The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 6 (September 1, 1936)
Rulers of the Country — The Labour Ministry. — The Hon. D. G. Sullivan, Minister of Railways
Only a few men in New Zealand carry so heavy a burden of public responsibility as the Honourable Daniel Giles Sullivan, Minister for Railways, and for Industries and Commerce and the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. The railways alone would be a sufficient load for the most able of administrators, the largest business undertaking and State industry in the Dominion with its capital value of #60,000,000 and its staff of sixteen thousand. One would expect a statesman charged with such duties to present a careworn, overburdened anxious face to the world, bowed down by his ever-increasing duties. But Mr. Sullivan is the perennial boy, ever ebullient. He is a tremendous worker, always busy yet never too busy for something new; he has assumed great cares, he is methodical, and brings to every task a deeply experienced mind and a wonderful accumulation of knowledge. But he has a joyous capacity for throwing off the load of office for an interlude of pure fun. His merry, whimsical face, his irrepressible curly hair, accentuate and index his essential cheerfulness. Yet in his time he has sounded the depths of sorrow and seen man's inhumanity to man in its saddest form.
Mr. Sullivan is a deeply educated man, whose knowledge was gained in the school of humanity — an education all the more profound, perhaps, because it lacked the academic schooling of the colleges. He began life under a handicap. Of humble parentage and as a member of a large family in Christchurch city, to whom the struggle for existence was an everyday reality, he missed the joyous carefree life that boys should normally have in a country like this. His father was a hard-working Irishman, his mother a Scotswoman of sterling character. They gave him a sturdy, wholesome selfreliant upbringing. Necessity made him a man while he was scarcely out of his teens. At the Marist Brothers’ school in Christchurch, where he received all his school education, he was an exceptionally bright pupil, passing the sixth standard at the age of eleven. But during his schooling, from week to week, he proudly delivered to a grateful and loving mother the pence earned by selling newspapers in the streets of his native city, of which he was destined to be the first and mosthonoured citizen. Of all his achievements since the passing of those boyhood days none is worthy of higher tribute than that spirit of affectionate comradeship which existed between him, his mother and his father while life remained with them. Indeed, the secret of the success of his career is due in a large measure to the character moulded from the courage of heart and warmth of soul he displayed in those early years of his life.
Even during his school life, his live, social instincts were manifested in an intense interest in history, more particularly in its social aspects. From school he went to work at market gardening for a year, and was then apprenticed to the French-polishing trade at the age of thirteen. Unlike so many youths, his education did not finish with the completion of his schooling; indeed, it only then began. He read so assiduously that he was often seen going to and from his work with his eyes glued to a book of history. He read everything, and became particularly well-versed in the lives of the great philosophers, statesmen, explorers and scientists from Roman times onwards. To-day there are few men so deeply versed in the story of human understanding, attainment and achievement. His life has been moulded largely by that profound, self-directed study.
A Young Trade Unionist.
Debating club activities attracted his attention, and at the age of sixteen he held his first office in the Trades Union movement, as secretary to the Furniture Workers’ Picnic Committee, a small thing, but symptomatic of his future. His future life's interests, too, were stimulated greatly by the influence of his grandfather, a truly grand old man, one John Dow, a Scot and a Socialist, who was employed by the Railway Department. It has been said a thought never dies. John Dow's dominating thought is still expressing itself in the life of his grandson. In the pauses of a busy life it is the words of John Dow that doubtless still echo in his mind, “I'm a Socialist, Dan, dy'e ken what that means? Dy'e ken what a Socialist is?”
The Urge for Travel.
Wilde reading stimulated a desire for wide travel. He wanted now to see and observe something of the conditions under which people lived in other countries. From New Zealand he went to Australia. In Melbourne he was stranded without work or money. He applied himself to making small articles of furniture, which he sold from door to door, just managing to make a bare living. Presently he earned enough to take himself to England, and gradually he made himself acquainted with the conditions of work throughout England, Scotland, and Ireland, earning sufficient in each place to carry himself on to the next. The inflexible resolution and resource-fulness displayed in the execution of his plan to gain this experience of life, combined wit those qualities of courage, affection and warmth of soul which we observed in his boyhood, are closely related to his successful after life. Indeed, the glamour of his public life, unrelated to its background, would not bring the qualities of the man into proper relief and perspective.
Struggles in London.
