The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1934
The Students' Association
The Students' Association
When the task is grey in the doing,
And heavy the load on the wain,
It heartens to see a yoke fellow
Brace shoulders that bunch to the strain,
To know the teams work is divided
That taut is the leading-chain.
—S.S.M., "The Old Clay Patch," 1920.
The story of our Students' Association, if well told, could not but send a thrill through the spine of those students whose interest in the College is most tepid; by the same token it would send a warm glow to the hearts of those who regard the College as their Alma Mater in the true sense of those words. We hope that this account will at least give a mild thrill to the latter class. It is a story of faithful and enthusiastic beginnings—of a foundation well and truly laid—and of a vigorous and continuous growth. The Students' Society, as it was first called, was formed within a fortnight of the commencement of lectures when a meeting at the Girls' High School on the 6th May, 1899, set up a committee to draft rules and to report back. Ten days later a further meeting considered these draft rules and elected the first Executive. It was constituted as follows:—
President: J. Prendeville; Vice-Presidents: Miss M. A. Blair, S. W. Fitzherbert; Hon. Secretary: J. E. Patrick; Hon. Treasurers: Miss M. S. E. Fleming, K. Kirkcaldie; Committee: Misses M. C. Ross, M. Greenfield and J. M. Reid, Messrs. G. Hutchinson, J. L. Stout, D. K. Logan and A. B. Charters.
It was decided that the Chairman of the Professorial Board for the time being should be Patron of the Society. We have not the space to discuss the first constitution but there were important differences between that Executive and the present one. The fact that there were two Treasurers, a man and a woman, gives a clue to the most important difference. Membership of the Society was optional and was by a subscription of 2 6 per annum, which money the Treasurers had to collect themselves.
By direction of the meeting, the Executive framed rules for a Debating Society which commenced on the 3rd June, 1899. The Executive also took action to obtain the use of tennis courts and, during the year, appointed the first committee of the Tennis Club. This, the first of the sporting clubs and one of the senior trio of societies (the others being the Debating Society and the S.C.M.) could not be run without considerable expense. The necessity of charging a subscription provided a test case as to whether a club could exist in its own right or whether it must be subordinate to the Students' Society. The decision in favour of the former course set a precedent for the formation of clubs with separate subscriptions and bound to the Society only by the loose tie of affiliation, which was to last for twenty-five years. It will therefore be appreciated that the duties and problems of the Executive to-day, handling an income from subscriptions alone, nearly reaching four figures, which must be apportioned among thirty clubs and societies, are different from those of the first years when less than one hundred members paid the small fee of 2/6 to provide for the administration of the Society. Do nor imagine that there was nothing to do in those days. The then students were working in the dark, without precedent to guide them at the task of laying the foundations of the organisation of student life.
Victoria College does not stand as a monument to the foresight and wisdom of a benevolent Government keen to further University education in the national interest; it does not commemorate the munificence of some philanthropic citizen; it is here because of the incessant urging of a band of enthusiasts with whom the first students were closely allied. Consequently the Students' Society took an active interest in the arrangements which were being made, albeit very tardily, to secure a University building. The battle for a site went on for the first three or four years. When the then Duke and Duchess of York arrived in 1901, page 50 the students marched to the space allotted to them for the celebrations bearing a banner boldly displaying the words:—
We have eyes but no site.
The position most desired was Mt. Cook, but no fewer than seven sites were discussed. By 1902 the battle had been fought and lost. But if Mt. Cook was not to be ours, still we had been saved from the Ministerial residence in Tinakori Road. Thirty years have changed the Old Clay Patch almost beyond recognition—but even if it had remained ugly and desolate, as it at first was, who would exchange it now that it has been extolled by our College poets and hallowed by the feet of many thouands.
The first Library was formed by the Executive in 1899, and for some years it was administered by the student body. In 1900 the Executive gave its support to the proposal made by Canterbury University College that an Inter-University-College Tournament be held. As you will read elsewhere, this proposal materialised in 1902. During the first few years the question of College colours caused considerable discussion, but evidently with little satisfaction, for they were changed more than once before the present colours were ratified in 1904. The first issue of The Spike appeared in 1902. The same year saw the graduation of the first of our students. It was not till the following year, however, that Capping was first celebrated with any enthusiasm. In that year a Carnival was held in the Sydney Street schoolroom, now a dilapidated building, but no doubt having pleasant memories for many of the alumni. In 1904 the festivities were enlarged to include a Students' Supper. During this year the Association, as it was now called, continually but unsuccessfully urged the College Council to allow it to canvass for money for a University building. Victoria profited, at this time, as did the other Colleges by the formation of the Rhodes Scholarship Fund. From the first, the Association was made the medium by which nominations reached the Professorial Board. Our first nominee, P. W. Robertson, was not successful in his first attempt, but won the coveted honour for the year 1905.
