80 years ago, one of the greats was visiting New Zealand, with crowds hanging on his every Shavian word.
George Bernard Shaw visited New Zealand in 1934 for a month, from 15 March to 14 April. He spoke at a civic reception in Christchurch on 10 April 1934. His speeches and activities were closely tracked by the media, and a book of press reports published called What I said in New Zealand: The Newspaper Utterances of Mr. George Bernard Shaw in New Zealand, March 15th to April 15th, 1934.
Here are some quotes from “What I said in New Zealand” with a Christchurch perspective:
G.B. Shaw and Dr Thacker
Dr. H. T. J. Thacker, of Christchurch, sent him a reply-paid telegram asking for 12 words about his diet. Mr. Shaw’s reply was: “Dr. Thacker, Christchurch. Vegetarian 50 years. Teetotal always. Milk, butter, eggs. Shaw.” (p. 12 )
A Moa Bone Problem
There was a pause here and an impressive voice from the audience asked what its owner, D. H. T. J. Thacker, evidently considered a question of great importance. “Do you know, sir, that we have in the museum here the largest moa skeleton in the world?” Mr. Shaw (looking momentarily a little surprised): Well, no, I didn’t. I’m afraid. I don’t even know what a moa is. Dr. Thacker: It is the largest wingless bird in New Zealand, sir. (p.18)
Amazing in his vitality and health Mr. George Bernard Shaw entertained half a dozen reporters and twice as many listeners and spectators at an impromptu levee in the lounge of the United Service Hotel for more an hour after his arrival on Saturday afternoon. “Well, what do you want me to talk about?” he asked as he approached the group of reporters. “What’s it to be today?” He began with a remark typically Shavian. “Someone has sent in some questions to me —was it ‘The Press?’—yes, ‘The Press’— which are about the most intelligent I’ve had since I came to New Zealand.” He turned to the reporter of “The Press.” “But, my dear fellow, it would take me 150 years to answer them all. I don’t expect to have another 150 years, you know.” The important question of why Mr. Shaw came to Christchurch was simply settled, lie threw back his head and laughed. Christchurch claims to be the most intellectual city in New Zealand, and I was most disappointed when the itinerary planned for me did not include it,” he said.
New Zealand Brunelleschi and the Catholic Cathedral
When Mr. Shaw saw that Catholic Cathedral he suddenly thought of Brunelleschi, and he went in and looked at it. He saw that they had already produced a New Zealand Brunelleschi. They had the classical style with all its merits and nevertheless, the arrangement was very original. It was not a mere copy as he regretted to say the Church of England Cathedral was. There was nothing in that. It was absolutely academic. The other cathedral was originally and beautifully treated.
“But why have I dragged in this?” Mr.Shaw asked. “Not because I was bribed by the architect, because I do not know his name, but because I suddenly saw it without anybody telling me to go in and look at it—it is not in the guide books—and it produced that impression on me. Then I began to think: They have here in New Zealand a man who is capable of doing that work, but what an awful time he must be having! Just imagine! Suppose yourself born here in New Zealand, a Brunelleschi, and that your business is to produce cathedrals of that kind. New Zealand might make a great effort and give you one commission and one cathedral to build. That is pretty hard lines. That man wants to be building cathedrals all his life. There should be cathedrals like that in every town in New Zealand. It should be an attraction just as the church or cathedral is a great attraction in almost all the towns of Europe, the first things you go to see … (p.23)
Communistic New Zealand
Thanks to your communistic institutions you are to some extent leading world civilisation to-day. You are second only to Russia. (p.27)
Holiday reading: Mein Kampf and 22 other books
In the library of the Rangitane, which is now at Wellington, and in which Mr. George Bernard Shaw and Mrs. Shaw travelled to New Zealand, there are 23 books given to the ship by Mr. Shaw after he had read them during the voyage. (p. 27)
The titles included My Struggle by Adolf Hitler.
More about George Bernard Shaw
- DigitalNZ set George Bernard Shaw in New Zealand 1934
- What I said in N.Z. : the newspaper utterances of Mr. George Bernard Shaw in New Zealand, March 15th to April 15th, 1934. Digitised by the State Library of Victoria, Australia
- Search our catalogue for George Bernard Shaw
Bye the bye, some of you may have noticed Shaw’s Major Barbara features in season 3 of tv show Girls (Adam is playing a role in a Broadway production of it).