Introduction to the Collected Parliamentary Reports of Robin Hyde
Hyde and Parliament
Hyde and Parliament
Hyde's job was to provide a light-hearted account of Parliament rather than a sober analysis of the contemporary political scene, yet she consistently stepped outside the role assigned to her. Her editor at the Dominion, Charles Earle, was a staunch supporter of the ruling Reform Party and asked her to refrain from mentioning the Labour politicians in her columns. But as "Labour provided at least 90 per cent. of the speeches and almost all of the dramatic incidents of the long night watches" Hyde felt that "one might as well ask for a snappy scenario about Adam and Eve leaving out any reference to the serpent."4 Critics including Boddy and Mathews have suggested that Earle sent Hyde to Parliament to produce a political column specifically for women, yet there are several features of her parliamentary journalism from 1925 that point to a wider readership. Hyde specifically addressed a mixed audience in her frequent references to "ladies and gentleman" or "Messieurs and Mesdames."5 She sometimes asked to "speak to the feminine section of the community", suggesting that her audience consisted of both men and women.6 She also occasionally adopted a male persona that undermines the characterisation of her as a "lady reporter"; in a column about taxation Novitia mused that "…we, being lost to all sense of civic responsibility, would, if we had no City Fathers to guide us, squander our surplus incomes (if we had any) on new hats for our wives, new steam-engines and submarines for our infant phenomenons, and new—let's think of something sensible—new tobacco-pouches for ourselves…"7
Instead of playing the apolitical lady reporter, Hyde aimed for a more complex role with a wider influence. Her pseudonyms suggest the persona she wished to create. In the Dominion she was Novitia, the novice, whose apparently naïve insights into parliamentary business produced humorous digs at the culture of the House. When writing for the Ladies' Mirror, and thus targeting a specifically female reader, Hyde adopted the name "Krino," a Greek word that connotes not only discrimination and judgement, but also means to preside and govern. While Novitia apparently wished to be initiated into the mysterious world of the M.P.s, and had "commenced sitting at their feet, all ready to absorb wisdom," Krino appeared to inhabit that world already, simultaneously acting as critic and equal of the political elite.8 Editors may have hired Hyde to produce a woman's perspective on Parliament; readers may have approached her columns hoping to gain insights suitable for a lady journalist and a lady reader. But her consistently sardonic style and clever creation of an imagined audience within her columns transcended gender and instead pointed to a wider readership that exhibited characteristics strongly associated with the stereotypical New Zealand temperament: suspicious of authority, laconic, intolerant of verbosity or self-importance.
Throughout her tenure as a parliamentary reporter, Hyde worked in the cramped confines of the Ladies' Galley, which she frequently complained about in her reports, calling it "a damnably uncomfortable and narrow little bench in front of a public gallery to which all women are admitted—overflow from the main ladies' gallery—and in which a consistent hiss of chatter is kept up as you strive to get the sense (if any) of what is being said down in the Chamber below."9 She was required to stay late at the House and occasionally found the proceedings dull enough to ignore in favour of writing letters.10 Despite these hardships, she retained an enduring fondness for Parliament throughout her life. She became friends with the M.P.s Dan Sullivan, William Downie Stewart and John A. Lee, and her work for the Dominion brought her to the attention of the Prime Minister Gordon Coates.11 She was deeply disappointed when an opportunity to report for the Sun fell through, and as late as 1936 wrote wistfully to John A. Lee that she "[w]ould have given much to be free to slink about the Women's gallery this session."12 A chapter of her memoir, Journalese, is devoted to this aspect of her writing life and her letters to J. H. E. Schroder, in particular, frequently mention the pleasure she took in working as a reporter in the House. An April 1928 remark might serve as a summary of the way she viewed Parliament and her role as a parliamentary journalist:
It has a fascination that queer old place. I always want to take it and its ambitions and men and dreams and lost dreams and absurdities and twist them into story-book form….13
While her columns do not quite manifest the fictionalised response she describes here, they nevertheless give a vital insight into the literary workings of her mind.
12 Robin Hyde to John A. Lee, 8 May 1936. Cited in Lisa Docherty, "Do I Speak Well?" A Selection of Letters by Robin Hyde 1927-1939, unpublished Ph.D. thesis (Auckland, 2000).
13 Robin Hyde to J. H. E. Schroder, 5 April 1928 (National Library MS-Papers-0280-03).