G. F. Dixon was the moving spirit for the greater part of the first decade. Tournament was his special forte, and, as President, he had seen a new constitution adopted, but he did not specialise. The membership had increased from 74 in 1902, when the first annual report was printed, to 110 in 1904. The total number of students had risen from 115 in 1899, to 195 in 1904. A Hockey Club, with a Women's Branch, a Football Club, an Athletic Club and a Glee Club now gave added facilities for extra-scholastic activities. But by far the most important event of the year was the laying of the foundation stone of the present College building on the 27th August, 1904. At last the Council made an appeal to the people of the Middle District for support. The students, for their part, replied to this long awaited appeal by subscribing £200 in less than a week. On the 5th October, 1905, the Executive held its last committee meeting in the Girls' High School and after two meetings in the Registrar's Office, henceforth met in the new building which was formally opened on the 30th March, 1906.
The new building provided adequately for the time being for the scholastic needs of students. But with the growth of extra-curricular activities the need arose for a building where there would be facilities for athletic training, for dances and meetings, and for general purposes, in a freer atmosphere than the lecture room, and under their own control. After various schemes had been discussed it was decided to open a subscription list for the public—a separate one for students, and for the Association to donate £10 forthwith. The fund benefited to the extent of £86, being a portion of a sum subscribed to the College Building Fund but subsequently not required for that purpose. The retiring Executive was able to report to the annual general meeting in 1908 that the building fund was in credit to the extent of approximately £1,200, including a promised sub-sidy from the Government of nearly £600. Included among the donations was the magnificent sum of £250 from an anoymous donor. Building operations were to be commenced as soon as a site had been decided on. The Gymnasium was formally opened on the 24th July, 1909 by the late Hon. Sir George Fowlds, Minister of Education. There was still some money owing to students who had taken up debentures, and the building had to be furnished, but the proceeds of a lecture by the late Ernest Shackleton (£176) and a bazaar (£166) were sufficient to put matters on a sound footing. The above notes seem of special interest in view of our present position in regard to a Students' Union Building. The following humorous quotation which headed the list page 51 showing the subscribers in The Spike of October, 1907, may also be apropos, even if it is at the expense of the legal fraternity, members of which have never hesitated to support their college.
God bless you gentlemen! learn to give
Money to Colleges while you live.
Don't be silly, and think you 11 try
To bother the College when you die,
With codicil this, and codicil that,
That knowledge may starve while law grows fat;
For there never was pitcher that wouldn't spill,
And there s always a flaw in a donkey's will.
—O. W. Holmes.
We have anticipated somewhat, and must now return to 1906. This year saw the formation of a Cricket Club and also of a Graduates' Association for which latter the Executive was largely responsible. The holding of the first University Ball marked an event in the social life of the College. The great events of those days in this sphere were dances, euchre parties and picnics. The Association held a picnic annually, sometimes in conjunction with Tournament, and some of the Clubs had picnics also. At the end of 1906, G. F. Dixon, having settled the question of a representative badge for the time being, brought for-ward a new scheme for the election of life members of the Association. At that time Miss M. C. Ross (now Mrs. Price) and H. P. Richmond were Honorary Life Members. The annual meeting of 1907 was asked to consider six nominations for life memberships, out of which it elected two, G. F. Dixon and W. Gillanders. The Honorary Life Members were transferred ro the new list of life members. The complete list of life members is published elsewhere in this number. No record of the history of the Students' Association would be complete without a reference to the part played by women members. From the early days right up to the present the women members of the Association have nobly played their part in building up the prestige and influence of the association in College life. Always there has been a band of unselfish workers whenever costumes were required for extravaganzas, or suppers to be prepared for the many social functions associated with the history of the College. In many other ways the women of the College have been an inspiration and to them and to the Professors' wives who have so often given their time to act as chaperones at the College dances we owe a debt that can be acknowledged but never repaid.
