The Spike Golden Jubilee Number May 1949
The origins of Weir House are shrouded in mystery and financial wrangling. The mystery begins with the founder himself. No-one seems to have known who he was, the nature of his con-nection with the College, and just why he should have left so much money to found a residential hostel. In 1933 it is laconically recorded that William Weir died in 1926, and that ". . . it became known to the College authorities that a sum estimated at £60,000 was available to them under his will" to found a hostel for men students. Mr Weir is stated to have been ". . . a timber merchant who for many years resided in Wellington." No doubt more explicit information exists beneath the mould and dust of the College records; for the greater number of people, however, William Weir must remain a rather mysterious man of goodwill, and his motives a field for interesting but fruitless speculation. The financial wrangles set in with the Great Slump. These and the hand of God caused much delay. In the first place, plans for a brick building were withdrawn after the pointed lesson of the Napier earthquake; in the second place an economising government avoided the full implications of the law governing subsidies. According to the date of the bequest, the government should have given a pound for pound subsidy; a smart piece of retrospective legislation limited all such subsidies to £20,000. A direct result of this governmental economy (one which is still with us) is a set of expensive and useless foundations, once intended as the base for a separate dining block, but now supporting the quite disproportionate weight of a recreation room and a maids' cottage. Another visible result is the rather sawn-off appearance of the Weir building when viewed from the top of the Cable Car; the building was planned in the shape of the letter H, but economy cut it down to a T. What emerged from these upsets and hesitant approaches was the present building, which, with all its faults, provides (it is claimed) the most ample accommodation for students given by any hostel in New Zealand. A visiting expert (it may well have been in 1946) explained the high expenses and the high boarding fees in terms of uneconomically used space. A well-planned hostel, he is reported to have said, would have used the same floor-space to accommodate twice the number of students. That may well be the case. However, Weir would seem to have suffered enough from economising financial experts; let her at least give to each student a reasonably furnished and sizable room. So it came about that the uneconomical hostel opened its doors to its first residents on March 1st, 1933, seven years after the bequest was made, which, considering the convulsions of nature, the anarchy of world capitalism, and the economising government, wasn't a bad feat.
We may well ask, what has happened during the 16 years of its existence? We may ask, but we may not expect an answer. The full history would be at least the subject for a Master's thesis; less complicated records do not exist. Since its foundation, the House has printed (of recent years cyclostyled) an annual house magazine, a rather paltry sheet which struck an uneasy mean between the alternating high endeavour and flat whimsy of a secondary school publication, and the more determined cultural aim of the usual University annual. From the file of these magazines we may (if we choose) reconstruct a picture, not on the nature of Weir House residents, but of their own glorified view of themselves.
In such biased sources as these, the typical Weir House resident appears as a somewhat gargantuan figure—a Paul Bunyan translated from the American backwoods to an antipodean campus. He is predominantly a creature of great appetite—he attacks food, alcohol and women with an equal (perhaps an identical) gusto. The chronicle of complaints about the food reads like the plaint of a strong man deprived of the meat and the bread his muscles demand. The tales of alcoholic orgiespage break page break page break page break
Hockey First Eleven, 1908
Winners Senior Championship. 'Probably as expert and seasoned a team as we can ever hope to possess.'(The Spike, October, 1908)
Back Row (from Left): E. C. Casey, B. Bissett (Mrs. J. Russell), O. M. Cook, *B. I. L. Reeve (Mrs A. H. Bogle), J. S. Tavendale (Mrs A. Paterson).
