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The Spike or Victoria University College Review, June 1927



This year's debate took place in the Concert Chamber of the Town Hall before two successive audiences. The usual uproar and catcalling greeted Mr. E. H. Northcroft, the Chairman, when he took the platform and explained in brief lulls between rounds of applause, that if the competitors were not given a fair field, the contest would be called off "just as any other sporting event would be."

In the next pause the Chairman said "the subject of the debate is 'that the British Empire is in danger of disintegration'." The applause shook the building and there was sobbing and screaming.

Otago and Canterbury debated first, Mr. F. M. Hanan leading off for Otago. "The sacred duty of the British Commonwealth" and the "facts of the economic situation" engaged his earnest attention, and his fluency seemed undeterred by the general racket.

Miss Molly Carrington opened for Canterbury. Her clear soprano made splendid headway against the noise, and several of her remarks were quite easily heard in the audience. Cutting reference to "what all educated people of the Colleges learn" was drowned by cries of "all Canterbury tales."

At about this stage the usual comic turn with rolls of toilet-paper was reproduced, and the disorderly element gained the upper hand. The Chairman's vigorous appeal for order met with thunderous applause and voluminous laughter, but very little success, which all goes to prove that nobody is capable of handling a crowd of students out for an evening's entertainment, as a firmer and more tactful chairman than Mr. Northcroft, the Tournament Committee could not have discovered.

Mr. M. W. Wilson, Otago's second string seemed unable to make himself heard, according to the complaints of the newspapers the next day. "The Sun" confided to its readers that he was "evidently labouring over carefully thought out periods." We are not in a position either to contradict or to confirm this happy suggestion.

The last speaker for Canterbury, Mr. A. L. Haslam of 1926 fame, was getting into his stride when the hall-doors opened and the crowning scene of the piece began. A crocodile entered and marched steadily and silently down the aisle. At the Chairman's peremptory command to halt, it wavered for an instant; but its morale was good and it kept bravely on. As it passed the stage three or four dazed hens were adroitly flung up amidst the Chairman and speakers, and fluttered and squawked about in high confusion. The whole audience sat back and drank in the scene.

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This achievement, however, completely outdid the perfomances to date of the gallery, and not to be easily disposed of, the gentlemen up aloft produced matured tomatoes from their hats and commenced a bombardment at the procession. The Judges suffered. Messrs. J. Stanton and H. J. D. McMahon and Rev. W. G. Monckton, the Judges, hastily gathered together their papers, and retreated swiftly to the wings, but not before several direct hits had been recorded.

At this unfortunate episode, Mr. Northcroft immediately closed down the debate and asked students and audience to leave the Hall. Ten minutes passed in confused clamour, and the students noisily departed. Most of the audience seemed to have had their evening's enjoyment and put on their hats and disappeared into Queen Street. But a subdued few were re-admitted to the Hall and the debate continued.

The transformation was rather startling and neither speakers nor judges seemed quite to recover from the shock of the preceeding events. The hush that greeted Messrs. N. A. Leonard and S. Black for Auckland, and Messrs. J. F. Platts-Mills and W. P. Rollings for Victoria gave the proceedings the air of a religious ceremony of the highest degree of solemnity. It was probably rivalled in point of uniqueness as accompaniment to a Tournament Debate only by the shameful discourtesy which had been accorded to the Judges.

The expected arguments appeared on each side. Victoria's opponents did not in the smallest measure desire the downfall of the Empire; but there were certain disquieting features: Bolshevism, Ireland, disruptive definitions of Empire produced by Imperial Conferences, Mr. Ramsay Macdonald—one could not venture to prophesy, of course, but still—there was "a danger," undoubtedly there was "a danger."

The Victoria University College claimed that the Empire had always been in danger according to the Cassandras, but their forebodings were not better founded to-day than they were this time a hundred years ago. The Dominions were substantially independent (authority: Lord Balfour) and had nothing further to gain by departing from the Commonwealth of British Nations. London was still the financial centre of the world and Imperial preference was a firm tie.

Somewhat ruffled and with one of their number besmattered with fragments of tomato, the Judges announced that Otago had won the Joynt Scroll, Auckland was second, and Mr. Haslam of Canterbury was the best speaker.

Of the happy little dinner party at Milne & Choyce's on Tuesday, of the coffee and sandwiches after the debate, we need not tell here; but the utmost credit is due to Mr. A. B. Thompson and his band of helpers for the most complete arrangements within recent memory, and we join with them in regretting the single unfortunate incident that marred the effect of their efforts.