The following extract from The Spike of June, 1907, refers to one of the elected two:—
"To give a full and detailed account of the services of George F. Dixon to the Students' Association would be to give a history of that illustrious institution from about the year 1901. Six years a member of the Executive, never once did he miss a meeting. He was President for three successive years, and promoter and organiser of most of our Clubs during their early struggle for existence. His work in connection with the founding of the University Tournament was of such a colossal nature that we are unable to do it justice. He has been one of the Victoria College delegates from the beginning and manager of the team on four occasions. Dixon is a Victoria College landmark and we hope to see him on Victoria College land for some time to come..."
The wish expressed nearly thirty years ago has been granted for Mr. Dixon has maintained his interest throughout the passage of the years—as witness thereof the reason for this article—to form part of The Spike commemorating the ceremony of the unveiling of the portraits of the foundation professors—a ceremony made possible by his energy and enthusiasm. We have less to say about William Gillanders because he left New Zealand as General Secretary for Australasia for the Y.M.C.A. He came from the same school in Christchurch as did Dixon, worked with him, as recorded elsewhere, in excavating tennis courts, although neither of them played this game, and succeeded him as President.
In 1909 the membership of the Association, which had fluctuated from year to year with a general rising tendency, was 305, a figure which was not to be exceeded until 1921 when the effects of the war having worn off, the numbers reached 383. During this year the Men's Common Room Club, the Officers' Training Corps and the Swimming Club came into existence. The Boxing Club dates from the year following. On the 11th March, 1910, the Association became incorporated under the Incorporated Societies Act, a step then very desirable in view of the increased financial responsibilities. The same year saw the first Capping Procession. But perhaps the most important event in the light of later years was the page 52 publishing of the Old Clay Patch, an anthology of College verse edited by S. Eichelbaum and F. A. de la Mare, two of the leading literary lights of the early years. In 1912 the large Town Hall was used for staging the Extravaganza, a new departure which was fully justified by the results. About this time steps were taken in connection with the award of University and College representative blazers but considerable delay ensued and the annual report of 1916 was the first to record the names of College blues. There is little else worthy of record during the period from 1910 until the outbreak of war. Whether the Executives of this period lacked initiative or whether it was really a period of consolidation it it not possible to say. The minutes of Executive committee meetings at that time show either that trivial matters, began to be given undue con-sideration or that the writers of the minutes were possessed with a sense of humour. Needless to say we accept the more charitable view as being correct.
It may be profitable at this juncture to reflect on the position of the Association and particularly of the Executive in their relation to the various phases of College life. In the beginning the Clubs had pursued an independent existence and the Society, or Association as it became later, existed mainly to act for the students in matters relating to the general welfare, especially in connection with their dealings with the College authorities. In the early years there was no harm in this for the Executives often led in the formation of Clubs and the personal element pervaded all relations. But the growing numbers might easily have led to a change and the clubs might have then continued their independent existences too long and too freely for the general good had there not been several counter tendencies which grew up. Of these, Tournament, The Spike and Capping were three dating almost from the first. The consideration of nominations for Rhodes Scholarships had its effect as in a different way did the building up of assets such as crockery. The Capping ceremony of 1914 was the first of its kind in that it was arranged and controlled solely by the internal authorities of the College, Council, Professorial Board and Students' Association together. The success of this new departure added to the prestige of the Association. The institution of College blues which was definitely decided on a little later added further to the mana of the Association not only because of the Executive's control over the standard, but because blues were awarded only to Association members. But perhaps the biggest single factor was the Gymnasium which brought practically all Clubs suppliant to the Executive for permission to use the building. These various tendencies towards centralisation were not opposed to any noticeable degree. In fact, the student body had agreed to the levy of an inclusive fee on all students long before it eventually came into force. The powers that be were the stumbling block.
The outbreak of war in 1914 naturally caused a serious dislocation of College life. That war is a curse few will deny. But it is equally true that though many suffer, its baneful influence is particularly harmful in a university for it is the meeting place of youth and war likes the choicest victims. The university man going to war can hardly lack the imagination to see something of what is in store for him; he knows that the carefully planned career has gone as his life may go. His brighter intellect prevents him from living from day to day with no thought of the morrow. Is it too much to say that the price he pays is of the highest? Hundreds of students, past and present, left these shores, some never to return. Their names are engraved in the College Library near the Window which was erected in their memory. We see no virtue in glorifying the war but we must pay our tribute to those who did their duty. They were magnificent.
