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The Spike: or, Victoria University College Review, September, 1922

Plunket Medal Contest

page 47

Plunket Medal Contest.

The Sixteenth Annual Contest for the Plunket Medal was held the Concert Hall on Saturday, the 9th September. For the first time a charge was made for admission but judging by the attendance there are still plenty of people who take their pleasure solemnly, and who place the marginal utility of the Contest at some point higher than one shilling.

The chairman's dress suit this year adorned Sir. H. McCormick, who opened the procedings by confidentially enlightening the audience for the first time as to the history and the value of the Contest. Before he did so, however, the National Anthem was ostentatiously sung by way of rebuttal of the unkind aspersions that have recently been cast on the Society.

The first competitor, Mr. J. Young, in speaking on Sir Ernest Shackleton, failed to make the most of his subject. Instead of drawing a graphic outline picture of the explorer's rugged character, illustrated by a few of his stirring exploits, the speaker paid far too much attention to trivial details of time and place. This method coupled with the lack of appreciation of emphasis and modulation, failed to stir the audience. Mr. Young, however, had far the best and clearest enunciation of any of the competitors.

Mr. C. E. Ball handicapped himself by taking as his hero Toussaint Louverture. It is hard to be emotional while straining to pronounce correctly such a mouthful. Also the majority of an ordinary audience refuse to be moved by the deeds of a nigger whom they have never heard of. The minority who had heard of him probably regarded him as a filibustering adventurer instead of the saintly hero pictured by Mr. Ball.

The speaker was altogether too high flown and artificial in his style instead of adopting the simplicity of diction which makes oratory. His gestures gave impression of being artificial and spoke eloquently of an elocution teacher. Mr. Ball, however, with further experience should make an effective speaker. Pronunciation and enunciation will require attention. Incidentally, how does one "See the shouts of victors?"

Mr. J. W. G. Davidson delivered a strong and obviously sincere speech on Keir Hardie. His sincerity and ease of delivery might well have carried him to a higher place in the Judges' award. He certainly disguised the process of memorising and polishing that goes to make the average Plunket Medal Speech, and left the audience with the impression that he was spontaneously pouring out his enthusiasm for his hero. He should be careful, however, not to bite at his words with clenched teeth and should speak more slowly. Perhaps, too, it would be wise not to give too much prominence on such an occasion to one's own political and social beliefs-particularly if they are somewhat ruddy in tinge.

Mr. R. M Campbell, speaking on Robert Owen, also pleased his audience with a convincing speech which in the opinion of many should have carried him into the list of speakers placed by the page 48 Judges. He spoke with a fluent, easy, finished Style, relieved once or twice with flashes of humour.

A hissing sibilant sound in some of his words detracted slightly however from the pleasure of listening to him. We imagine from one or two of his mannerisms that he has sat at the feet of a local Presbyterian divine.

Mr. J. McPhee who was scheduled to speak on Abraham Lincoln was unable to do so through illness.

Mr. P. J. G. Smith endeavoured to break the hearts of his audience on Parnell.

To the surprise of those who have heard him previously Mr. Smith superadded a well-sustained rich Irish brogue to the storm of emotion which appeared to be raging within him. He certainly appealed to the audience, which is the test of the effect of oratory. His chief faults are a far too rapid delivery, an overplus of gesture, and a tendency to keep on the top note all the time. In common with all tin' speakers, he should learn the value of modulation and correct pitching of the voice.

Mr. A. W. Free, on Sir John Nicholson, was not at his best. He devoted far too much time to unimportant and wearisome details of the life of his hero, and was somewhat artificial and parsonically sorrowful in his tone. He is possessed, however, of a fine cultured voice and with a good deal more oratorical fire in his delivery, would make an excellent and pleasing speaker. But, oh, that "recognisation!"

Mr. F. H. Haigh made the most of a somewhat prosaic figure—Henry Stead. This speaker has improved a great deal recently, although there is room for further improvement. He should endeavour to overcome a somewhat slovenly slurring of his words and at times carelessness in pronunciation. A little gesture would also improve his style, provided the gestures are material and easy and not of the automatic pump-handle type that was in evidence with some other competitors.

While the Judges (Sir John Salmond, Mr. H. E. Holland, and Mr. J. H. Howell) were considering their decision, Mr, Evans recited as usual. Sir John Salmoml then announced that the Judges selected Mr. Smith as the winner, with Mr. Davidson second, and Mr. Haigh third. Sir John (who by the way will always be a welcome guest at any College function, he being one of our early Professors who has since earned great distinction) then presented the Medal to the winner and in doing so gave some friendly advice on success in public speaking, advising his hearers to adopt the style of Lord Balfour, and inferentially of Sir John Salmond. There has been a certain amount of discussion on the award of the Judges, but the plain fact is that there were several speakers whose speeches were of the standard of Plunket Medal Winners, and it is no easy task to make a selection of any one of them as the winner. The final selection would depend largely on the individual preference of the Judges for some particular style.

Although the meeting did not close with a repetition of "God Save" nevertheless there was none of that seditious disorder which certain politicians had led us to expect.