Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon


Chapter V. — Outer Darkness

page 50

Chapter V.
Outer Darkness

All New Zealand journalists, including several members of the Newspaper Proprietors' Association, are suspect of vague socialistic yearnings, though I honestly believe quite a number could bear up under the plain facts about the other side.

In a way, journalism and politics seem made for one another, like cooks and policemen. Where would the one be without the other, and why? Young journalists are invariably interested in politics, for one of two good reasons… either they want to “make” the Press Gallery at the House, which is a job of some importance and a good deal of fun, or else they are earnestly trying to find out just why the leader-writers of their respective organs—quite good fellows in themselves, many of them—should turn in such appalling “tripe.”

Erstwhile Reform or erstwhile Liberal papers (now confused, under the Coalition Government, to such an extent that the leader-writer is aware of very little beyond a desire to be as nasty to as many people as is possible) have by no means a monopoly of the cramped political style. I once met an editor of the Labour organ—nee The Maoriland Worker, and peppy enough in the old days. The editor's name was Jim Thorn. He appeared large, pleasant and worried. He explained a good deal of his worry, not without bitterness, by stating that practically all of the party's sea-green incorruptibles fancied that they could run the show, or else kept on and on sending in contributions. Furthermore, wanting to see them in print.

page 51

In the outer darkness, beyond the twinkle of Parliament's three little lights, there is probably more fun for the roving journalist than in more orderly confines.

Election-time crowds… numbers being shot up again and again, on the huge billboards outside newspaper offices, as some hot favourite's majority slides to glory.

Speech by an earnest-minded little M.P., whose aitches had gone a-missing like Bo-Peep's sheep. Loud howl from the back of the multitude: “Hey— give 'im a haspirin or a h'aspirate.”

The 1913 strike, one of the most sensational episodes in the political history of the Dominion, had its brighter moments, apparently, though I was too young to imbibe that potent draught. But it is on record that C. W. Earle himself slid out of his editorial den in the old Dominion, grim look on face and baton in hand, to face an expected onslaught of strikers which happily failed to materialise. The same courage of conviction—call it relentless, but you can't call it less than courage—was shown throughout this editor's career.

An extract from an account given by Pat Lawlor in the New Zealand Artists' Annual, of what befell on the hottest night of the 1913 riots. He was then on the Dominion:

“I recovered my good favour through the heights of the big 1913 strike, when I was fortunate enough to be the only pressman present at the most sensational moment of the business. I found myself mixed up with a violent mob intent on doing harm to the ‘specials’, at their quarters in Buckle Street. I took cover behind a fence in the storm centre. Shortly, stones, bottles and palings were hurtling in the direction of the barracks. The specials stood the onslaught for a moment, and then they charged the mob. The sinister note of a revolver was heard, and through the darkness firearms flashed. It was page 52 an ugly business, and although there were casualties, the wonder was that nobody was killed. When it was over, I rushed to the office with my exclusive story. I was closely questioned by Mr. Earle as to whether the specials had used their revolvers. I was positive they had, and later in the presence of the Commissioner of Police was further questioned. I was then given a room to myself to write my story. I was heartbroken, next day, to find that the story was all in favour of the police. Later I was indignant, but now I can realise how important it was that the story should be handled, shall we say, discreetly.”

Well, shall we? Yes, little ones: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty—that is all ye know, and all ye need to know.”

The New Zealand Herald, up in Auckland, had one of its rare moments of song concerning the 1913 riots. I think its outburst too young, too beautiful, to die, so reprinted in part herewith it stands:

The Men Who Broke the Strike.

Brave wardens of the backblocks,
Whose late and early prayer.
Is, “Give us the roads and bridges”—
They and their nags were there.
Now, careless if their roads are
Mud to the saddle girth,
Came they to free the freeman
The highway of the earth.
The same strong hand that feeds us
Has struck the spoiler down;
The makers of the country
Are the saviours of the town!

page 53

Margaret, Peter and Jean:

Politics—so-called—introduced me to Mrs. Jean Devanny, New Zealand author of “The Butcher Shop” and other novels. The first, a graphic novel-rendering of a cause celebre among murder trials, is of course banned here in her own country, but as Mrs. Devanny, when last heard of, was in Turkestan, “she should worry.” She is, I think, probably the only woman who has ever given Christchurch lectures on Free Love (I went to one and considered the attendance remarkably poor). At our first meeting she was, however, advocating not Free Love but the pre-eminently respectable “Peter” Fraser, Member for Wellington Central.

