The Spike: or, Victoria University College Review, October 1918
New Zealanders is Samoa
New Zealanders is Samoa
Those of us who experienced the pleasure and exhilaration of Mr. Leary's acquaintance in the days before the war, will doubtless feel as they read with gusto "New Zealanders in Samoa," that they are listening once again to his entertaining talks, with their zest, their relish of the unconventional, their genuine feeling, and also a good deal said with the tongue in the cheek. Take the book with its obvious weaknesses—its passages of unadulterated journalese; its occasional inaccuracies, and the somewhat haphazard arrangement of chapters—yet, acknowledging these, one must acknowledge too the "go." the enjoyment of life, the eye for beauty and colour, the humour, the excellent sketches of different types of colonial character, that the book affords, and one reads it all with a sense of enjoyment, and takes away from it many a sunlit picture. Every New Zealander owes a debt of gratitude to Mr. Leary for having written this unofficial account (very airily sometimes, very seriously other times) of the occupation of Samoa by our troops—a little bit of history with its humours and its drama.
Few indeed are our opportunities or reading in a bound book that "the hero walked thoughtfully down Willis Street, crossing at the corner of the bank," etc., but here the scene opens on very familiar ground—the Victoria College Tennis Courts on an August afternoon, 1914. The first chapter is the one where we feel that Mr. Leary wrote at times with his tongue in his cheek—but perhaps we wrong him. On page 238, near the end of the book, he says (referring to a description of Somes Island I the English Press) "As a journalistic effort this is good. As a statement of truth this is lamentable." We should like to quote these remarks against Mr. Leary himself regarding page 15 and "the monument at the land entrance to the principal dock of the City."
A very good sailor might be able to read without a qualm the story of the first night at sea on the troopship. In sheer unpleasantness it rivals Rupert Brook's "Channel Passage." All soldiers who have been "there and back," rapturously received at ports en route and perfunctorily at their destination, will appreciate the contrast in emotion felt at friendly Noumea and apathetic Suva. To quote—
"Although when at Noumea they'd ta'en the place by storm,
No Suvan crowd came cheering down, as motley giddy swarm;
No Suvan optic kindled at a Terrier uniform—
The Suvan looked anaemic—complained that it was warm."
Samoa, naturally, was not demonstrative—more warmth of a hostile variety would have been welcome; but, as the Governor's signal read—"The Germans refuse to surrender, but will offer no resistance." Mr. Leary "took to" Samoa straightaway, and we perforce must follow as we read. In spite of his sympathetic accounts of sickness and suffering and mosquitoes, he paints so vividly his picture of green palms, luscious fruits, cool bathing pools, kindly pleasant people, that we revel in it all by proxy.
The conductor of the Capping Carnival peeps out in Mr. Leary's appreciation of the Samoan's gift of harmony. Poulter and Stumpy, strolling near the Mission Church, hear a big organ booming forth. "Stumpy, that's no organ—that's the men's voices," says Poulter. "Like a mighty diapason rolled forth the melody. Countless dusky throats, deep and vibrant, were singing the bass of a grand old hymn. Over against them stood the women, their sweet voices pouring out in the joy of life the air of the treble. . . . . Never was there sound to compel the human heart like the sound of the human voice. None of your flat-chested, wheezy sparsely-scattered congregations of the Old World, scarcely opening their months to emit the sound they seem ashamed of. This was a congregation that sang for the love of singing. No wonder in the distance it sounded like the rolling of some mighty organ! That bass—a sound that had in it the vastness of the ocean and the echo of eternity."
One of the pleasant chapters in the books is "Echoes of R. L. S.," though the frequent references to "Steve" jar a little. That chapter prompts a re-reading of the "Vailima Letters" and the desire to glimpse again the daily life of him who "gave myriad hearts delight."
One feels grateful to Ocott, the Scout, for in sketching him Mr. Leary gives us one of the best bits in the book-the description of bush—life in New Zealand-life of which Mr. Leary had first-hand knowledge.
Only those who have been gloriously drunk; those who cherish the memory of some hilarious "jag" can appreciate fully the account of palolo-fishing—and I (alas!) am not of these. Still even I can appreciate the American skipper.
In the chapter given up to the "Pull-thro.'" Perhaps Mr. Leary had in mind the quotation—
"For never anything can be amiss,
When simpleness and duty tender it."
But I think even that did not warrant the inclusion of those very inferior verses on Lord Roberts. However, "Chacuná son gout." The Hiawatha excerpt from the Pull-thro' appealed more.
"Tofa ma Faleni" closes the book. And so "Farewell to Samoa." A friendly book and we say good-bye to it as to a friend, reluctantly. And to quote Stumpy, "Well, that's that!"
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