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The Collected Parliamentary Reports of Robin Hyde

The Dominion, Saturday, July 18, 1925. p. 8. — Peeps at Parliament: A Day of "Small Beer" — Wild Pigs and Kauri Gum

The Dominion, Saturday, July 18, 1925. p. 8.
Peeps at Parliament: A Day of "Small Beer" — Wild Pigs and Kauri Gum

You know those crisp little financial dispatches daily inserted in the newspapers by Great Big Business Men, with the object of persuading a guileless public that the market for something or other is firm, quiet, or aged and infirm, as the case may or mayn't be? Don't you think that it would be something in the nature of what one might term a wheeze if we were to adopt the same idea in this column, and hang out a large "Nothing doing" notice on the exceedingly rare afternoons when nobody in the House did or said anything worthy of our distinguished notice?

To-day, for example, our dispatch might read as follows: "Market quiet: a welcome change," as usually our friends on the altogether too extreme Left make it dreadfully noisy.

But we are playing the entr'acte before the overture; anybody would think, to listen to us, that we were Socialists. Let us proceed. We entered the Ladies' Gallery hand in hand—no, no, that won't do at all! With a little more provocation, you'll be taking me for an up-to-date version of the Siamese twins. I entered the gallery, and, naturally enough, sat down. There's no harm in that, was there? And lo, as I sate, a mighty voice issued forth from somewhere down in the roomy and gloomy interior of the Chamber, and it lifted itself up and cried unto all men, "Mister Speaker!"181 Thereupon Mr. Speaker, who had been lurking somewhere in the wings, took his place. Then came the prayer, a solemn incident which never fails to impress. And then once more the game was afoot.182

Talking of game—the game, at this particular session varied from rabbit to wild pig. Enough to make even an epicure sit up and take notice. But we will come to that anon. At first (we blush like a peony to admit it), we entertained an altogether unworthy suspicion that we were going to be bored. But as time wore on, this impression wore off. The business in hand (well in hand, for once), was the report of a commission on deteriorated lands in various parts of the country.183

You know, we townies are, on the whole, frightfully unsophisticated. We cherish the idea (yes, we do, and it's no earthly use our denying it), that a farm is a place where perfectly sweet little yellow chickens run about in the sun, and live on a staple diet of worms; where milkmaids all forlorn (until the stable hand gets up) milk cows with crumpled horns,184 and look charming in dimity aprons; where there are always enough strawberries and cream to go all round three times running, and where everything in the garden, including the potato crop and excluding the slugs, is lovely. We regard the farmer as a person in whiskers who puts up the price of butter, and says his prayers backwards over his hens with the sole purpose of inducing them to lay addled eggs for our exclusive consumption. But we're all wrong—every one of us. We city people go to business. Farmers work.

Do you know that each little farm in the backblocks is, in its own small and unprotected way, a beleaguered fortress? All around it, silent, menacing and unconquerable, are the black forces of the virgin forest, and noxious weeds of villainous depravity, which will, if for one year the guardians relax their vigilance, swallow up our lonely little outposts of a civilisation to come.185 The discussion on the report reminded me of a jungle song of Kipling's:

I will let loose among you the fleet-footed vines,
I will send in the jungle to stamp out your lines,
The deer shall be your herdsmen,186by a landmark removed….187

That's what is happening to little farms every day in the 'way-back country. Truly saith the prophet, that one-half of the world doesn't know how on earth the other half lives.

But you mustn't think just because

The rabbit and the thistle keep
The fields where farmers laboured and dug deep, 188

that the local bodies of the various country districts of New Zealand are all corpses. Far from it. The present Commission on Deteriorated Lands is probably in some part the result of their intense agitation. And the commission didn't spend its time wandering vaguely around tilled fields, poking its fingers into the ribs of prize pigs and remarking "Haw." Their report touched on everything from better roading to experimental farms. Several rather interesting little minor points also bristled up. Mr. Masters, for instance, referred to the prevalence of appallingly wild pigs in Taranaki, and stated that the Government's own forestry reserves were breeding grounds for such unscrupulous marauders.189

Never tell me again that pigs is pigs, and, as such, are totally unreasoning creatures. On the contrary. They know perfectly well that the Government is laying for them (isn't there a bonus of one whole shilling offered for every one of their snouts?), and, as a natural sequence, they take sanctuary in the very places where plain John Brown, along o' his shot gun, must not go to earn an honest shilling.190 High up in these natural strongholds, the outlaws, living on the fat of the lamb, can afford to turn up their noses at the prices offered for their snouts. On moonlit nights, when we o' the city are asleep, like respectable citizens, in our warm beds, the robber barons sally forth and fall with exceedingly great force on such lambs as have been unwise enough to leave their mothers' knees. It all sounds very desperate and daring, doesn't it? However, the Government has decided to render all possible assistance to such peaceable country-folk as have suffered from such outlaw depredations. One member's comment on the situation rather amused my unpractical mind. He stated, in feeling tones, that if the Government were to increase the bonus for the robbers' snouts to, say, three shillings apiece, the farmers might feel more inclined to go to the bother of collecting above-mentioned snouts.191 A very pretty case of the ruling passion strong in financial death, isn't it?

