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The Collected Parliamentary Reports of Robin Hyde

The Dominion, Wednesday, September 23, 1925. p. 10. — Peeps at Parliament: Playing the Game — a Grande Passion

The Dominion, Wednesday, September 23, 1925. p. 10.
Peeps at Parliament: Playing the Game — a Grande Passion

"The trouble with most of these chaps in the House is that they've forgotten how to play football"—Our youngest M.P.486

We don't know how it appeals to you, but this statement seems to us to contain a certain amount of truth. At first glance the bare idea of our courtly (and portly) M.P.'s engaging in the rough-and-tumble that invariably attends a really good game of football, seems little short of sacrilegious. Imagine the honourable Minister of Health487 in shorts! No, on second thoughts, you'd better not. It wouldn't be Parliamentary. But, after some deliberation on the matter, we've come to the conclusion that a discreet indulgence in football wouldn't do our members any harm; or, if they found that too violent a diversion, they might fill in their spare time with a little cricket, at which gentle art some of them seem sadly out of practice.

But one sport at a time, gentlemen! You all know (that is, if you're really good New Zealanders, and keep photographs of the All Blacks on your dressing-table) how, during the progress of a rattling good game, the players, seeming temporarily to forget all about such things as touch-lines and goal posts, clasp their arms affectionately around each other, and perform what looks to the mere feminine spectator something like a new and startling variety of the Indian war dance. This performance, we are credibly informed, is known as "the scrum." While all this is going on, the ball (pardon our feminine ignorance if we are wrong) seems to lie lonely, neglected, and unobserved upon the hard, hard ground, until presently some wily participant in the scrum slips eel-like from between his fellows' legs, and, at the cost of sundry cuts and bruises, makes off with it. The whole field immediately forgets its war-dance and follows in hot pursuit.

Now, the scrum takes place regularly every afternoon in the House of Representatives, though I'm sure Mr. Speaker would be scandalised if anyone told him so. The topic of discussion represents the ball, which lies placidly in a corner while the entire House dances wildly around, pulling Parliamentary noses, treading on Parliamentary toes, jostling Parliamentary waistcoats and generally behaving in a way which gives old-fashioned lovers of calm and dignity furiously to think. But the worst of it is, in our estimation, that it's such a very long time since our M.P.'s wore football jerseys and shorts that they have clean forgotten how to break away from the scrum, seize upon the ball and, sooner or later, make the touch-line. This is the true and inner reason for the well-known hypothesis that nothing (we won't say nobody) ever gets done in Parliament.

Then again, just think what benefit would have been conferred on the human race if somebody—say the Minister of Lands—had remembered enough of his football days, to—er—collar Mr. T. D. Rhodes,488 member for Thames, with a low tackle yesterday afternoon. (We believe that "low tackle" is the correct expression, but if you want to be quite certain on the matter we refer you to our youngest M.P. He knows.) The position, to return to our Mr. Rhodes, was this: Mr. Rhodes, one would think, is the very last gentleman whom one would suspect of so unparliamentary a thing as a grande passion. But 'tis so. And just what shape or form does the afore-mentioned grande passion assume? Well, it isn't horse-racing, and it isn't cross-word puzzles. It isn't prohibition, nor is it to the best of our knowledge the reverse. We'd better not keep you any longer in suspense. The grande passion of the honourable member for Thames is Drains.

We first began to suspect this regrettable little weakness on the part of the otherwise exemplary Mr. Rhodes on the night when Mr. Sidey brought in his Dunedin Sewerage and Drainage Bill.489 On that occasion Mr. Rhodes spoke precisely seven times. We counted 'em. He spoke, did we say? Nay, he became vehement. He, usually the gentlest, the mildest, the most peace-loving of members, waved his arms in the air, and, if we remember aright, actually succeeded in eliciting an "Order! Order! The honourable member will please withdraw that expression!" from Mr. Speaker.490 Worse, he descended to arguing—positively arguing—with sundry of our Labour-Socialists, who, without stopping to inquire, as is customary, "Is this a private fight, or can anybody join in?" doffed, metaphorically speaking, their coats, and rushed into the fray. In the end he, alone, unaided, and all by himself, moved a division, and was, we believe, defeated with great slaughter. Well, the best of members have their moments of—er—excitement, and, feeling that there might possibly be extenuating circumstances of which we wotted nothing, we, for one, were willing to let bygones be bygones. And then somebody (we won't say they did it on purpose, and we won't say that they didn't) deliberately endeavoured to bring in some report on the Hauraki Plains drainage system.491

"Water, Mr. Speaker! Clear, pure water! Water is the all-important thing for the future of the Hauraki Plains!"492 Dear me! You'd almost think, wouldn't you, that the Hauraki Plains were not included in a no-license district? But, upon inspection, we find that the point that is troubling Mr. Rhodes is not the water needed for internal uses, but that which lies without. Hauraki Plains are not, as far as we could gather, an even passable imitation of the Sahara Desert. Once upon a time, indeed, they used to form the happy hunting grounds of taniwhas, pukekos, and similar moisture-loving fauna. Then the Government (we don't know which Government exactly, but we suppose this one will get the blame, so it really doesn't matter), had an idea. The Opposition might suggest that they haven't yet recovered from the strain. They decided to drain the Hauraki Plains. Very good. Excellent, in fact! The drains were carefully planned, and yet more carefully (if we know our Parliament) constructed. This resulted, as Mr. Rhodes so graphically put it, in "turning a vast waste into a smiling rural district."493 Pretty soon, however, that smile developed into something that unhappy settlers must have interpreted as a sardonic grin. The drains carefully removed the water from the greater majority of the farms, led it down hill, and gently but firmly deposited it on the land belonging to a small but none the less vehemently protesting band of settlers. The result is—Mr. Rhodes.

At least, we suppose that rather an unfair statement to make. Mr. Rhodes would probably have happened anyhow. Kismet! What is written is written! But the consequences—we might almost say the horrible consequences—of the absolute irresponsibility of those who deliberately induced the weather to flood the Hauraki Plains—was that Mr. Rhodes spoke for—we suppose our watch was fast, otherwise we'd say centuries—on the all-absorbing topic of Drains. We'll guarantee that we can tell the health inspectors of Wellington things concerning the inner and spiritual meaning of drains which they've never dreamed about. Mr. Rhodes, with his sweeping suggestions for the prevention and cure of such little climatic idiosyncrasies as floods, somewhat reminded us of Kipling's "Song of the Machines."

We say to the mountains, "Be ye removed!"

We say to the lesser floods, "Be dry!" 494

And, to be absolutely candid, we couldn't help wishing somebody would come along and say just that to Mr. Rhodes's flood of oratory.

486 Limited biographical information about all of the members of the House of Representatives means that it is difficult to establish who was the youngest M.P, but it is probably Lee, who was only 33 in September 1925.

487 i.e. Pomare.

488 His initials were actually T. W.

489 3 September; see Hansard 208: 31.

490 These events are not recorded in Hansard.

491 McLeod tabled this report on 22 September; see Hansard 208: 533.

492 Cf. Rhodes: "…pure water for stock is also an exceedingly important factor on the Hauraki Plains" (Hansard 208: 534).

493 Cf. Rhodes: "…transforming a vast waste into what now is very largely a smiling rural district" (Hansard 208: 534).

494 Rudyard Kipling, "The Secret of the Machines," written for C. R. L. Fletcher's A History of England (1911). The poem is sometimes called "Song of the Machines" or "Modern Machinery." The lines Hyde cites are imitations of Kipling's style in the poem rather than quotations. See The Collected Works of Rudyard Kipling, vol. 27 (New York: Ams Press, 1970).