Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon


The Glaziers' Harvest:

The Glaziers' Harvest:

Probably the most sensational incident in the outer darkness of politics—most sensational, that is, since the 1913 strike, when “the cockies came to town” to break the biggest strike New Zealand remembers—was the street rioting in Auckland, 1932. It is safe to prophesy, however, that more history will be added during the next two years.

“Jim” Edwards, hero of the principal riot, the Thursday night affair of smashed windows and stolen goods, broke into the news first as a fiery speaker at meetings far redder in quality than the official Labour Party—prescribed pale pink pills by all its best quacks — would be likely to stomach. page 57 Since the Unemployed Workers had knit together in association, open-air meetings and processions on a minor scale became more or less fashionable. Edwards lived in a little street just off Newton Road, which, at No. 63, provided official headquarters for the Communist Party.

I first heard him speak at the little London Theatre—Auckland's one and only sixpenny picture house.

“Jim,” still quite young though the father of eight, dark-haired, apparently with the constitution of an ox, a good speaker of the fiery style, owes Mr. Upton Sinclair a lot more than he would probably be prepared to acknowledge.

The first real clash, too (though of course everyone had been doing his or her British best to bring the thing on by anticipating it, and Auckland was simply over-run with hopeful specials-to-be, mostly recruits from the Colleges), took place outside the G.P.O. at noon one day with brickbats so plentifully provided by the Government at the old Railway Station site immediately back of the Post Office. Followed a Wednesday afternoon clash outside Bycroft's, in Shortland Street. A small detachment of police was mobbed there, and it is very generally admitted that had not Edwards made an attempt to control the crowds (who were slowly jamming “the defence” against a lorry), some of the police might have fared worse and gone a very long way farther, in a direction not likely to be popular with them.

There was a huge procession “set” for the Thursday night. Curiously enough, it was headed by eminently respectable Post and Telegraph department officials. The P. and T. had their own very just grievances—ventilated rather warmly in their little magazine, The Katipo, which has since been “suppressed” to the extent that it is not distributed on Post Office premises. It is, however, still flourishing: more than one official has had reason to page 58 rue the day when he contributed anonymous articles of a warmish political nature to The Katipo. Anonymity is so hard to preserve in Government offices.

Mackenzie, Secretary of the P. and T. Association, an earnest man and a good speaker, but too emotional to get far as a leader, was with the front-rankers who swung past.

As was reasonably to be expected (since after the entrance of a very small percentage to the Town Hall, the police made an effort, gallant as it was indiscreet, to keep the rest of the dragon outdoors), it became impossible to find “parking-space” for the marching and now excited men. The rear ranks continued to press towards the Town Hall, not knowing quite what was happening in front. Mackenzie and other delegates set down for Town Hall speeches had effected an entry and nothing was known in the Town Hall of the disturbances outside. Less official but more powerful and popular leaders made a frantic effort to swing some of the procession into a lower street, making for the back entrance of the Hall.

After that, police accounts and procession accounts differ so materially that one pays one's money and takes one's choice. Edwards' statement and that of the many who backed him up was that on mounting a low concrete parapet to make a speech of thoroughly “pacifying” nature, he was bludgeoned by a police official from behind. Bludgeoned, beyond question, he was: but whether he first provided considerably more provocation than he admits is, as I have said before, a matter on which one forms one's own opinion. The police may have owed him some regard for his intervention in Shortland Street a day before. On the other hand, no speech of Mr. Edwards' made at the London Theatre or open air meetings could have been described as pacifistic.

page 59

At its very best, the bludgeoning must have looked uglier than it really was. On the following night I witnessed the same gentle operation performed by police truncheons on at least half a dozen skulls, young and old. It's an unpleasant enough spectacle to cause a good deal of righteous indignation. The truncheons (wooden, and not lead-loaded, as was incorrectly and unofficially stated later), cause a scalp wound and much gore. If the police wanted to provide a tame dragon with a taste for blood, they must confess to having supplied the wherewithal.

