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The Collected Parliamentary Reports of Robin Hyde

The Dominion, Wednesday, July 29, 1925. p. 10. — Peeps at Parliament: Discourses on Pigeons and Firemen — Expect the Unexpected

The Dominion, Wednesday, July 29, 1925. p. 10.
Peeps at Parliament: Discourses on Pigeons and Firemen — Expect the Unexpected

Taking everything and everyone into the spacious limits of our consideration, I suppose it's a little unkind of us to expect our poor old Parliament to get into its working stride directly after a sunshiny week-end. Is it in any way just or reasonable to demand that a member shall fling his whole brain, will and horse-power into a Bill for the prevention and cure of black beetles when little mind pictures of dreamy blue seas, whispering pines, cushioned armchairs and—and all that sort of thing, you know—are floating most provokingly under his very nose? No, it isn't. So you mustn't entertain any hard feeling against the House when I tell you that its behaviour this afternoon was exemplary and, as a natural consequence, most appallingly dull. But be of good cheer, my hearties. There is something in the air. I don't know just what exactly, but to-night I intend to do my best to find out. The debate on the Budget is to be opened, and some say that the Labour-Socialists, armed to the teeth with tear-shells and treacle-tin bombs, are standing by all ready to assassinate it. (N.B.—Rumour hath it that Mr. Fraser, member for Wellington Central, is to supply the tear-shells. He usually does, don't you know.)

However, this afternoon, during question time, a touching little incident occurred which ought to (even if it doesn't) show ignorant people like you and me just how full of wickedness and malice aforethought this world really is. No, Labour didn't, with loud shouts of triumph, unearth yet another capitalistic plot to deprive the poor working-man of his hard-earned—lemonade. What really did happen was this. Somewhere out in the 'wayback country some person or persons unknown, either in crass ignorance of the situation or from sheer spite, have liberated a happy little family of wood-pigeons in one of our deep, dark and gloomy forests.255 This may seem to the casual eye (ours, for instance) a perfectly natural thing to do. The liberating of wood-pigeons is, to our strictly limited intelligence, merely a harmless diversion of the type practised by kind-hearted old professors who like to stand under spreading chestnut trees256 and hear the things coo. (The wood pigeon, I mean, not the chestnut trees.) But coming back to our subject, we don't know our New Zealand. Anything liberated here, from Cape daisies to convicts, immediately sets to in a really thorough-going way and becomes a pest. In other countries, for instance, wood pigeons may, and probably do, sustain themselves with worms, cockroaches, weevils, and—and so forth, like perfectly respectable and decent-living fowls. But as soon as they reach the shores of—what do the poets call it? God's Own Country, I believe—they seem to expect the unfortunate farmer to send them up breakfast trays of ripe cherries and young and tender wheat. It was a really solemn sight, this afternoon, to see the Minister of Lands in earnest conclave with the Minister of Internal Affairs upon the question of what the Department would do if it couldn't catch the wood pigeons, and what, on the other hand, it would do if it could catch the gentleman who let them loose. Something with boiling oil and painful extractions in it, I believe.

I nearly, but not just quite, forgot something of almost international importance. Mr. Bollard, who, among other duties too numerous to mention, is in charge of what one might call the Haberdashery Department of the House, to-day sponsored a Bill which dealt firmly with fire brigades.257 Now, possibly you think that I intend hereupon to sit down and give you a cryptic little resume of the important points of the Bill (not to mention those that weren't), together with notes, indexes, and comments by Holland and Co. Well, I hate to disappoint anyone, but I got lost somewhere about sub-section Q, clause 96, of the Bill, and never found myself again. If Mr. Bollard knows that Bill off by heart, then all I can say (in this connection) is that he must stand for half an hour every night in front of his looking-glass and practise reciting it, gestures and all.258

