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The Spike: or, Victoria University College Review October, 1920

Plunket Medal Contest

page 46

Plunket Medal Contest

The fourteenth annual contest for the Plunket Medal was held in the Town Hall on Friday the 10th September. The Debating Society Committee no doubt felt uneasy as to whether such a large hall could be presentably filled, but the citizens of Wellington (possibly out of mere curiosity, possibly in anticipation of hilarious amusement, and surely in ignorance or forgetfulness of the length of the programme and the hardness of the chairs) arrived in numbers that would have rejoiced the hearts of a box-office manager or an Evangelist. Mr. G. O. Cooper made an efficient albeit somewhat belligerent chairman. His belligerency, however, was well called for by the inane and stupid interruptions emanating at times from a noisy minority at the back of the hall, a minority whose sum total of intelligence and sportsmanship must be in inverse ratio to the loudness of their cackle and the banality of their remarks, in view of the fact that they did not hesitate to interrupt even the women competitors by clumsy gibes and futile noises. Such individuals might be imagined as playing "tag" in the middle of the running track in the course of a sports contest, or playing marbles on the floor of Westminster Abbey.

The judges (Hon. A. T. Ngata, M.P., Rev. H. W. Burridge, M.A., BD., and F. V. Fraser, M.A., L.L.B.) comprised as good a bench of judges as could be got to judge an oratorical contest.

The first speaker was Miss Norman, who spoke on Richard John Seddon. Miss Norman had the unenviable task of "breaking the ice" for the later speakers, and is to be congratulated on the resolute manner in which she delivered her speech to a critical audience in spite of unfair interruption. But from a man's point of view, her speech was not oratorical. She failed to bring before her audience a picture of that rugged figure of colonial history whose life is susceptible of such highly dramatic description. The speech was just a quiet little talk, with a few rather too obviously memorised "flowery" touches. However, it is in this scribe's opinion altogether impossible to judge both men and women in the same oratorical effort.

After Mr. W. E. Bate had wasted a lot of valuable time on a mass of platitudinous introduction, his audience realised that he was tail king about Christopher Columbus, and from that point on he held their attention. As he warmed up to his subject, Mr. Bate showed that he is a young speaker of promise. His choice of words was good, his delivery confident, and his voice pleasing. He wants, however, much practise and study in the art of elocution.

Mr. J. W. G. Davidson boldly undertook to wax oratorical over such a mouthful of sound as Doctor Rabindranath Tagore (a name which the judges in their later remarks from the stage showed commendable skill in avoiding). Mr. Davidson certainly succeeded in his task. His speech appealed to the audience both by reason of the picturesque character of the hero and also on account of the sincerity and forccfulness of the speaker. He somewhat injudiciously, however, dragged into his speech some extraneous and highly debateable matter not acceptable to a non-socialistic audience Mr. Davidson is a speaker who, with the confidence born of further experience, will probably be able to carry an audience away with him particularly if the audience be an emotional one.

Mr S. A. Wiren had prepared a well-polished and carefully worded eulogy of Hannibal. Unfortunately, what points the page 47 speaker scored for his matter he lost on delivery. He spoke at a far too rapid rate, and in a voice lacking in modulation. He also gave one two impressions: first that he was in a hurry, and second that he had a grievance against his audience and a pitying contempt. for their lack of appreciation for his hero.

Miss Harle chatted quietly and confidentially about Abraham Lincoln, after frequent reference to a businesslike bunch of notes. Her speech would have been "lovely" to a drawing-room meeting, but a Town Hall audience did not enthuse over the pans it was able to hear.

Mr. F. Haigh also chose an American President— Woodrow Wilson. This speaker was at first nervous and unconvincing, but as he progressed he improved greatly, and made an excellent finish. He needs, however, to pay a deal of attention to both pronunciation and enunciation. "Guvmint of the day," for example, has an ugly sound.

Mr. W. E. Leicester's highly dramatic speech on Tom Kettle was unquestionably the best of the evening. Although probably 90 per cent, of the audience had never heard of Tom Kettle, their attention was closely held by the speaker throughout, his speech. Mr. Leicester made the very most of his subject—his word painting was eloquent, his enunciation clear, and his manner earnest. Whatever fault there may have been lay perhaps in a slight over-straining for dramatic effect.

Mr. W. A. Sheat concluded the contest with a speech on Oliver Cromwell. Here again good matter was marred by a somewhat awkward delivery. Both he and Mr. Wiren had great difficulty in managing (and hiding) their hands. Mr. Sheat, however, fixed his audience with a somewhat distraught stare, and that, coupled with an apparently burning passion of admiration for his hero, kept the attention of his hearers. Mr. Sheat will make a powerful debater.

The award of the judges placed Mr. Leicester first, Mr. Davidson second, and Mr. Sheat third. After Mr. Fraser had explained the basis of marking adopted by the judges, Mr. Ngata, one of the ablest public speakers in New Zealand, made some interesting remarks on oratory. His Excellency the Acting-Governor-General (Sir Robert Stout, K.C.M.G.) then presented the medal to the winner.

Caricature of gentleman and man wearing a bonnet holding a toy