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The Collected Parliamentary Reports of Robin Hyde

The Dominion, Wednesday, August 5, 1925. p. 10. — Peeps at Parliament: Bright News from Southland Mostly about Photographs

The Dominion, Wednesday, August 5, 1925. p. 10.
Peeps at Parliament: Bright News from Southland Mostly about Photographs

There are moments, I believe, in the placid existences of most sober, righteous and respectable citizens when they seriously consider the pros and cons—particularly the pros—of a really up-to-date version of the Gunpowder Plot. At Home in England, so I am credibly informed, the Government, with most unusual foresight, anticipates any development of this nature by sending an orderly, armed with pocket torch and six shooter, to pry into all the dark, dank, and dismal corners of the cellars just before the session begins. One never knows, you know, does one? I don't know whether the same custom is observed in connection with our own Parliament, but if it isn't, it ought to be. Three solid and stolid hours up in the ladies' gallery are enough, and more than enough, to make a dangerous conspirator out of anybody. It's all very well for members. They can sleep, perchance to dream279—of Fusion, maybe—straight through the afternoon, rousing themselves at stated intervals, with considerable difficulty, to murmur enticingly to each other: "Well, now, and what about a cup of tea?" But what, may I inquire, about the unfortunate occupants of the ladies' gallery, whose dogged perseverance, coupled with sturdy British pluck, leads them to sit out the afternoon on hard, hard benches, which are in every way designed to bring about the most aggravated (and aggravating) forms of rickets, housemaid's knee, and writer's cramp? Is Mr. Speaker aware of the cold, stern fact that it is a physical impossibility for any living woman comfortably to dispose of herself in that gallery, except by winding her ankle round her next-door neighbour's shoulder-blade? Which is, in these days of tight skirts, just a little awkward, not to say unconventional. Besides, one's neighbour is so apt to be deaf to reason.

We have registered our complaint. But, unlike our Labour-Socialists, we do not intend to spend the rest of the day dwelling on what is—to us, at any rate—an exceedingly painful subject. Our duty must be did [sic]. Let us280 call upon the next order of the day.

One frequently hears—in fact, I may say that the fact is constantly being drummed into one—that a child has no friend like a mother. A county, on the other hand, has no friend like its member. Now you and I, in our abysmal ignorance, are apt to look upon Southland as a place where one may, or, if one is altogether unfairly favoured of fortune, may not run into a blizzard, a seven-foot snowdrift, or, perchance, a prowling Polar bear. It is our settled conviction that the exports of Southland consist almost entirely of oysters and influenza. Then, one day, through some unforeseen accident, or perhaps per medium of Providence working in a mysterious way its wonders to perform, we wander into the Ladies' Gallery and hear Mr. de la Perrelle on the subject of Southland. If anybody but myself told it to you, I don't suppose you'd believe it, but Mr. de la Perrelle actually stood there, in the very middle of members from Torrid Taranaki, Cloudless Canterbury, and Blossoming Buller, and asserted that during the past winter months Southland had calmly taken unto itself more sunshine than was absorbed by any of the other counties.281

Incredulous voice from the Reform benches: W—what's that?282

Mr. de la Perrelle concluded his speech with an appeal for "teamwork"—otherwise Fusion—and a touching little quotation from Kipling:

It ain't the individual, nor the army as a whole,
But the everlastin' teamwork of every bloomin' soul.283

Saying which, he relapsed into his seat, while the soi-disants "bloomin' souls," signified their approval by the very mild form of clapping which, in Parliament, represents three hearty British cheers.

Talking of patriotism, Kipling, and all that sort of thing, you know, has brought me back to an incident which I quite forgot to tell you, and which happened a few days ago. So, if nobody minds, I shall follow Parliamentary procedure by taking up your time in talking about something which is hopelessly out of date. That something is Mr. Edie—yet another Wilford-Nationalist, who on a comparatively recent afternoon, disclosed himself as a patriot of the very deepest dye—not red dye this time.284 You must know that a most important, not to say vital part of a Parliamentarian's life lies in being photographed—especially prior to election time. You've all seen those carefully retouched, pleasantly-smiling and apparently petrified photographs of various members of our House which are, from time to time, printed in newspapers, plastered on hoardings, and pasted into pamphlets. Now, if you care to take the trouble to penetrate into the fastnesses of Parliament (under guard, of course) you will see the photographs of M.P.'s dating from the dear old days when we hadn't any Labour Party. Beautifully bewhiskered and monumentally grave, the gentlemen in the photographs look down at you (and down on you) with aloof austerity. To come to Mr. Edie. Mr. Edie has, presumably to his pleasurable surprise, had his photograph, along with those of other members, hung in what some flippant person has characterised as the Parliamentary Rogues' Gallery. This was all very fine. But one morning, as Mr. Edie just happened to be standing underneath his photograph, gazing up at it with a proper feeling of respectful awe, he drew back with a start of horrified disgust. No, the photographer hadn't left unretouched those things which he ought to have retouched, nor yet retouched those things which he ought not to have retouched. Mr. Edie's trouble was with the frame. Imagine the feelings of a disciple of dear old John Bull, Esq., on finding that his portrait, hung in the House to be admired by our children, our children's children, and furthermore, was on all sides surrounded by a Japanese frame. As Mr. Edie pathetically declared: "I'm sure a British frame is good enough for me."285 Now, that's what I call modesty.

