellency's secretary started thinking up witticisms for next year's impromptu speech.