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New Zealand Now



Somewhere in his autobiography Sir William Orpen tells this story to illustrate the quality of Irish wit. Noticing that the horse drawing the cab he had hired was a bag of bones he remonstrated with the cabman:

'I am astonished to see an Irish cabman driving a horse like that. I thought the Irish prided themselves on their blood horses?'

'So we do,' the cabman said at once, 'and this is the bloodiest of the whole bloody lot.'

The real moral of the story of course is that an Irishman would sooner drive a crock of a horse than no horse at all. So, until twenty years ago, would a New Zealander. He would mount a horse to bring in the cows even if to catch it he had to walk farther than the paddock in which the cows were grazing. He felt that he lost caste if he drove sheep on a public road without at least leading a horse. He collected his mail by horse. He sat on a horse while he gossiped with a neighbour on the public highway or over the fence. Dr Johnson, it will be remembered, made very good use of a horse on his wedding day, teaching his Tetty a lesson which he had never again to repeat. But the cases are innumerable in our own brief history page 86of honeymoons spent on horses, of brides reduced to tears by the discomforts of the journey, and so thoroughly tamed by riding through flooded rivers that we never again hear of them. And now that the farmer and his wife have abandoned the horse, the flapper and her companion have hired it. In all our cities there are riding schools, not indeed for young ladies, but for sophisticated misses who want a new excitement. But among them there are many genuine lovers of animals. It may even be that they are driven back to the saddle by a deeper urge than they know—something as deep, however unconscious they may be of it, as the 'desire of the moth for the star'. It is certainly the case that man has been associated with, and generally deeply devoted to, the horse through thousands of years of history, and that even the Maori, though he had been separated from horses farther back in time than his legends carry him, no sooner met the horses brought to New Zealand by the pakeha than he became, and has remained, a centaur. It is difficult to believe that so sudden a passion followed a first encounter. And if we were turning back to horses before war again descended on us, may we not turn back afterwards with a deeper devotion as to 'something afar from the sphere of our sorrow'? For one of the few consolations of modern war, this madness of mechanics that is now on us, is that the only animal involved is homo sapiens. page 87We have thrown in our women and children but withdrawn our horses and dogs.

It is of course open to a cynic to ask if New Zealanders love horses or race-horses, and if they love the race as much as they love what happens before and afterwards. The answer is in the Dominion Museum. We have not yet put a horse into parliament, but we have brought* the bones of a horse from the other side of the world, jointed them again affectionately one by one, and set them up to speak to our children's children. It could in fact be argued that even our betting has been moralised—exalted into a kind of financial test of probability, and sometimes even of probity. It is certainly the case here, as Emerson just a hundred years ago found it to be in England, that we back our opinions with our money and accept the consequences without complaint. When we disagree violently enough about a fact, we challenge our opponent to put up his money. We seldom say simply 'You are wrong'. We say, 'I bet a pound you are wrong'; or ten pounds, or twenty. Members of the legislature challenge their critics to resign their seats and take a gamble on their chances of return. Philanthropists deposit cheques with referees, undertaking that the money will go to charity if they are proved to be foolish or ignorant or uncandid. If page 88betting has thus become a test of courage, of accuracy, of good intentions, and even of moral right and wrong, some credit must go to the horse.

But there are of course other animals. New Zealand feeds itself, clothes itself, shelters itself, and gives itself cakes and ale with animals. Five-sixths of our wealth comes from animals directly or indirectly, and the question is, can we say with the author of Proverbs that 'a righteous man regardeth the life of his beast', or must we cry in shame with Joel, 'How do the beasts groan'? We cannot conceal or deny the fact that we live, as farmers have lived from time immemorial, by murder and mutilation. If we thought that we would one day appear at the Judgment Seat (as the historian Froude dreamt that he did) to find it ringed about with the accusing faces of all the animals we had cut off in their prime, we would humble ourselves like Nebuchadnezzar and eat grass. But we do worse things to animals than cutting them off in their prime. We keep them alive just as long as we wish and for just as short a time as we wish, fattening some of them to kill them, holding others from slaughter to multiply as we, and not they, decide. We rob them of their young, drive them like slaves to work, or harry them ceaselessly from camp to camp, for as Professor Stapledon points out (in a book written after a visit to New Zealand), just as 'their resting-place has been trodden to familiar page 89design, just as homing becomes a delight and not a dread', we drive them out to some new terror.

Can we do all these things and go on doing them for generations without any mark on our characters? Is there something in the mind of an animal farmer that is not in the mind of a fruit farmer or a grower of grain; something in the New Zealand mind that is not in the mind of China, say, or of most of India? The answer is outside the scope of this survey, but if we were pursuing the subject further we should find a good deal in our surroundings to console us: the contentment of most of our farm animals most of the time; the fact that they fatten; the fact that if we did not use them as we do they would not exist at all; the fact that the worst things we do to them are modifications of what they do, or in a wild state would do, to one another; the enormous credit balance in human and animal happiness that our control of them so clearly leaves us. In other words, the biological compulsion on us to use them as we do brings a biological compensation that greatly outweighs its price. But it might be a useful research for our psychologists and students of education to consider what effects, if any, remain on country children's minds from experiences like these: the sale or slaughter of pet lambs; the forty-eight hours moaning of a cow for its stolen calf; the sight by day and sound by night, for three or four months on end, of truckload after truckload of lambs rolling on to the page 90freezing works; the sight and sound of pens of bobby calves waiting at a gateway for the butcher's lorry; dogs left for a week on the chain; dogs (very rarely now seen) doing boundary duty; lambs being tailed and unsexed; cattle being branded and dehorned; horses being docked.

Time, we know, heals most raw places. Use brings the necessary callosities. It has always been a little horrifying to English people that Amundsen reached the South Pole by eating his dogs; and not only by eating them, but by planning in advance to eat them. But Scott ate his ponies. So sheep-farming children who are horrified by the slaughter of a heifer look on calmly at the weekly killing of the sheep. What have they paid for that indifference? If sensitiveness dies, can sensitiveness also live? Or may we count on some such law of compensation as Nature has provided for the blind—an intensification of other sensibilities to balance those we have lost?

* I have discovered since this sentence was written that we did not send for the bones but had them sent to us by the American owner; which of course emphasises the point. He was so sure we would wish to possess them that he returned them as naturally and as spontaneously as the Duke of Portland returned the bones of Carbine to Melbourne.