Finding himself in Southampton with but a few shillipngs in his pocket, at nineteen years of age, he realised he was in a new hard world, vastly different from that which he had left behind. Within tw hours of his arrival in London he had located the Trades Union, adjoining a cellar-bar, which was its only access. The atmosphere was sordid and depressing in the extreme; it seemed to fit the general environment of labour. In the matter of food as well as lodging the needs of shillings had to be satisfied with pence and sometimes less. He was often hungry witout the means of satisfying his craving. Sometimes the bleak bank of the Thames was his bed. He observed humanity under its most miserable conditions, starving, atrophied, blighted lives, in a cold, indifferent, and selfish world. On atleast one occasion he worked in a sweat shop under conditions of illventilation, over-crowding and exploitation. He did not hesitate to choose the Thames Embankment again, but he did not leave without telling those responsible in his most lucid language what he thought of the inhuman conditions they were imposing on their helpless victims. He saw the blackest side of England's industrial life. He has never forgotten the unfortunate pauper foraging in the rubbish bin for scraps in the East End, and the contrast of ostentatious luxury and surfeit of the West End, Selfis pampering, lavish waste flaunted in the faces of those who had nothing.
His social conscience had been quickened and fired, his convictions deepened, and his resolution determined to interest himself in social reform. He was convinced of the injustices, the wretchedness, the horrors of unrestrained capitalism, sof far as it affected the vast majority of the people.
Return and Work in New Zealand.
Upon his return to New Zealand at twenty-two years of age Dan Sullivan quite consciously dedicated his life to a work, the objective of which was to prevent the evil conditions of the Old World taking charge of this country. He devoted himself with enthusiasm to the Trades Union movement and the then political Labour cause. He filled all the offices of the Christchurch Furniture Trades Union, organised it throughout Canterbury and the West Coast, and in conducting its cases and the cases of many other unions before the Arbitration Court he established a reputation as a most effective advocate. Stepping into the most important offices of the Labour movement in quick succession, Mr. Sullivan became president of the United Trades Furniture Federation, which he represented in the Trades and Labour Council; president of Canterbury Trades and Labour Council and of the United Federation of Labour. As a public speaker he graduated in the open air in Cathedral Square, along with such other stalwarts as the Hon. J. A. McCullough, M.L.C., James Thorn, M.P., E. J. Howard, M. P. Chairman of Committees in the House of Representatives, and others who had visions of a new and better world which they were determined to realise.
Civic and Political Career.
After many attempts Mr. Sullivan was elected to the Christchurch City Council in 1915. In 1931 he was elected Mayor, and in 1933 he again won the Mayoralty by a great majority of over 8000 votes. In 1935 a most determined attempt was made by the opponents of Labour to defeat him. The effort failed, Mr. Sullivan triumphed, and he was, in a personal sense, placed in a stronger position than ever.
Coincidently wit his personal and overwhelming gains of public confidence a Parliamentary career no less spectacular was commenced in 1919, when he defeated the Hon. G. W. Russell for the Avon constituency. At every election since then he was re-elected with an increased majority. From the time he first appeared on the horizon of public life in Christchurch he has gained the growing affection of his supporters and the respect of his opponents. His simple and straightforward manner and unfailing courtesy, his singleness of purpose in honestly serving the community, the clear, practical constructive application of his principles to the needs of life, his ability and tireless energy, all suffused with the enthusiasm of a youthful heart, have gained for him the solid regard of his countrymen.
The Cause of Relief.
I should have mentioned in an earlier part of this sketch the brilliant journalistic work of Mr. Sullivan. On the Christchurch “Sun” he gained a high reputation for his business capacity and also for his news sense and his solid work as a writer of articles on subjects of the day. Had he not been impelled irresistibly into Parliamentary life he would have made a great newspaper editor.
Minister of Railways.
It was natural that after his long and strenuous work as Labour member Mr. Sullivan should have been called to the Cabinet immediately Labour achieved its wonderful triumph at the elections. His career in the administration of the Railways need not be detailed here, because it is familiar enough to readers through the daily newspaper reports and the monthly announcements in this magazine. The railways are in most capable hands, and business is being speeded up in a remarkable degree.
To Assist Industry.
Turning to the third scheme, that of introducing industrial standards and secuing co-ordination, Mr. Sullivan said that twenty-two great industrial countries had adopted those plans, and had been quick to realise their importance and value, not only in industrial efficiency, but as savers of production costs.
Mr. Sullivan, in his capacity as Minister of Industries and Commerce, has a clear vision and a strong purpose in regard to the reorganisation of New Zealand industries.
“Industry must resort to more coordination if it is to achieve efficiency,” he said. “A very large percentage of the industries of New Zealand are in a state of muddlement bordering on chaos. We have done something already by stabilising prices in some branches of industry, but we have only touched the fringe and must go further. There will be no 'big stick’ compulsion, but we will try to bring manufacturers to realise the benefits of coordination and then try to get them to adopt a plan.”
This is the man whom the Prime Minister has placed in charge of the New Zealand Railways.page break
Business, Commercial And Educational Institutions Of Hastings.
(1)Iona College from the air; (2) Watties Ltd., new canning works; (3) Block of modern flats, Nelson Street; (4) Westerman's corner; (5) Interior, Foster Brook's Book Emporium; (6) Land and Highways retail and factory premises; (7) Hastings High School; (8) The Pacific Hotel.