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The Collected Parliamentary Reports of Robin Hyde

The Dominion, Thursday, October 1, 1925. p. 10. — Peeps at Parliament: Among "The Lords" — Peace and Progress

The Dominion, Thursday, October 1, 1925. p. 10.
Peeps at Parliament: Among "The Lords" — Peace and Progress

There are two doors facing us on our line of march along the corridors of the House of Representatives—one, the old familiar door which admits the privileged individual furnished with a password and half a dozen countersigns to the sanctity of the Ladies' Press Gallery, the other a swinging glass door which leads—or, rather, misleads the wayfarer into the Great Unknown. Somewhere in those almost unexplored and quite uncharted vastnesses lies hidden the Chamber of the Legislative Council. And we, having a fancy to see the "Old Timers" at work once again, just to say au revoir, take a last glance at civilisation, and our life in our hands, and pass boldly through the swing door.

How long ago is it—surely not one whole session! since first we climbed timidly up the always imposing but then awe-inspiring marble stairs of Parliament Buildings, and concealed ourselves behind a plump and motherly column in the gallery of the Legislative Council. Then, if we remember aright, there was a flutter of fans, cascades of ostrich feathers, and floods of small talk. Now—sic transit gloria mundi!513 —the Old Timers have for audience nothing but rows upon rows of empty chairs, and maybe (decidedly, there is a perfume of old lavender in the air) an occasional late Victorian ghost, come back to gaze, with affectionate admiration, upon the once dashing young legislators, whose fiery—and—what's that word?—"extreme" speeches were the scandal and the delight of other days. Ghosts, after all, see things, and people, through rose-coloured lorgnettes, and take no notice whatsoever of bald spots and whiskers which have somehow lost the fascinating curl appertaining to them forty years ago. So we see no reason whatever against our original contention that in all probability the ghost of "some lost lady of old years"514 is extracting quite as much pleasurable excitement from an afternoon with the Legislative Council as515 we mere moderns, with our passion for gathering roses when we may516 and when we mayn't, can contrive to garner from our more—shall we say sophisticated—frivols.

One hardly realises, at first, that the Old Timers are actually conducting a debate—nay, more, that they are even presuming to talk business, and have already put the solemn seal of their consent upon several Bills submitted to them by the Lower House.517 Everything is done in such a quiet, friendly, almost imperceptible way. We can't, for the life of us, imagine what would happen if one of the Old Timers so far forgot himself as to follow the fashion of our mere M.P.'s., and intimate that another worthy councillor's political opinions, or knowledge of English grammar, or groundings in high finance, were no better than they ought to be. The consequences couldn't well be a duel—physically and politically the Old Timers are past their duelling days—but we are quite sure that at the very least so unworthy a councillor would summarily be "blackballed." A horrible fate, Messieurs! Let us pass on to a somewhat less tragic theme.

On second thoughts let's—how do our scenario writers put it?—"run the whole gamut of human emotions," and descend, by slow degrees, to mere farce. We refer, of course, to the proceedings of the House of Representatives. It's a funny thing: the Legislative Council can, in perfect peace and quietness, and without any unnecessary fuss about the matter, pass Bills designed to turn the whole community upside down and inside out. The House of Representatives, on the other hand, becomes all "hett up," uses what even we must characterise as naughty words and generally comports itself in a most unparliamentary fashion, all, as the old song has it, over nothing at all.518 For instance, let's take the extraordinary case of Mr. Poland and the Trousers.

The trousers, in the first place, could not in any way be identified as belonging to Mr. Poland. They were those worn by the messenger service in the employ of the House of Representatives. It seems that, on entering the service, each messenger is taken before Mr. Speaker and formally presented with a uniform comprising coat, waistcoat, and "breeks." So far, so good. But worse is to come. We have always, partly on account of his long, black matronly gown, and partly on account of his air of august severity, mentally likened our Mr[.] Speaker to the kind of dear old-fashioned lady whose parlour is always precisely in order—just waiting, as it were, for the fly to step into it—and who is respectfully spoken of by her domestic staff as "a Holy Terror." Mr. Poland has confirmed us in our opinion. Mr. Speaker believes in antimacassars.

The situation is just like this. The messengers, their day's work done, are never by any chance permitted to venture forth into the common light of day garbed in the King's uniform. Such an idea would strike stark horror to [sic] the economical soul of Mr. Speaker. Before leaving the premises they carefully divest themselves of coat and waistcoat, and emerge in the sober garb of every-day citizens. The trousers, they are permitted to retain, because, as Mr. Poland explained to the House, they couldn't—our police force being what it is—very well go out without them. This is all very deplorable, but need Mr. Poland, on this and kindred grounds, have moved to reduce the total expenditure of the Legislative Department by a whole £5?519 Surely, Mr. Poland, five shillings would have been sufficient!

513 "Thus passeth the glory of the world". See also the column for 27 July 1925 and Robin Hyde, Journalese (Auckland: National Printing Company, 1934), p. 12.

514 Robert Browning, "Waring," lines 59-63.

E'en so, swimmingly appears,
Through one's after-supper musings,
Some lost lady of old years
With her beauteous vain endeavour
And goodness unrepaid as ever

The Complete Works of Robert Browning, gen. ed. Roma A. King, Jr., vol. 3 (Athens, Oh: Ohio University Press, 1971).

515 Dominion: las.

516 Cf. Robert Herrick, "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time," from Hesperides: Or, The Works Both Humane and Divine of Robert Herrick, line 1.

Gather ye Rose-buds while ye may

The Poetical Works of Robert Herrick, ed. L. C. Martin (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956). See also the column for 27 June 1925.

517 See the Legislative Council's proceedings for 30 September (Hansard 208: 826-36).

518 "All Over Nothing at All," words by J. Keirn Brennan and Paul Cunningham, music by James S. Rule (1922). The lyrics Hyde cites are from the chorus:

All over nothing at all
Was our affection so small?

Archive of Popular American Music.

519 The exact details Hyde notes are not recorded in Hansard although Poland did contribute to the debate on spending on the Parliamentary Services; see Hansard 208: 855-59.