Edwards'Scarlet Pimpernel ilk, or even more notable, an agent provocateur of some use to the police. He was not arrested in any inglorious fashion, but walked into a police station and gave himself up.

“Jim's” downfall did the trick. Despite the neat little array of armaments (notably a deadly-looking piece of lead piping conveniently bound with a leather thong), which were produced in court next day, it would be simply silly to say that any considerable portion of the procession came along armed. The “weapons” produced were not sufficient in number, nor, had they been prepared, would the mob have rushed to collect stones from a rock-bordered “minnie” golf course near by, and palings from a slat fence. The fun began. But before page 60 the dragon swung around and started down Queen Street, came the skirmishing wreckers and looters. Little food was taken, but much jewellery. One jeweller later put in the rather whimsical notice, “Any of my stolen watches regulated here, free of charge.” There was no riot insurance on 90 per cent. of the ruined plate-glass and spoiled or stolen goods. More than one Auckland business man who had made a genuine effort to alleviate poverty and distress suffered that night to the verge of ruin. Milne and Choyce's grieved over the spoliation of their very costly wax “dummies.”

An old proverb says it's ill wind, etc. — which calls to mind the fact that Auckland's two principal plate-glass specialists, to wit, Phillips and Impey and Smith and Smith Ltd., reaped a glorious harvest, an ironical coincidence being that Phillips and Impey was one of the very few shops in Queen Street which had its plate-glass left undamaged, whilst Smith and Smith, safely domiciled up in Albert Street, likewise lost not a pane.

In a theatre, a suave “special” came on at the interval of an amateur first night (“The Constant Nymph” was being performed by the Auckland Little Theatre Society), to request the audience not to go out at the moment. The white handkerchiefs worn by the “specials” were faintly reminiscent of the Saint Bartholomew's Eve massacre of Hugenots: but I will always remember that intrepid force of novices best by the exclamation of an enormous and derisive lady in the throng. “Yah,” cried she, “Glaxo babies!”

His Majesty's Arcade, housing the old Theatre where all Auckland plays that hope for real success go on, is fairly wide, and the shops at one end could hardly boast a pane of glass among them, when at last the audience tumbled out to the still chaotic streets. One well-known Queen Street chemist's shop suffered a quite phenomenal loss of birth con- page 61 trol devices—which shows that the conservative type of window display still has its points.

On the next afternoon, the Waikato “cockies,” more politely known as the farmers, many of them old reserve force men with reverent memories of “Bill” Massey, came to town.

Equipped with a sense of humour, even the mob might have seen something distinctly funny in that wild ride up Queen Street, khaki-shirted farmers flourishing batons which happened, at the moment, not to be necessary either as reassurance or as means of attack. Though much had happened during that day of aftermath and of totting up damages— which ran into many thousands of pounds and were not covered by insurances—there was, at the time, nothing whatsoever doing in the quiet street of shuttered and boarded-up windows, one and all dismantled of everything that looked in the least valuable. The wooden shutters were kept up for weeks.

Had the farmers been lucky enough to arrive at a moment when that flourish of batons might have inspired a hard-pressed little band of comrades, they would, no doubt, have looked gallant. As it was, they reminded me irresistibly of John Gilpin's famous ride.

63 Newton Road, Communist headquarters, had been raided the night before. But little Schofield, the deep-voiced, white-haired American sailor who is veteran among that small knot of Lenin-lovers, was still industriously peddling copies of The Red Worker (now banned in New Zealand) among the Friday night crowds that thronged Karangahape Road.

Mayor Hutchison, much taken aback by Thursday's episodes, had threatened to read the Riot Act, which empowers His Majesty's forces to fire, at a few minutes' notice, on a crowd refusing to disperse. He would certainly have made history page 62 for the British Empire had he done so, for there were more women than men in the crowds. Curiously enough, despite Thursday night's indiscriminate and exceedingly unfair violence to the property of inoffensive shop-owners, only one woman had been hurt, and her case was patently an accident.

