Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Collected Parliamentary Reports of Robin Hyde

The Dominion, Saturday, July 4, 1925. p. 8. — Peeps at Parliament: Concerning Certain Returns — Scientific and Otherwise

The Dominion, Saturday, July 4, 1925. p. 8.
Peeps at Parliament: Concerning Certain Returns — Scientific and Otherwise

You know the sort of morning when you arise with an instinctive feeling that everyone and everything is going to do exactly what you don't want them to? Of course, you blame your cook, your climate, or your conscience—anything but your own plain, unnatural cussedness—for this unreasoning depression. Yesterday afternoon I went up to the House fully prepared to look down my nose with a "we-are-not-amused" sort of expression throughout the entire afternoon. But before half an hour had passed I found myself uncurling myself, rubbing my eyes, and leaning anxiously over the edge of the Gallery. I heard things, during that all too short space of time, that I'd never dreamed about before—not even after a crayfish supper.

Did you know that scientists have prepared a special sort of epidemic which, while it lets men severely alone, is ready and willing to destroy our national rabbit population, if they'll only stand still and let themselves be vaccinated with it? Ah! I thought not; but Mr. Buddo knows. He was telling us all about it this afternoon, and is probably at the present moment neck-deep in schemes for overcoming the conscientious objections of rabbits to vaccination.66 Most likely he will end by distributing pamphlets among them. But just excuse me one moment while I go back to the very beginning.

On arrival, I found myself alone, alone, all, all alone, in a gallery which is more awe-inspiring than any wide, wide sea in the universe.67 But before I had time to settle into sombre contemplation of the colds, cramps, and chilblains which the weather had so kindly introduced into my system, there was a rustle in the chamber below, and, with a whisk of his long black gown, Mr. Speaker reduced the assembly to a condition of silent awe. A very pretty example of petticoat Government. Well, prayers were said and petitions were read; notices of motion (a formula warning some unfortunate Minister that a member intends violently to attack him in the near future) were given. By the way, those of us who believe that Parliament is concerned mainly with sweeping movements affecting Principalities and Powers are wrong—quite wrong. In fact, nearly all our preconceived notions about Parliament and Parliamentarians are wrong; maybe that's explained by the things they tell us at election time; but to come back to the point. For the first part of the day, before anything really exciting is allowed to take place, the House occupies itself with presenting and accepting the petitions of plain John Brown and still plainer Sarah Smith. Parliament, while engrossed in its own big business, still has time to keep a friendly eye on other folks' little affairs.68

It was with a sinking sort of feeling that I witnessed the tabling of returns from various insurance offices, county councils, and similar organisations, which I had previously believed to be answerable only to their Maker.69 This was high finance—and I've never had the opportunity of throwing away enough money to be reckoned a financier. However, Mr. Bollard and the Labour Party between them saved the day. It happened in this wise.

Mr. Bollard had just tabled the returns and proceedings of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Science, and was about to sink back into his comfortable seat when the Labour Party[,] backed up by the Liberals, and even mildly supported by Reform members, let him have it. They came out of a clear sky. First of all the Heavenly Twins—70I beg their pardon, I mean the honourable member for Wellington Central and the honourable member for Buller—arose and demanded to know whether they were ever going to know anything about the inner and outer workings of the aforesaid Institute of Science, and, if not, why not?71 Mr. Bollard gazed reproachfully around the applauding House, drew his plaidie about him, faced the angry blast, and prepared to dree his ain weird.72 But when Mr. Sidey also arose and requested Mr. Bollard to tell him all, an "Et tu, Brute!" look appeared in the hunted Minister's eye.73

For the first time since I commenced sitting at their feet, all ready to absorb wisdom, the three parties seemed in complete accord. And to be perfectly frank, the result, though interesting, was just a little tame. I wonder what queer streak in the average human mentality caused us, in the bad old days, to waste our own time and someone else's money at anything from cock fighting to bull baiting? Whatever it is, it hasn't quite died out. Parliament is one of our few surviving arenas; but now and again the gladiators stop fighting and get some work done.

So there aren't any flippant little interjections from Labour to record; no stately Cabinet Minister played the part of heavy, but kind-hearted, father to the young and impertinent members of the House, nor did the Liberals, as is customary, take the role of mild maiden aunts. They just sat and chatted peaceably together about science. It appears that our management of scientific institutions is, to say the least of it, unscientific.

