So, the England touring party has moved on to New Zealand. But what can they expect to find there? Let us consult the recollections of an earlier generation of tourists.
Until recently the tour of New Zealand was tacked on as a coda to the end of a tour of Australia, and generally seems to have been treated as an opportunity for a spot of rest and relaxation after the rigours of an Ashes series. Certainly the earliest tourists seem to have come away from positive impressions of the place.
Frank Woolley was one of the party on the first tour in 1930 (a free-standing tour, in fact), as he recalls in ‘The King of Games” –
“I also have the most pleasurable recollections of playing against New Zealand teams, both here and in their most beautiful country on the tour of 1929-30; a country so lovely that in places it almost equalled my Kent!” (High praise indeed!)
“The New Zealanders play cricket as do the South Africans. Their geysers and hot springs do not explode if New Zealand loses, and they can win as cheerfully as we can, with a handshake for the losers. The real blood of cricket courses through the veins of New Zealanders … Everywhere enjoyable and happy though quite serious play, and open-handed hospitality … These men are saturated in sport, they are natural Games-Men.”
(I think there is a slight subtext here: the next chapter opens with the words “There is no doubt that Australian cricketers not only approach Test cricket in a different spirit from that in which we do, but they play in it differently.”)
The next tour was the first of the post-Ashes variety, that being the ill-tempered “Fast leg-theory” series. According to Cricinfo “the addition of New Zealand to the tour itinerary was not overly popular with the players“, but, once they were there, they seem to have had a fine old time. This is Herbert Sutcliffe (from ‘For England and Yorkshire’):
“New Zealand, a jewel of a country, delighted me. They are grand folk in New Zealand. My cricket was a sorry failure there, but they looked after us so well that they made me forget it … In Auckland I had to be content with under 30 runs, but I got a century out there, and, as a result, had the distinction of having my name hoisted in a very exclusive spot. I have told earlier of “The Valley of Peace” – the cricket ground to which only men are allowed to go * – which is a few miles outside Christchurch. There I played for the local team , and, with a not-out hundred, qualified for a position on the honours board in that picturesque little pavilion with which this delightful ground is adorned.
A wonderful little country is New Zealand, with its hot lakes, spouting geysers, its west coast Fjords in the South Island, which rival those of Norway in their enchanting beauty, its magnificent snow-capped mountain-ridges and, above everything else, its glorious loyalty to the Motherland. You cannot find a better British subject than the Briton who is a New Zealander. I found the country something of a paradise.”
Bill Bowes (in ‘Express Deliveries‘) confirms Sutcliffe’s account (though he seems to have encountered the ‘Woman Question’ in a slightly different guise):
“By comparison [to Australia] our visit to New Zealand was restful; it had the good-natured amicability of the cricket festival.
I have travelled much around the world since those days, and though my spectacles ** may have given me a rosy vision of that charming antipodean autumn, I still hold to my first impression, that, after England, New Zealand is the finest land in the world.
At Wanganui … we found that most of the town had gathered to greet us and the Wanganui Girls’ Cricket Club members had turned up in whites, gaudy caps and blazers and formed an archway of cricket bats to walk under.
It was arranged for us that we should have a Maori reception … the head of the tribe and his wife, in full tribal dress, shook hands with us, after which we entered in procession. Men and girls – the men stripped to the waist and the girls wearing red pullovers *** and bead skirts – danced and sang in greeting.
We went to a concert given in our honour that night, saw spectacular poi dances, and for the first time heard the tune later made famous by Gracie Fields as “Now is the Hour”. The Maori dances are all set to the most delightful tunes and I often wonder why Gracie did not bring back more of them.
The Maori are great people, and unlike the Australian aborigines, have excellent figures as well as kindly dispositions and a great sense of humour.”
Thanks, Bill. I think we’re getting the picture. Perhaps a third tourist from ’32-’33, Eddie Paynter, might have a different view? (This is from ‘Cricket all the Way‘):
“We were impressed by the charm of all members of the New Zealand native race. One must not dare to compare Maoris with the original inhabitants of Australia, that we had met earlier in the tour. Generally speaking, Maoris, although a native race, are polite, charming and have a reasonable appreciation of the civilised way of life.
Dressed in the traditional grass skirts, the Maoris treated us to an exhibition of dancing followed by an impressive selection of Maori songs, rendered by a mixed choir. It was here, in 1933, that I first heard a version of the song which, a decade later, Grace Fields was to make popular under the title of ‘Now is the Hour’.”
Right, OK, OK. I think that’s quite enough of that for the moment. But before we go to the news, there’s just time for a little music. Having heard so much about it, I’m sure you are keen to hear ‘Now is the Hour’, so here it is. According to Wikipedia, incidentally, this was not a traditional Maori song at all, but was originally published in 1913 as ‘Swiss Cradle Song’ and credited to an Australian: the Maoris adapted the tune to their own words. No doubt there is room here to have an interesting debate about cross-cultural fertilisation and authenticity in popular music, but I think I’m going to leave Gracie to it and have a lie-down.
Take it away, Gracie!
* This blog in no way endorses the attitudes implied by this remark.
** These are literal spectacles.
*** Not usually a part of traditional Maori costume. Perhaps worn for the benefit of the tourists?