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Sound: working in the House of Representatives

Audio file

Hear MPs John A. Lee and Keith Holyoake discuss working in the House.


Lee: I was more fortunate than you, Keith, because as a young member of a governing party, you'd have to be more or less silent, but as a young energetic member, I could throw darts. I said earlier today that I once wrote home to Mrs Lee saying that we were picadors throwing darts into the old Massey bull. And I said he'd get up directly and charge and clear the decks, and he could too.

Holyoake: I think it would be appropriate if we went down to the chamber and had a look at the old place and try to recreate the old atmosphere down there and absorb some of it anyhow. What do you say?'

Lee: We used to have audiences there too.

Holyoake: We did.

Lee: They flocked in.

Holyoake: This was before radio of course.

Lee: You know, I used to get 20 or 30 letters sometimes before a budget speech, asking when I was going to talk.

Holyoake: Shall we go down to the chamber? Let's go down to the chamber.

Lee: Yes, righto.

Holyoake: It'll be good fun.

Lee: You know the philistine was the fellow who slew the multitude with a jawbone of an ass. I hope we weren't philistines.

Holyoake: And you had your turn up in these quarters, the library wing, where the opposition was, John?

Lee: Right round there, when I was about to be expelled, I pegged out a private line of retreats round there, in one of those windows that overlooked Hill Street . A good line up, Keith.

Holyoake: We've got a lot more buildings down there now. I arranged most of them when I was prime minister. We're getting more Members, and we've got more assistance of course, secretaries, typists and so on, so we needed more room.

Lee: And I think that's one of the reasons why you're not getting such good speeches too. We had to do our own research.

Holyoake: Well, this is right. Well, this is right.

Lee: And look, it's the man who rows the boat, not the coach, who learned how to row.

Holyoake: I suppose I hadn't heard that simile before. It is pretty good.

Lee: Mrs Lee was sitting in the gallery one day, and all the members went into the Upper House to receive the address in reply from the Governor-General and as you know we go in in ordinary lounge suits and the Upper House all wear starch, and the woman sitting down next to her said to her companion, 'Look down there [as we walked in] there's not a gentleman among them.' We had no starch.

Holyoake: No starch.

Lee: Not a gentleman among us.

Holyoake: We were the commoners. We were herded, herded into the back, underneath into the gallery.

Holyoake: Well, Jack, here we are in the chamber, and I can remember the first time I came into here as a kid of 28. And you sat there with Bill Barnard, if I remember rightly. Was it this seat or that one?

Lee: Ah, this seat. This one. Here. Here. And Sir Joseph Ward sat there.

Holyoake: But not when you sat here though?

Lee: I sat there, and before that I'd sat over on the other bench.

Holyoake: But you sat with Bill Barnard up this way for a while.

Lee: Bill Barnard – I think Bill was behind me, sitting next to Rex Mason.

Holyoake: Oh yes, yes, yes, yes.

Lee: And next to me in the Parliament, before you came in, was a man the Hansard reporters could never hear. He had to write out all of his speeches. Lovely old fellow.

Holyoake: Who was that?

Lee: Tom Sidey.

Holyoake: I was never here with Tom, Jack. Just before my time.

Lee: The night Tom Sidey's Summer Time Bill passed he was a wealthy man. He put on a champagne supper.

Holyoake: Did he then?

Lee: And we went down to the social room and we sang 'The fairest blossoms on the tree cannot compare with Tom Sidey'.

Holyoake: I know ... I wasn't here with him. I knew his son Stuart, who became mayor of Dunedin. I knew him very well. But oh, I used to sit over there with my mouth open almost and in great amazement to listen to you declaiming and decrying and denunciating and the destructive speeches you were able to make. Fully justified at that time, in the middle of a world of depression that should never have created the conditions that it did.

Lee: As a matter of fact, I'll always remember the night I delivered a speech against the reduction in soldiers' pensions, from over on that bench there. And I had the House in tears.

Holyoake: I wasn't here at that time. That would have been something.

Lee: And the old sergeant major Brown, he came over afterwards, and he said, 'In my 30 years in the House', he said, 'that speech is the most moving one I've ever heard.'

Holyoake: I wouldn't be surprised.

Lee: And if I looked the speech up, I've got it, there would be nothing because you take away the atmosphere and take away the feeling of the man, and take away—

Holyoake: The passion.

Lee: That's right. Take away the passion and the voice.

[Unidentified speaker]: I remember the days, remember the days, when you used to shoot through this door here, when you used to shoot through this door, you'd have 'em all fighting in the chamber, and you'd shoot through this door, and you'd hit this door. You were a lot younger then, and it would go round for about half an hour after you'd walked out. It'd be swinging when you'd got down to the gate down there. Do you remember that?

Lee: I remember once, coming out of the chamber after we'd butchered pensions, and the dawn was coming up, and I took a deep breath of fresh air, and I was glad that the world kept spinning, that there would be change.


Radio New Zealand Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero. Any re-use of this audio is a breach of copyright. To request a copy of the recording, contact Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero. Spectrum 160, The acceptable rebel, part 2 Reference no: CDR1043

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Sound: working in the House of Representatives, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated