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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 5, No. 8. October 6, 1942

Plunket Medal

page 3

Plunket Medal

Once again there has come a time of great orators, men who by their words hold nations together, and whose speeches are pieces of history. The striking phrases and comparisons they create become household quotations. With their voice they strengthen their countries, and strengthen their people slogging along the weary road of war. But their speeches are not for the thousands who could gather in the Athenian market place, or in the forum at Rome, or in a large modern auditorium. They are for the thousands upon thousands, the millions, who are able to listen to a wireless.

In these awful days, when the basis of our future life is being decided by exploding steel and battle-racked flesh, the existence of nations depend on their unity and steadfastness of purpose, through whatever hardships total war may bring. This unity has been achieved in at least five nations to-day by a leader's oratory. Churchill, Hitler, Roosevelt, Stalin and Mussolini all grip their peoples' allegiance directly, through the microphone, and with them a new type of oratory has been born.

Radio address places great value on every word spoken. Empty phrases can no longer be sold by showmanship and mass hypnotism. The richness which welled in our mother tongue in Elizabethan times may soon return in a modern form, for a radio speaker must convey his meaning by dignity of expression and aptness of imagery. In this Churchill stands supreme. There is also a tremendous audience to which a radio speaker must appeal directly. The common people must be able to understand him, while at the same time he must plant some of his own ardour in them. Roosevelt has done this in his fireside chats. The people are now reached not by ranting, but by forthright, meaningful phrases, filled with the sentiments they have known. The people treasure their own sentiments, and any condescension or insincerity in playing on them will earn nothing but dislike for a speaker.

All this arises out of the point Scrim made in delivering the Plunket Medal judgment, that in conducting the competition in future the Debating Society should pay some attention to the change the microphone has wrought in public speaking.

He announced Miss Cecil Crompton as the winner.


Cecil, speaking on Pasionaria, had a quiet intensity which convinced the audience of her genuine admiration for her subject, and helped them share that admiration. Her account of Pasionaria's career was straightforward. The pathos and bravery which had filled her life, expressed boldly but without embroidery, is enough to grip any audience, and Cecil did not attempt to oust Pasionaria from the place of, honour. The facts of the Spanish War are grim enough. They only need clear statement. Cecil gave them this. Pasionaria's inner feelings, plain from her experiences, need no explanation. Cecil did not attempt one. And so, by not trying to improve on fact, she drew a clear, inspiring picture. It brought her victory.

Inna Lissienko was placed second, speaking on Alexei Stakanhov. Comparing her to Cecil, it seemed that her admiration of Stakanhov was rather more sentimental than reasoned. If we did not already know Stakanov was a great guy, that didn't matter. Inna did, and she was going to tell us about it whether we liked it or not. However, she presented such a good case for him that she left us with respect for her enthusiasm, and a feeling that there might be something in it.

No other speakers were placed, so they will be mentioned in the order they spoke.

New Ground

Gwen Bell was not fluent in her speech on Margaret Sanger. She broke new ground with her subject, and because of this was interesting, but she had too obviously tried to learn her speech, and had just missed. If she had used notes she might have got on more smoothly.

Paddy Finucane seemed to have got a bit mixed up with Brick Bradford and Jimmy Allen in Reece Smith's version of him, but at least he was disposed of in one instalment. The box Reece was standing on had contained some pretty frothy soap.

Bill Newell, appearing in Air Force uniform, had not had much time to prepare his speech, but made the best of his disadvantage. General Mikhailovitch, too, is an interesting enough character to retain an audience's interest without help from his oral biographer.

There were many well-placed laughs in Jim Winchester's speech on Tom Paine, and it was an enjoyable talk. But it was not quite oratory. He depicted Paine's career clearly and fully, and had the audience with him all the way, but perhaps it is because we know Jim so well that it seemed to us more like a contribution to a discussion than a speech.

Bernie Cullinane led us once more from Log Cabin to White House. Abraham Lincoln was a sombre and awkward man, and Bernie was somewhat the same it was a well-planned speech, but his platform manner could have been more flexible.

Our Thanks to

The judges were the Controller of Commercial Broadcasting, Mr. C. G. Scrimgeour, Mrs. Catherine Stewart, M.P., and the High Commissioner for Canada in New Zealand, Dr. W. A. Riddell. Unfortunately, Dr. Riddell fell ill, and had to retire after the first speech. The contest was held in the Gym, as the Concert Chamber was net available because of earthquake damage.