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The Collected Parliamentary Reports of Robin Hyde

The Dominion, Friday, July 17, 1925. 10. — Peeps at Parliament: Election of Committees and Messages from the Governor-General

The Dominion, Friday, July 17, 1925. 10.
Peeps at Parliament: Election of Committees and Messages from the Governor-General

Isn't that just like life—and even more like members of Parliament? Here, for day after day, not to say night after night, the Spartan occupants of the Ladies' Gallery have gone climbin' up dem golden170—I mean those marble stairs, in the hope of being able to go home and tell their husbands, who have, of course, been comfortably asleep in bed, that the Address-in-Reply had actually completed its longue traverse, and, dead or alive, had been received at the Governor-General's house. Then, just out of pure, or, I should say, impure vindictiveness, the House, knowing that our backs were turned, stayed up to an altogether improper hour on Wednesday night, and passed the Address without our knowing anything whatever about it[.]171

The occupants of the Ladies' Gallery this afternoon were obviously feeling the strain of their late night. I mean to say, with the exception of myself and one other, whom I immediately christened Bold Herminius, because she sat on my right hand and kept the bridge with me.172 There weren't any other occupants of the Ladies' Gallery. But there was a drifting little scent of violets—at least one member's wife has a soft spot in her heart for perfumes—which was quite good company. So I just sat there, in a peaceable, dreamy, semi-comatose state, and waited or the curtain to go up and the play to begin.

Sometimes, you know, the House of Representatives is like that. Perhaps the faint light that filters through the stained glass dome, precariously perched on top of the building, heightens an effect of unreality. The queer little figures down below, with their stiff shirts, stiff bows and stiffer speeches (Labour says that the ones about finance are the stiffest of all—to swallow) seem just players on a stage173 … and if you have shut your eyes you can see the dark, dusty, and forlorn space behind the scenes, to which the unsuccessful players must finally take themselves. "Sceptre and crown must tumble down[.]"174—Here, here, Here! For goodness sake, let's be irreverent about something.

Rather an interesting little incident cropped up at question time to-day, when Mr. Langstone, of all people, gave notice that he intended to ask some unfortunate Minister questions about a petrified man, who was discovered far gone in intoxication—no, I mean ossification—in a cave at Arapuni.175 Mr. Langstone's trouble wasn't that he wanted the petrified man swept up and removed to a mortuary, but that he (Mr. Langstone) believes that the afore-mentioned petrified gentleman's bones would form a valuable asset to the Dominion Museum, and that, if we don't act with promptitude176 and decision, we may, in time, return to the cave only to find that

While nobody twigged it
Some rascal or other has hopped in and prigged it177.

So next time you see Mr. Langstone gazing across at Mr. Wilford with a rather peculiar look in his weather eye, don't think for a moment that he's entertaining unkindly thoughts about the Leader of the Opposition. Mr. Langstone is merely thinking of a petrified figure.

This afternoon (you'll remember what I told you about my to-day being your yesterday) was the scene—in spots a most interesting scene—of the election of the members of Select Committees.178 In the House there are committees on everything, from rats-bane to rag-and-bone-men, and everybody does his worst to get elected to at least some of them. In the dark and gloomy secrecy of the committee-rooms all the inner workings of Parliamentary business are set in motion, and every sensible M.P. knows that his constituents will be highly incensed if he, as their representative, is not able at election time to inform them just how the pretty wheels go round.

There are several rather interesting little forms (and many still more interesting figures) for one to observe when the House goes into committee, as it did this afternoon. First of all the Speaker adjusts his wig, tucks up his petticoats, and leaves the assembly to the care of a hardly less august gentleman—the Chairman of Committees. In the absence of the Speaker, the Mace is carefully concealed under the table. Funny—beg pardon, I mean imposing, isn't it?

After the election of the various committees, Messages—in reality drafts of Acts to be submitted to the House–are announced as coming from the Governor-General.179 Hereupon one sees another really beautiful example of the tradition that made our country what she is to-day (though, really, I suppose it's a little unfair to put the entire blame upon tradition). As each Message from His Excellency (and there seemed to be about seventeen of them) is announced, the entire House pops up and sits down again like a selection of Jacks-in-Boxes. Towards the end of this little ceremony some of the members begin visibly to sag at the knees and one weary gentleman, who, nearly all the afternoon, had treated the Gallery to a pretty spectacle which might suitably have been entitled "An Infant Asleep," looked imploringly at the benches as one who would say:—

Unwillingly mine eyes unclose;
Leave, ah, leave me to my repose! 180

170 "Climbing up the Golden Stairs" is a traditional folk song. See Ira W. Ford, Traditional Music of America (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1940), pp. 283-84.

171 The House adjourned at 1:33am on the morning of Thursday 16th.

172 Cf. Thomas Babington Macaulay, “Horatius,” lines 245-48.

And out spake strong Herminius;
Of Titian blood was he:
“I will abide on thy left side,
And keep the bridge with thee.”

The Lays of Ancient Rome and Miscellaneous Essays and Poems, intro. G. M. Trevelyan (London: J. M. Dent, 1910).

Herminius’s name had been invoked in a parliamentary context elsewhere: Banjo Paterson’s “The Dauntless Three” (1906) draws on the Macaulay poem to satirise the political manoeuvrings of Sir Albert John Gould (a former senator and “Horatius” in Paterson’s poem), James Thomas Walker (a senator in the first Commonwealth Parliament who was also a relative of Paterson’s) and Edward Davis Millen, another senator in the first Commonwealth Parliament, who is dubbed “Herminius” in Paterson’s poem about the Liberals’ attempt to defend themselves against the Labor Party. Interestingly, the tag “bold Herminius” which Hyde uses appears in the Paterson poem, not the Macaulay one, although she is clearly familiar with the latter. See also the columns for 8 July 1925 and 22 July 1925

173 Cf. William Shakespeare, As You Like It, act II, scene vii, lines 139-40.

Jaques: All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.

The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, ed. John Jowett, William Montgomery, Gary Taylor and Stanley Wells, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 2005).

174 James Shirley, "The Contention of Ajax and Ulysses for the Armour of Achilles," scene 3, lines 5-8.

Sceptre and crown
Must tumble down,
And in the dust be equal made
With the poor crooked scythe and spade.

The Dramatic Works and Poems of James Shirley, vol. 6 (New York: Russell and Russell, 1966).

175 This comment is not recorded in Hansard, but does appear in “Today’s Proceedings,” Evening Post, 16 July 1925, p. 6.

176 Dominion: promptiude.

177 Cf. Thomas Ingolsby [Richard Harris Barham], "The Jackdaw of Rheims," lines 63-64.

And the Abbot declared that "when nobody twigg'd it,
Some rascal or other had popp'd in and prigg'd it!"

The Ingolsby Legends, or Mirth and Marvels (London: J. M. Dent, 1922).

178 See Hansard 206: 578-79.

179 See for example the Repayment of Public Debt Bill (Hansard 206: 582).

180 Thomas Gray, "The Descent of Odin: An Ode," lines 49-50. Hyde (presumably deliberately) misquotes Gray's original lines:

Unwilling I my lips unclose:
Leave me, leave me to repose.

The Poems of Thomas Gray, William Collins and Oliver Goldsmith, ed. Roger Lonsdale (London: Longman, 1969).