During the course of the afternoon, Mr. Parry made a little speech which gave me—even me—some manner of insight into the Labour-Socialist view of the Budget. Do you remember how once upon a time, in the days when children were not born into the world in such an advanced state of sophistication that they absolutely refused to believe in Santa Claus, we used to hang our stockings up at the foot of our beds, and sleep with one eye and both ears open right through the night before Christmas—just waiting until the chill light of morning should reveal to us the fact that our maiden aunt had sent us a dictionary in lieu of that scooter which, for months past, had been nearest and dearest to our heart? Well, the night before the reading of the Budget is the Parliamentary Christmas Eve—though, in accordance with the rest of the new generation, the Labour-Socialist Party are getting just a little bit sceptical about Santa Claus. But they aren't too sceptical to fill the air with their lamentations when their big brother's stocking presents, to their eyes at least, a somewhat more mysteriously bulgy appearance than their own. There's no pleasing some people, is there, now?

By the way, I believe that at the extreme beginning of this paragraph we started out by mentioning Mr. Parry. Well, Mr. Parry, with tears in his eyes, asserted that all he had found in his stocking was a hole.286 Reform members are beginning to look upon that particular hole as a pretty good earthly substitute for the Bottomless Pit.

Every child knows, and most men and women think they know, all about the place where members imbibe287 their afternoon tea. But absolutely no woman—exclusive of the perfect charlidy [sic]—is permitted so much as to peep through the keyhole of the true Bellamy's, which is almost as sacred from the profanation of feminine feet as the Legislative Council itself; and you ask the Legislative Councillors how sacred that is. Anyhow, we, being a decidedly mixed company, would have to partake of our light refreshments in a little room marked "Tearooms. Reserved for members' wives and two of their families." No, I believe that the last bit should read, "Two of their family." The other sounds just a trifle bigamistic, doesn't it? Here, at all events, are to be discovered most of the feminine adjuncts to members' families. There isn't any of the mystery about the place which, in our minds at least, veils the true Bellamy's. We aren't invited to sit cross-legged on purple cushions, while Eastern minstrels, seated on orange divans, play tom-toms for our special edification. Nobody offers us little glasses of sticky-sweet sherbet,288 and it would be an altogether unpardonable breach of etiquette to suddenly produce and light a hookah. Even the trim little waitresses wear not the fine old traditional garb of the Orient, but mere plain English costumes. These, as you will readily admit, are drawbacks. But here, on the other hand, one can see with one's own eyes tired Ministers, weary of the gall and vinegar daily served up to them by the Labour-Socialist Party, contentedly crunching delectable little cakes with pink icing on top. It's a very pretty sight—so pretty, indeed, that I really believe I'll leave off working myself, and adjourn for more afternoon tea.

279 William Shakespeare, Hamlet, act III, scene i, lines 66-67.

Hamlet: To die, to sleep.
To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there's the rub

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

280 Dominion: as.

281 De la Perrelle said that "[Southland] has this year enjoyed more sunshine during the winter months than has any other province in New Zealand. We have heard of the winterless North: I claim we have the winterless South in Southland" (Hansard 207: 108).

282 No interjection is recorded in Hansard.

283 De la Perrelle actually said:

"It ain't your guns or armaments, nor the funds that they can pay,
But the close co-operation that makes them win the day;
It ain't the individual or the army as a whole,
But the everlastin' team-work of every bloomin' soul!" (Hansard 207: 109).

This quotation is often attributed to Kipling, perhaps because it sounds similar to lines from the poem "Oonts" from Barrack-Room Ballads, but in fact the lines were penned by the American humourist J. Mason Knox.

284 The debate Hyde is referring to occurred on 31 July 1925.

285 Edie said "I object, Mr. Speaker, to my photograph being put into a Japanese frame. There are any number of good British workmen in New Zealand capable of making a frame good enough for my photograph" (Hansard 207: 69).

286 See Parry's speech (Hansard 207: 109-15).

287 Dominion: timbibe.

288 Dominion: sherbert.