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The Spike: or, Victoria College Review, 1939

Centennial Melange

page 16

Centennial Melange

"Before 1840, English settlements had already begun in New Zealand, and a New Zealand Land Company had been formed to exploit the possibilities of the island. In 1840 New Zealand also was added the colonial possessions of the British Crown."

—H .G. Wells, "A Short History of the World."

So is an origin recorded. To-day colonial hearts of all shape and from prepare to swell with a vague pride born of a realisation of a history. The average New Zealand, assuming that such a person does exist, views history with the suspicion which can justly be attributed to it. History has proved itself a protoplasm from which tradition grows and tradition will reveal itself to the canonicals of a newer age along with the perdition of the Victorian era.

* * * *

The story of the settlement of this Dominion of ours is grand one if you seek grandness; it is a glorious one if you seek glory; it is a doubtful one if you seek truth and notoreity: but despite the inevitable inequity of the seeking hand of Imperialism, despite a now believed misinterpretation of the concept of individual right, the pioneer fulfilled a task in the doing of which to-day, every young person would feel satisfaction, but we should have done it differently—that is one of the privileges which history confers, We live in a world of changing thought. The ideals of the forties of last century are not those of the forties of this; and because of this fact detraction from the credit undoubtedly due to the early pioneer would be unjust. G. M. Young in his "Early Victorian England" wrote that "The colonists of New Zealand came mainly from that struggling and expanding class the Responsible Poor, as distinct from the mere proletarian on the one hand and the thoroughly successful artisan on the other—calling in a new world to redress the social as well as the political balance of the old. "Respectability," it has been said, "was at once a select status and a universal motive. Like Roman citizenship, it could be indefinitely extended, and every extension fortified the State."

For this same respectability, we owe much; for respectability in itself demanded the unquestioned veneration of ordered institutions.

Passing, they saw their race abide,
And now we know them great,
Whose hands took plain and mountain-side,
And graved thereon a State.

—W. P. Reeves.

If the American colonies had their Locke, New Zealand in spirit at least had its Bentham. Perhaps incongruously, perhaps with an entire lack of approval of the members of the Founders' Society, the youth of to-day, salute the pioneers who have made this impertinence possible.

* * * *

Important, too, will be the inevitable crop of memorials to be sown almost nervously throughout cities and towns; each awaiting the ravages of the inexorable hand of time to gloss away the sinfulness of newness and to establish the so necessary halo of maturity and antiquity. Not till then will grey pillars of

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Old Times T. W. Rait

Old Times T. W. Rait

page 17

stone and local halls be serving a true purpose; not till then will bespectacled youth languidly gaze and conjecture on the curiousness of our ways and imbibe the true glory of heritage. For out of the mists of a past we transpose to the past mists of the future and there is glory in the tradition of heritage.

* * * *

To a New Zealand youth grappling with the problems of examination and thesis, the Centennial will prove of concrete assistance. A qualified staff have for some months been struggling with the irrelevancies and inconsistencies of a history recorded in volumes of unsystematised effort. Dusty papers have been recalled from the dark and damp of bottom pigeonholes and disordered safes. Much has been written and hours have been spent that a disinterested public might know true history. The fruits of this work will make the running up of a New Zealand history thesis an almost overnight affair. For this the unwilling seekers of letters must at least be grateful.

* * * *

The Post Office are doing honour with a special issue of stamps. The Government are producing a special film pictorialising our progress. A national anthem has been "officialised." The myriads of Government Departments and hundreds of private firms are presenting pageants and exhibits for public edification and it is rumoured that we shall have a Cetennial toothbrush.

* * * *

The event is one for which celebration might perhaps be justified. But while history is being reversed a newer and more stern history is being prepared on the striving soil of a disrupted Europe. The hundred years which in New Zealand have given rise to some measure of social reform are being celebrated, while a strife which must inevitably bring about even further reaching reforms lives its destructive hours but a few thousand miles away.

Some years ago the late Professor J. Macmillan Brown made this prediction:—

"When the last dream of world-conquest and world-power shall have been dreamt and shattered, when the last military autocrat and the last military bureaucracy have met the fate of Napoleon, when East and West have settled their differences and their long divorce, when mankind shall have attained that federation of nations at peace which is the ideal of all thoughtful and wise men, then from her environment, her oceanic position and her mountainous character, it may be predicted that New Zealand will be one of the foremost champions of freedom and peace for all men."

On this the eve of Centennial celebration, the further centuries of contention and distrust which may avoid the carrying into effect of this prediction must give rise to thought and to conjecture.