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The Spike or Victoria College Review 1937

Plunket Medal Contest

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Plunket Medal Contest

The Debating Society held the Plunket Medal Contest in the Gym. this year rather than use the Concert Chamber, where the speakers would have had to compete with a wrestling audience in the main Town Hall. A few alma matriotic graduates of pre-war strength were present and must have found it pleasantly reminiscent of the good old Clay Patch days before the contest became a social event for the intelligentsia of the City. The change of venue was necessary, for it would have been most unfair if the speakers in a championship contest had been fortuitously handicapped by varying degrees of frenzy next door. The Committee may have been influenced by these considerations of scrupulous fairness, but we suspect that the determining factor was the realisation that a Plunket Medal oration is a delicate product that can be created only under the most favourable conditions. The audiences have long known this and have established a tradition of impeccable appreciativeness. A Plunket Medal speech has the form only of oratory; it is the shadow without the substance or the effectiveness of the art it imitates. It lacks the alternative requirements of spontaneity or pertinence.

The chairman in his own little oration showed a worthy contempt for the merely political difference between colonies and dominions by forgetting 1907 and referring to the donor of the Medal as a former Governor-General. He then subsided and indulged in intermittent Edgley-conscious smiles.

Miss M. J. Stock gave a polished but unimpressive address on Masaryk. She painted him as a man of peace, but her desire to balance a sentence tempted her to mention the Czech campaign in Siberia, which could hardly have been for the defence of the Czech fatherland. She had a touching faith that she would find the opening words of each paragraph inscribed on the platform at her feet, and her faith worked the miracle every time.

Next came Mr. A. R. Perry, mouthing the name of Jawaharlal Nehru. Very fierce. Mr. Perry, but perhaps not without cause when he spoke of British rule in India. There were too many rhetorical questions, and we particularly disliked that persistent "Ah yes.

"Mr. A. L. McCulloch spoke on Napoleon, rather nervously and unconvincingly. In an essayish way his speech was well-written, and certainly we were refreshed to find a maiden performer give so little time to biography.

As an oration on a man of note, Mr. J. C. White's speech was a good account of the military campaigns of William the Silent. Mr. White's voice is pleasing, his manner easy, and his speech was well put together. He would have been more convincing if he had admired his subject a quarter as keenly as he detested that "devil Philip of Spain."

Miss M. Shortall gave a highly entertaining speech on Madame Curie and the emancipation of women. Her keen sense of humour was very welcome. She had apparently made a laudable resolution not to learn her speech by heart, but the result was sometimes rather disjointed. We wish Miss Shortall no harm, but she delighted us so much that we hope it will be some years before she becomes ineligible as a past winner.

Mr. A. H. Scotney made a very able selection of the significant aspects of Hitler's personality and career. He was a trifle unpolished, but he managed to avoid the flowery phrases and crude anti-climaxes that have marred his earlier Plunket Medal speeches. His diction was natural, his manner dynamic, and his confidence superb.

Mr. S. G. Andrews gave an intimate and revealing account of the development and decay of Robespierre's character. Mr. Andrews had a lively manner, but this did not prevent us from feeling that he took a merely academic interest in his subject. He was too analytical and impartial to attain the warmth of oratory.

Miss D. Tossman chose a splendid subject, Van Gogh. This speech would have been most effective but for a suspicion of midnight oil and a certainty of acute nervousness.

The judges, the Right Rev. H. St. Barbe Holland. Dr. C. E. Beeby. and Mr. W. P. Rollings, placed Mr. Scotney first and Miss Shortall second.

Later, a former winner told us this week's tactless story: a member of the staff had told him and another former winner that this was the first time he had ever agreed with the judges.

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The winning speech was one of the best for years, but the general standard was rather poor. Perhaps the familiar surroundings, the lowness of the platform and the nearness of the audience made oratory rather an embarrassing goal.

The judges stated that they had attached considerable importance to the fact that Miss Shortall had exceeded the time-limit. This is by no means the first occasion that the judges have based their decision on considerations that have apparently been ignored by other judges in other years. It might be a good idea if the Committee of the Society were to prepare a memorandum giving rulings on the vexed questions of sex equality, the importance of the time-limit, the permissibility of humour, the importance of natural disabilities, the permissibility of de-bunking and attacking, the permissibility of notes, the sole criterion of effectiveness, etc. Perhaps the present Lord Plunket would be prepared to approve such a memorandum.