Those left at home to carry on abandoned most of the usual activities, particularly Tournament and the festivities in connection with Capping. "Your Committee decided not to hold the usual Capping festivities last year, owing to the fact that our troops were recently landed on Gallipoii, and that casualty lists were commencing to be published." Little imagination on the part of readers is necessary to see the pathos implied in the last part of this extract from the Annual Report for 1915-16. The Association gave its attention to assisting patriotic funds and to knitting socks and sent copies of The Spike, as it was published, to students at the front. 1916 saw the death of two of Victoria's most illustrious students, Allan MacDougall, Rhodes Scholar of 1909, and Athol Hudson, who did not live to take up the Rhodes Scholarship for 1916, which he had won. By the end of this year letters were coming back from page 53 the field for publication in The Spike. Cheery letters they were, full of interesting notes about V.U.C. men they had come across at the front, and asking questions about College affairs. Here is one which conveys a message which is still true.
Somewhere in France.
My Dear Secretary,
I have just received a pair of socks from the Association—socks that will warm my feet delightfully, but can never warm them as my heart would be warmed by a sight of the College Tennis Court and its surroundings. . . . The sight would bring back youth to this old hand. Mr. Secretary, it's years since I left your office. . . . No doubt you are cramming and carrying the burdens of office at the one and the same time—I will therefore fire my last shot. Remember that your meetings, your arguments and your decisions affect not only those around you but also those who have gone before and who are ever ready to support you in any movement for the welfare of Coll.
R. St. J. Beere.
The part played by V.U.C. students was commemorated by the laying of the War Memorial Stone in the New Library Wing on the 14th May, 1920, by Lord Liverpool; by the issue of a special War Memorial Number of The Spike in 1921; and by the unveiling of the Memorial Window on Good Friday, 18th April, 1924, the exact twenty-fifth anniversary of the first lecture.
During the war period the Basketball, Chess, Haeremai and Women's Clubs had been formed, while the Heretics' Club, formed in 1912, had been revived under the less spectacular title of the Free Discussions Club. 1919 saw the resumption of College activities on a pre-war scale. Tournament and the festivities at Capping again filled their place in the College life. The question of centralising clubs was taken up where it had been dropped at the beginning of the war and carried to a stage where all that was necessary was for the Government to pass an Order-in-Council-action which for some unknown reason they were unwilling to take. Improvement did not come until the passage of legislation, giving the College Council power to decide its own fees, removed the possibility of Government veto. At the beginning of 1924 session a levy of 10s. 6d. was obligatory on all students. It was obvious from the first that this would hardly be sufficient to meet club expenses which were now naturally inclined to increase because of the free membership once the levy was paid. Since the last "stocktaking," Rifle, Tramping and Dramatic Clubs had come into existence. After continued requests consent was given to the raising of the Association fee to 15s. in 1928, and to £1 Is. in the year following. A later request that it be raised to £1 5s., inclusive of College publications, was not granted.
