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Temperance and Prohibition in New Zealand


Looked at superficially, and without relation to the past, this last decade in the history of the Prohibition party in New Zealand might well assume the appearance of an anti-climax. It opened with the highest hopes of immediate victory. It opened with new and powerful allies. It opened with material resources hitherto unrealized even in the land of dreams. It closes with Prohibition still in the future. The false and misleading propaganda of the liquor trade had not been without its effect on the public mind. The total vote for Prohibition had increased to over 294,000, but the requisite majority of voters had not yet been won. Yet, placed in the perspective of history, looked at as part of the story of the growth and development of a great movement, the past ten years may yet be seen, not only as the most important, but even as the most page 122 dramatic in the history of Prohibition in New Zealand.

A World War. The first fact which emerges from a detailed study of the New Zealand struggle with the traffic in alcoholic liquors is that New Zealand in 1919 constituted only one front in a world war against alcohol. The World League against Alcoholism was founded at Washington in June 1919, beginning with fifteen national temperance organizations from twelve countries. It now includes forty-five organizations from thirty-five countries, and its triennial convention held in 1927, comprised 1,152 delegates from fifty-seven countries. On the other hand, the Central Bureau of the Liquor Traffic was formed in Switzerland about the same time for international activity, and has since developed into an International Congress of Anti-Prohibitionists, which held its last congress at Vienna in May 1928, and claimed to have frustrated an attempt to get the League of Nations to consider the alcohol problem.

In Great Britain, under pressure of war-time conditions, hours of sale of liquor were reduced from eighteen and a half to five and a half, and liquor output reduced to one-third. France prohibited absinthe, Russia and Roumania and Finland adopted total Prohibition. The U.S.A. and Canada introduced stringent restrictions which later culminated in National Prohibition in the U.S.A. and Provincial Prohibition in Canadian Provinces. New Zealand adopted six o'clock closing and anti-shouting laws. These events indicate the world-wide development of anti-alcohol sentiment. A further factor was the wide recognition of facts that had accumulated from scientific investigations, such as those of Bunge and Kraepelin. These facts page 123 were given unprecedented publicity through the work of the Central Control Board (Liquor Traffic) in Great Britain and its Special Advisory Committee of scientific and medical research. Through these agencies the mass of knowledge covering the influence of alcohol on the human body and mind was brought into prominence.

It is impossible to measure the social and political effects of this increase in knowledge, but they are known to be profound. A prohibitionist in New Zealand was wont to be regarded as a social extremist, and as a political faddist. In 1919 he saw mobilized in his interest the most important and responsible elements in the business community, a strong majority of the medical practitioners, and very nearly the whole strength of the Protestant Churches. A revolution had taken place within some fifteen or twenty years. The temperance work on which the Prohibition movement was founded was still based upon the effects of alcohol, but it now went below the effect to the cause. There is no one fact more important in this great warfare. Henceforward the Trade was defending. The Prohibition party was attacking. Henceforward the chances of success or failure were not dependent upon a rise upon rise or fall of a wave of passing emotion. They will, through stress and storm, remain steady and constant.

The Schools. The significance of the new developments in the ascertainment of scientific health cannot be better illustrated than by reference to the attitude of the Department of Education. In 1919 the Hon. (now Sir James) C. J. Parr, Minister of Education, promised that teaching concerning alcohol should be definitely, systematically, and thoroughly taught in the public schools. The page 124 immediate result was the issue of the famous Education Report No. 13.

In connexion with the use of Education Report No. 13 in the schools, the Alliance organized a Dominion-wide essay competition amongst the pupils in the day-schools, with properly graded classes, the sum of nearly £1,000 being offered in cash prizes. The introduction of this Report into the schools was bitterly opposed by the liquor organization known as the Moderate League, but the Education Department refused to withdraw it.

In the year 1924–5 the New Zealand Alliance organized a competition amongst teachers in the primary schools for the best series of twelve lessons based on Education Report No. 13, cash prizes to the amount of £80 being offered. The prize-winning essays were subsequently submitted to the Education Department which published them in the official Education Gazette, circulated amongst the teachers. The Alliance then prepared a series of eleven large wall charts to illustrate the lessons and the Education Department having approved the publication of these, the Alliance undertook the cost of printing and distributing them to the schools.

The Organization. Before tracing the history of the years with which this chapter deals, it may be well to say something of the development during the period of the New Zealand Alliance, the organization charged with the direction of the Prohibition forces. It will have been noted that, at its inception, which were the days of its quickest growth, the movement was almost entirely a voluntary one. As years went on it was found that the work placed upon volunteers was a strain too great to be borne.

In the two campaigns of 1919 paid organizers were employed in the Districts as local collections page 125 permitted, but it was not until 1923 that the Alliance became organized on a Dominion-wide plan. In that year New Zealand was divided into eleven areas each with a paid officer called the Area Organizer. Additional staff organizers have been held as a reserve to give assistance when and where special needs developed. All funds were, at the same time, pooled that they might be disbursed on a national plan and not be left a prey to the emotions of election year. Each area was, as before, controlled by a district council, now called the ‘Area Council,’ representing the local leagues, and the Area Councils send delegates to a Dominion Executive meeting in Wellington four times a year. It is the duty of the Dominion Executive to carry out the policy laid down by an Annual Meeting held about the middle of the year. The general secretary, under a president elected at the Annual Meeting, was still the chief executive officer. In 1929 centralized control of funds gave place to control by areas.