Winners Senior Championship. 'After the war, experience was blended with youth, dash with experience, in perfect ratio'
(From right to left): R. B. Burke(Capt.), O. S. Meads, A. D. MacLennan, W. P. M. martin, D. S. Goodwin, (Vice-Capt.) R. W. Berry, J. P. Murphy, R. T. Shannon, M. F. Radich, H. E. M. Greig, J. A. L. Bennett, R. P. Hansen, R. Jacob, R. E. barraclough, A. S. Macleod.page 73
remind one of nothing so much as the rye-soaked saloons of the Western film. The incidents of sexual licence presuppose residents equipped with the insinuating grace of Don Juan, the opportunities of Solomon, and the potency of an Olympian god founding new nations. Against this vision, we must place the disarming reminder of the magazine editor of 1945 that the "view of House life" to be obtained from his magazine was "not altogether balanced." Such is certainly the case. The food has at times been bad and inadequate. (Within the present writer's memory it was necessary to eat large supplementary meals in the city to keep body and soul together.) There has been quite a large amount of liquor consumed on the premises, especially upon such occasions as the end of exams., the House picnic, Extravaganza, and, with more valid excuse (if any is needed), on VE-Day and VJ-Day. Residents too, have customarily been aware of the normal amatory urges, and have satisfied them with perhaps a more doctrinaire thoroughness than is usual in our society. But that is about the extent of the excesses of the appetitive man of Weir. Rarely has he done anything that should alarm his parents, his college authorities, or his society. When such alarm has been shown, it has usually been due to the benighted consciences of the parties named.
That is one aspect of the mental life of Weir revealed by the magazines—a thoroughly under-standable tendency to self-glorification. Another may be viewed through the medium of literary style. This seems always to have been characterised by an attempt to find novelty by using cliches as if they were oven-fresh. It is a style which has two advantages—it catches the esoteric (who himself probably used such a style) by revealing to him a method with which he is thoroughly familiar; it draws the philistine by writing to him in phrases which anyone over the age of five would be familiar with. (A great advantage this latter one, for not a few House residents have never got beyond the age of five in their literary appreciation, which is perhaps to be expected in a College which caters so blatantly for the professional classes.) Thus, a 1938 account of a House dance speaks of a participant entering clad "in the garb of flaming youth." Eight years later, the chronicler of the same function tells us that "the young bloods staggered from the House en masse" in search of women. It is a further commentary upon the Weir mentality that the annual football match has always been regarded too sacred for this flippant vein. Instead, the reports could come straight from the uninspired pages of the Sports Post—e.g., "The play was generally hard and keen, but at times scrappy, for a high wind made it difficult to throw the ball about ..." But the flippant cliche is the characteristic of Weir House prose; the dull reportage of the football match might be written by any near-illiterate inside or outside the University. A style continuously practised for a number of years usually finds an exponent who transforms it into an art. The master of the medium arose in Weir during the glorious years 1945-47. His achievement lay not so much in writing good literature according to the dictates of English Prose style, but in speaking a stilted measure as if it were his native tongue (at times it was his native tongue) and in making it lively and appropriate for his purposes. The man himself would probably desire, and certainly deserves, to remain anonymous; it is enough to say that he is now a respectable, devoted and elevated member of the more bureaucratic side of the Public Service. The use of cliches for conscious effect can go no further than this description of a House picnic: "After a journey spent in virile quip and bawdy jest, the milling throng arrived at Maidstone Park, where it disgorged itself on the placid sward, dotted now hither, now yon, with stout elms, oaks and daffy-down-dillies . . . where . . . ensued the merry click of leather on willow." Or there is the description of a celebrated House janitor, a man of unexampled capacity for liquor, and seamy stories—preoccupations reflected in his face: "It was the enigmatic janitor on his knees, polishing the corridor floor until, to his horror, he could see his face in it."
These arbitrarily selected examples of the mind of Weir House would show it to be a thing of glass, fitful and rather worthless. There is of course more solid achievement. One could point to the high percentage of exam, passes, the record of graduates, scholarship winners, and first-class honours students. One could count the number of ex-residents at present studying overseas. These figures would show that Weir has in its brief existence been the abode of people who have studied seriously and successfully. A thing which is more important, but which couldn't be proved by statistics, is that the House has contained a large number of people acutely conscious of the broader aspects of their subjects, actively interesting them-selves (and in no dilletante way) with religion, philosophy, poetry, and all the questions of society. Within the present writer's memory at least there has been thought and discussion upon these topics carried out at a higher level than he has been acquainted with in the College as a whole. There has at times been a totally adult approach taken by a good number of the residents to matters which are characteristically the butt of adolescent wit. And that on its own is no mean achievement; it prevents Weir from being a mere boarding house with rather better accommodation than is usual.
W. H. Oliver