In 1922 the Extravaganza ran for three nights for the first time. It was a big success. 1924 was the twenty-fifth birthday of the College and accordingly its Silver Jubilee was celebrated at Easter in conjunction with the Tournament. G. F. Dixon was in charge of an energetic com-mittee which) arranged a successful series of functions. The Unveiling Ceremony has already been mentioned. It was followed by a Luncheon at which Sir Francis Bell presided. In the evening a Concert was held in the Gymnasium for old-timers only. They say that the rafters shook with the voices of the men and women of old, singing once again the College songs which they wrote. On Sunday a Church Service was held at St. Paul's Pro-Cathedral. Unfortunately, due to a misunderstanding, it consisted of little other than the ordinary Easter Service. A striking feature of the proceedings was the procession of academic costume from the Town Hall to rhe Pro-Cathedral, no doubt the only one of its kind in Wellington. The Jubilee Ball was held in conjunction with the Tournament Ball. Finally, there was the special Silver Jubilee issue of The Spike. Perhaps the most important events of the next year were the sitting of the University Reform Commission and the visit of a team of debaters from Oxford, included among whom was Malcolm MacDonald, son of Britain's Premier. Mr. Malcolm MacDonald is at present visiting the Dominions in his capacity as Under-Secretary for the Dominions. In 1926 the constitution, which had been amended m the previous year in certain respects, was further improved by the redrafting of the Blues' regulations. About this time the question of the tea rooms was discussed considerably with the result that a Tea Rooms Committee was formed, consisting of the Chairman of the Professorial Board and two representatives from the Executive. In 1928 the Council, acting on the Board's recommendation, held no reception to the graduates. The Association took the initiative of holding a congratulatory ceremony, an action which was repeated in 1931 when the task of obtaining someone willing to be the butt for a section of undergraduates of rhe unmitigated extrovert type was too difficult for page 54 the Council. At the latter ceremony the President of the Association in a splendid speech made a plea for student representation on the College Council. So far it has been unsuccessful, but the lesson of the years is that we must not be dismayed by refusals. The 1928-29 year was a most successful one, especially on, the sporting side, for we won the Tournament Shield for the first time; the Football Club won the Senior Championship; while the Hockey Club won the Senior A, Senior B and Club Championships. The profits from the Extravaganza were in the vicinity of £400. In the following year the Association membership reached its peak of 840. It is interesting to descend to the sordid topic of finance for a moment to compare the Balance Sheets of 1902 and 1930. The former was simplicity itself.
It is, of course, impossible to print the 1930 Balance Sheet here; suffice it to say that the total was £1,651. It was in this year that our monthly magazine Smad was first issued. This alteration served to enliven interest in College affairs by publishing matters while they were still topical and at the same time freed the space in The Spike, henceforth issued once a year only, for articles of literary merit and records and events of a more than passing interest. In 1931 the policy of curtailing educational facilities carried out by the Government struck the university student hard. The cutting of university bursaries to half fees at best and the abolition of certain smaller classes of bursaries was followed by the adoption of a new scheme providing for a greatly reduced number. Added to this, the closing of the Training College brought about a lessened number of students and thereby caused financial problems to the Executive. On the 6th March, 1933, a dream of the early years came true when Weir House, a residential hostel for men students, was formally opened by Lord Bledisloe. Weir House has been made possible by the beneficence of the late Mr. William Weir who, on his death in 1926, left an estate valued at over £60,000 for the purchase of a site for a College Hostel, for the erection and maintenance thereof and for such other College purposes as the Council should decide. It is regrettable that inevitable delays and the eventual withholding of a Government subsidy forced the Council into the position of realising an asset in slump conditions. As a result general College purposes have as yet gained little benefit from the bequest and Weir began on a smaller scale than was originally intended. Nevertheless, the 6th March, 1933, is one of the most important dates in the history of the College. Already Weir is making its influence felt—an influence which according to all precedent cannot be otherwise than for good.
For the rest, the events of the past few years are too recent for us to see them in perspective. Reflecting over these last years we think of the battle of the constitutions, of the ill-fated College of Electors Scheme, and of the new constitution with its assistant treasurer and paid office assistant; of the opening of the new Tennis Courts mentioned elsewhere; and of the Association's first trading concern, the Cafeteria. But the historian of the future may pass these achievements by in the Search for the genesis of what is to-day only a scheme. When the Gymnasium was first built it no doubt sufficed for the existing needs of students. But the passage of the years has seen a huge growth in the Association's numbers and activities; what did for yesterday is barely sufficient for to-day and will not serve for to-morrow. Each year as our representatives journey to the other centres for Tournament they return envious of student buildings at the other colleges, until when their turn comes to be hosts and hostesses they feel like the poor relation. V.U.C. always makes her visitors welcome, but the task is doubly hard. The idea of a new building is not new. A Gymnasium sinking fund was commenced soon after the present building was erected. The 'dea of a Students' Union Building on the grand scale is newer. The appointment of a Permanent Building Committee composed of leading students, past and present, turned an idea into a scheme. The realisation of this scheme is the next big task ahead of us; it will be the test of College spirit and loyalty. Is it too much to say that its early fulfilment depends on whether we are sincere when we sing:—
Oh Victoria, sempiterna
Sit tibi felicitas
Alma Mater, peramata
Per aetates maneas.
—E. G. Budge.