After all this serious, not to say blood-curdling talk, one hates to come down to mere frivolity. But somewhere among my disreputable ancestry is located a lady who was very, very fond of her pigs and her praties. It is she, then, who whispers to me that it would be the making of this bit of a country of ours if we could entice all these wild pigs, now going to waste and ultimate destruction, into properly-managed pig-sties, and there, by means of suitable food and simple kindliness, win them back to the vegetarian habits of their ancestors. Just think of all the perfectly good ham, bacon, and sucking-pig that these now worthless outlaws could be made to represent.

This was (the little story above) originally intended to be all for the present. But later on in the evening we chanced to be passing the House, some fatal fascination lured us within, and we gave ear to bits of the Kauri Gum Control Bill, which really, in the interests of patriotism, you shouldn't miss.192 The gum industry appears, colloquially speaking, to be well up a gum tree. Our difficulty is, first, we can't find much gum worth buying, and, second, that we can't find any prices worth selling for.193 This is where the State comes in and saves the situation. As Mr. Coates somewhat plaintively put it, "As soon as the marketable period of the gum industry starts again, the Government will quietly disappear."194 That seems to be the function of the Government—to tide industries195 over their inevitable hard times, to be abused for its interference, and finally—quietly to disappear. And until the next period of stress comes along everybody goes peaceably on his way and forgets all about the Government.

By the way, curious facts sometimes crop up when commercial cards are on the table. Before the war—before we, in our hopeless ignorance, ever dreamed that the war was on the horizon—a fair amount of our kauri gum was exported to Germany, and used in the manufacture of high explosives. We all know what those high explosives were used to manufacture—slaughter and death. But, after all, we "got one back on them." Our exporters, putting pleasure before business, had skilfully sold Germany a highly inferior and almost useless brand of kauri gum.196

181 The phrasing echoes the Bible but does not appear to come from a particular passage.

182 William Shakespeare, Henry V, act III, scene i, lines 32-34.

King Harry: The game's afoot.
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry, "God for Harry! England and Saint George!"

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

183 See Hansard 206: 612-33.

184 Cf. "The House that Jack Built," lines 22-23.

This is the maiden all forlorn
That milked the cow with the crumpled horn

The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, ed. Iona Opie and Peter Opie, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).

185 See for example McLeod's statement that "[o]wing to the steepness of the land, and the prevalence of gorges, the timber and roots will eventually decay to such a point that large areas will slip into the river-beds and creeks, and make the land impossible from a farming point of view, besides doing great damage to land lower down the streams which may be valuable land" (Hansard 206: 612).

186 Dominion: heardsmen.

187 Cf. Rudyard Kipling, "Mowgli's Song Against People" from The Jungle Book. Hyde quotes the first two lines correctly but her third line confuses two separate passages in Kipling's poem. The poem begins:

I will let loose against you the fleet-footed vines—
I will call in the Jungle to stamp out your lines! (lines 1-2)

In verses two and three are the following lines, which Hyde has conflated:

And the wolf shall be your herdsman
By a landmark removed (lines 15-16)
And the deer shall be your oxen
By a headland untilled (lines 21-22)

The Collected Works of Rudyard Kipling, vol. 11 (New York: Ams Press, 1970).

188 I have been unable to trace this allusion.

189 Masters pointed out that "[w]e have forestry reserves by the thousands of acres spread about in little patches here and there, and these are the places which are the breeding-grounds for the wild pigs in the district" (Hansard 206: 619).

190 Masters confirmed that this was the bounty paid to hunters (Hansard 206: 619).

191 Hyde might be referring to Hockly's comments on the Special Committee's recommendations; see Hansard 206: 623.

192 See Hansard 206: 633-43.

193 Bell pointed out that the gum trade had been languishing since 1921 (Hansard 206: 634).

194 Cf. Coates's statement that "[t]he only justification we have is that we help in a difficult period and provide employment for men, but as soon as the market price mounts up-as it undoubtedly will; it has never failed before-the State should quietly disappear and let the business run on its own basis" (Hansard 206: 638).

195 Dominion: industris.

196 Murdoch noted that "[i]n the past we have sent considerable quantities of gum to America and also to Britain, and we are told that during the war period much of our inferior gum was sent to Germany for the manufacture of high explosives" (Hansard 206: 635).