But several interesting little matters cropped up. Most of us, now, for instance, are not particularly prone to regarding insects as the friends of man. In fact, in the case of spiders, cockroaches, etc. (that "etc." covers a multitude of sinners), we even find their attentions a little embarrassing. Insects, to us, are squishy-squashy things that spin webs and build cocoons where they aren't wanted, and that, without any provocation whatever, deliberately drown themselves in our tea and cremate themselves in our candle-flame. That just shows our ignorance. Mr. Atmore likes them. He is particularly chummy with some friendly little creature with a long scientific name (farmers probably class it under the heading of "Bug"), which has just saved us some hundreds of thousands of pounds by dining on the woolly aphis, which, as even we know, is a pariah in the insect world.74 Mr. Atmore wants money—lots of money—to enable scientists to weed out the insectivorous sheep from the goats. One thing that members were absolutely unanimous about is that they all want money. Reformers gazed with regret at the Government's empty purse: Liberals demanded that the Treasury should, metaphorically speaking, turn out its trouser pockets; and Labour—need I say it? —wanted to unstitch the lining of the Government's coat. In fact, the last-named party appeared to believe that money was of absolutely no account—so long as it was someone else's money.

But the whole truth of the matter—admitted by all alike—is that while, in the matter of science, other countries are using hydro-electric power New Zealand is still at the candle stage.75 Our trouble is not in finding scientists themselves—according to Sir James Parr we are turning them out of the universities (and out of the country) by the score—but in the inconvenient little fact that clever as they may otherwise be they don't seem able to discover some scientific way of living without food.76 Mr. Bollard cheerfully states that scientists are so absorbed in their profession that they haven't time to bother about getting—or not getting—money. This may be so: but even scientists can't live on love of their profession.

The same trouble appears to prevail among our budding lawyers. It seems that by the time we have trained them, thereby incapacitating them for other work, they find themselves obliged to earn their livings by housebreaking or similar ancient and dishonourable professions; which is more than a little awkward, as frequently their early training enables them to escape scot free.77

Well, well! One of these days, so the weather prophets tell us, this is going to be a disgustingly rich country, with money enough for everything and everyone. And then, perhaps, if they're still alive, Mr. Buddo, Mr. Sullivan, and Mr. Bollard may between them be able to break back-country folk of preferring horses to steam-tractors and mother's corns to meteorological bureaux. I don't know that the last-named would be much of an improvement, anyhow. Mr. Bates never told me to bring my umbrella this morning—and it's raining again!78

66 This matter was mentioned in the debate on the Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute. Buddo mentioned that he "had recently been informed by two scientists in Christchurch that they had succeeded in developing an epidemic that would be deadly to rabbits, and quite harmless to all other stock" (Hansard 206: 200).

67 Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," lines 597-98.

O Wedding-Guest! this soul hath been
Alone on a wide wide sea

Poetical Works, ed. J. C. C. Mays, vol. 1.2 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001).

68 See the addresses on cases of distress in Auckland (Hansard 206: 192-93).

69 Possibly a reference to the Matamata County Council Empowering Bill (Hansard 206: 192).

70 In Greek mythology the Heavenly Twins referred to Castor and Pollux, the twin brothers of Helen and Clytemnestra.

71 i.e. Fraser and H. E. Holland respectively. Fraser "hoped the Minister would comply with the request of the honourable member for Buller. It was not often that the House was given the benefit of an outline of the scientific developments and research in the Dominion" (Hansard 206: 194).

72 "To dree your weird" means to accept your fate. Hyde is perhaps familiar with the phrase through Walter Scott's Guy Mannering, in which Meg Merrilies says of Henry Bertram, "I kenn'd he behoved to dree his weird."

Guy Mannering, pref. W. M. Parker (London: J. M. Dent, 1906), p. 398. For other uses of Scots dialect, see the columns for 16 July 1925, 22 August 1925 and 2 September 1925.

73 William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, act III, scene i, line 77.

Caesar: Et tu, Bruté?—Then fall Caesar.

The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, ed. John Jowett, William Montgomery, Gary Taylor and Stanley Wells, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 2005).

Sidey noted that he "had on more than one occasion emphasized the fact that the Dominion was not as alive as it should be to the importance of scientific investigation" (Hansard 206: 194).

74 Atmore noted that a previous speaker "had made reference to the natural enemy of the woolly aphis, and it would no doubt interest honourable members to know that last year nearly £10,000 had been saved which would have been expended on purchasing spraying material" (Hansard 206: 196).

75 See for example Sullivan's speech (Hansard 206: 198-99).

76 See Hansard 206: 201.

77 Sullivan noted that "[s]ome professions were quite overcrowded, as, for example, the profession of law. Hordes of law students were being turned out from the law colleges, and it was questionable where they could make a living…" (Hansard 206: 198).

78 Daniel Bates was Director of the New Zealand Meteorological Office from 1909-27. See also the column for 11 July 1925.