However, I'm glad to say that my abysmal ignorance of Mr. Bollard's Bill wasn't shared by the entire House. Mr. Sullivan knew something about the Bill—not much, to be sure, but something. Which, after all, is something, isn't it? It appears that once upon a time, when Christchurch was a picturesque little country town whither still-life artists came from miles around for the sole purpose of painting the Government Departments, the Government, being in one of those spacious, plutocratic, largesse-scattering moods, subsidised the Fire Boards to the extent of £200. For this munificent sum the firemen of the city were required to keep one eye and both ears open for the first indications of arson, spontaneous combustion, or mere shocking carelessness (on the part of the office boy), which might chance to take place in any Government property. Well, that was quite all right in the days when gallant fire-fighters used to work their pumps by tying them to the tails of the equine members of the brigades, and when the usual method of escape from a burning building was effected by unravelling one's stockings, tying the threads together, and thus fashioning them into a rope-ladder. These methods were, in their day, simple, economical, and—well, more or less effective. Mostly less. But nowadays, strange to relate, the altogether degenerate citizens of Christchurch, headed by Mr. Sullivan, have the bare-faced impudence to demand beautiful new fire engines, painted red, fitted out with ear-splitting sirens, and surmounted with firemen all dressed up in shiny brass helmets.259 This is all very well in its way, and helps to keep the children amused, of course, but it costs Money. The point of this little dissertation is that the Government is expected, in the interests of progress, peace, prosperity, and half-a-dozen other equally worthy objects, to hereupon immediately and without further parley increase its subsidy. The Government, with a far-away, dreamy look in its near eye, said that it would see about the matter.

This article is suffering from a dislocated spine—so you really must excuse it if it sounds a little weak and wobbly. I deserted it in mid-air, caught up my hat, an ancient and dilapidated note-book, and the stump of a pencil which somebody had inadvertently forgotten to conceal, and returned to the House to see what was happening to the poor, lonesome, unprotected Budget. As soon as I entered the Ladies' Gallery, I became aware that something had happened. It was—I'll give you three guesses, and you might just as well start by giving it up—yet another motion of absolutely no-confidence in the Government. Everybody's doing it, aren't they. This time the mover was Mr. Sidey, one of the stalwarts of the Wilford Nationalist benches.260 In a gently reproachful little speech he moved his amendment—and, I may say, absolutely refused to move anything else.

Always expect the unexpected. Nearly everyone in the House, except, of course, the wiseacres who always know just exactly what's going to happen after it's taken place, hoped and believed that the Labour-Socialists would excel themselves to-night. Well, perhaps they did in one sense. They lay low and said nuffin'—absolutely nuffin'.261 Many a time and oft, of course, we've seen Labour without a word to say for itself, but always, without exception, it's had something to say against everybody else. Strange!

As I was—I admit it with a certain amount of shame—leaving the House, somebody informed me, in a stealthy whisper, that perhaps, if we were very good, kept quiet and waited until, say, two o'clock in the morning, we might possibly see a division. But I didn't wait. What is the old saying?—"A House divided against itself shall surely fall."262

255 Hudson asked Bollard, as Minister of Internal Affairs, whether he had read "an announcement in the Press to the effect that wood-pigeons were being imported into this country?" (Hansard 206: 832).

256 Cf. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "The Village Blacksmith," lines 1-2.

Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands.

The Village Blacksmith, electronic resource (Raleigh, Nc: Alex Catalogue, 199-).

257 See Hansard 206: 836-39.

258 The speech was particularly detailed in its references to various clauses; see Hansard 206: 836-37.

259 See Sullivan's speech (Hansard 206: 837-38). The details correspond with Hyde's rendition here.

260 Sidey's speech can be found in Hansard 206: 851-58; the motion of no-confidence appears at 206: 858.

261 Cf. Joel Chandler Harris, "The Wonderful Tar-Baby," from Brer Rabbit.

Tar-Baby aint sayin' nothing, en Brer Fox, he lay low.

Brer Rabbit, ed. Marcus Crouch (London: Penguin, 1977), p. 13. See also the columns for 2 July 1925 and 2 September 1925, and Robin Hyde, Journalese (Auckland: National Printing Company, 1934), p. 37.

262 The original reference is to Matthew 12 v. 25.

And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.

But the phrase had become popularised through Abraham Lincoln's speech of June 16, 1858:

We are now far into the fifth year since a policy was initiated with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only not ceased, but has constantly augmented. In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached and passed. "A house divided against itself cannot stand." I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved-I do not expect the house to fall-but I do expect it will cease to be divided.

[Speech in Springfield, Illinois, June 16 1858], electronic resource (Champaign, IL: Project Gutenberg, 199-.)