Only one woman, also, was arrested as a disturber of the peace. She was a resident of Auckland's most plutocratic suburb, Remuera.

John Gilpin's ride started the fun on Friday evening—or, rather, gave it an excuse to start. The crowd was now genuinely sullen and ill-tempered. The rumours flying hither and thither were anything but likely to be used as lullabies for Government—or even Labour—M's.P. (Official Labour, of course, had done as pretty a job of hand-washing as the late Pontius Pilate.)

“Jim” Edwards was out of things… disappeared. There were many to say that he was dead…… secretly arrested. But the most persistent rumour in the crowd was that the miners were on their way from Huntly by lorry. It was a wild night.

The mounted police rode their sleek horses on to the pavements. Caught in a jam, one lame woman who couldn't get out of the way quickly enough, would have been trampled then: but an enormous labourer, evidently “one of the wild ones,” but not one of the unchivalrous, clutched her by the waist, swung her off her feet and out of the road.

“Stand back, you dogs — this is an innocent woman.”

Thank you, D'Artagnan of the crowds.

The splintering of plate-glass windows was sporadic—a stone flying here, then further up the street where it took some time for the police to “spot” the culprit. They were no respecters of grey hairs, to judge by the bloody ones seen that night. page 63 For that matter, they couldn't be: and they worked quickly, without unnecessary violence, without fatal blustering or timidity.

There were one or two imitation baton charges —not the real thing, just a mere spectacular attempt to move the crowds on. Batons drawn, flourished in faces male and female: loud outcries…… The mob eddied into shop door-fronts. Many of them were there more for excitement than for any business reasons.

“Get out o' there, now—get along—no business there… . .”

Thing to do in an imitation baton charge is to zigzag… . get out, cross the street, make your way higher up again. What the thing to do in an honest-to-God foray may be, I haven't an idea. Pray for luck and a thick skull, I daresay.

The Huntly miners—mythical—really put a period to Friday night's excitement. It seems unwise to promise an angry crowd circuses unless you are ready, in due season, to bring on your bears. They “procrastinated evil,” as the Japanese publisher Noma has it, until midnight was near. Then the fuse spluttered out.

Some of the unhappy “specials,” nursing batons completely unloaded, were viewing pictures in the Drill Hall, and made no secret of the fact that they found it all very tame.

People when bored like trouble. New Zealand has had quite enough of the depression to bore rich and poor alike.

A rumour that Jim Edwards had gone down to Wellington, to aid and abet the “riots” there (apparently a very second-rate performance, interesting only in that Parliament House was threatened and the police force so bottled up wet-nursing our M's.P. that they were unable to head off an attack on the shopping centres), and a very half-hearted attempt to hold a mass meeting in the Domain on page 64 Sunday were the last of the trouble, which had every camera-man in the city or near it busy taking films for overseas.

Time, well-known and witty American periodical, was a little flippant, not to say unkind, about the whole affair.

Alleged Time: “'Pon my word,” puffed Hutchison, Mayor of the City, “If you don't stop, I really must read the Riot Act.”

I'm sure the sober Auckland Mayor never puffed—however much he may have felt like it.

At the Ottawa Conference, an American newspaper blandly greeted New Zealand's delegates as coming from “a country whose chief occupations are riots, starvation and unemployment.”

I think they might have thrown in football and bookmaking.

Such is publicity. Since Massey died, we seem to have hit the newspaper world for a boundary only twice. Once by indulging in a most expensive earthquake, once by having a riot before our plate-glass was insured. And then, of course, there was that very sincere offer of paying our debts to the Motherland, when everybody, including the Motherland, knew we hadn't the wherewithal to pay them. However, hand-claps from the House of Commons were cabled out, and it's a comfort to get applause even in Press Association cables now and again.