Mr. Fraser always vigorously disclaimed any hankering after the “unofficial” supporters who backed him up so staunchly (and so noisily) at the election when Mrs. Margaret Young stood against him as an unofficial Labour candidate. It is only fair to say, too, that the pawky Scot is one who appears to need singularly little advocacy. An erstwhile Cabinet Minister told me a tale, libellous or otherwise, in re Mr. Fraser's first dramatic appearance in Auckland. Men, working under somewhat trying conditions at the bottom of a sewer, had been receiving special rates of pay. To the amazement of the Minister (who hadn't yet received that dignity, but was in charge of much construction work) they came swinging up to the surface, grim determination written all over their faces. An investigation of the bowels of the earth proved that Mr. Fraser, down there for a quiet chat, had absolutely convinced them that it was grotesquely unfair for their fellow construction workers not to receive similar high rates of pay. Hence one of the few strikes of the prosperous ever engineered in New Zealand.

I'm certain, if Mr. Fraser didn't actually perform this feat, that he could if he wanted to.

Mrs. Young, whose husband was “Tom” Young, page 54 deposed Secretary of the Seamen's Union, stood against Mr. Fraser in a kind of Holy War. Her husband had been ousted from the position he had reigned in for many years—and the Union secretaries, little Czars in their own way, look upon their positions with no small pride. Mrs. Young swore that there had been “dirty work at the crossroads.” The principal culprits, to her mind, were Mr. Fraser and the late Mr. Harry Holland. “Tom” dethroned .… . all right; all that Mrs. Young was simply dying to say in re the official Labour candidates should be said, and from an election platform.

The quaint part of it was that her injured lord and master either detested or pretended to detest the whole situation. Not for worlds would he have opposed the overlords — still less carried out his wife's never-realised threat, and produced documentary evidence of their much less urbane politics during the old days of the 1913 strike. Interviewing Mrs. Young on behalf of a Wellington paper, I was informed by her that since she had announced her decision of standing her husband would not speak to her.

Mrs. Devanny would, though: so also several other “hecklers,” who bade fair to break up a meeting intended to be composed only of Mrs. Young's prospective election committee, and of the Press. It was held in the Oriental Bay Tea Kiosk. Interruptions were so frequent and so embittered that I couldn't refrain from starting something of a cross-fire. No referee being present, there's no saying who won.

Mrs. Young's first campaign meeting was at a little hall in Kent Terrace, and was dated, appropriately enough, for Guy Fawkes' night. She couldn't complain of having no audience. The hall was so crowded, so much more than crowded, that a way for her had to be forced through the mass to a side entrance. I don't remember how I got in (all page 55 the Wellington papers had sent reporters along, looking for fun). Probably it was by telling lies: they must have been good lies, too.

An overflow of the audience waited sullenly outside on the pavement. Some more overflow was perched in window niches, and, if I remember rightly, more than one window gave the mob best. Mrs. Young (it must be true that courage goes with red hair) made an attempt to speak. They threw crackers and other things… “Remember, remember, the 5th of November.”

It wasn't Mrs. Young's politics, which were apparently non-existent (she was far too mysterious and tentative about her “documentary evidence” for any rational person to take that seriously), but the sheer bad manners of the crowd which lured the youngest scribe present into doing something no person seated at a press table is ever justified in contemplating… . to wit, making a rapid ascent of the stage, beginning a speech. Moreover, for quite ten minutes it was allowed to proceed on its way untouched; I think owing to a certain amount of nervous prostration among those present, because no other young woman from nowhere had ever yet addressed them passionately as “Men, women and puppies of New Zealand.”

As for the speech, I believe it was otherwise so exemplary in tone that Miss Ellen Melville might have made it. All about the right of women to sit in Parliament, and damned be he who first cries, “Hold, enough.” Let nobody say that the wolf-pack doesn't sport a sense of humour. I was discoursing with some fluency on “our homes—our babies—”

Loud voice from the pit: “Thought yer weren't married, Miss.”

Second loud voice (encouragingly): “I don't mind marrying yer, Miss.”

Protest from a drunken gentleman, whom I tried to fix with a basilisk glare: “Shay, Missh, you trying to hypnotishe me?”

page 56

My impromptu speech got into the dailies, but somehow or other I wasn't sacked from my own paper, as would have been but justice.

There was a Town Hall meeting next… Mrs. Young, wise in her generation, took the absolutely unprecedented course of charging for seats at an election meeting. I am certain that this has never been done before or since. She did it, she said, to keep the wild ones out — but they paid up their shillings like little ladies and gentlemen. It was a more orderly meeting, though Mrs. Young forgot her lines—if she had many.

Like his late leader, Mr. Holland, Mr. Fraser is a lover of poetry. Mr. Holland, of course, wrote his own little book of poems, “Red Roses on Life's Highway.” I hope that unlike every other book of New Zealand verse I have ever heard about that one sold, because somehow one couldn't withhold respect from the leader who suffered so greatly in his youthful Australian days, who fought so bitterly here, who was deep-learned in history and in books old and new, who was never to see the cause he upheld come into its own. I can remember him, crippled and shabby, limping along Lambton Quay in the small hours, whilst Cabinet cars slid grandiloquently past.

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.