Under the Party Plan [poem by C.J. Dennis]

[Editor: This poem by C.J. Dennis was published in Backblock Ballads and Other Verses (1913). Most of the poetry of C.J. Dennis is written in the style of the Australian vernacular. See the Glossary for explanations of words and phrases.]

Under the Party Plan.

[This is written for a future generation, and may be recited at “drawing-rooms” by veteran M’s.P. 50 or 100 years hence, after the establishment of Elective Ministries.]

Ah, yes, but the story’s an old one now;
’Tis an ancient tale, but, if you’ll allow,
I’ll tell you something of how they made
Our laws in the days of the Biff Brigade;
In the days of valor and old Romance,
When a hasty word or an angry glance
Brought vengeance, swift as a shooting star;
And a member hurtled across the bar.
When a man relied on his strong right hand,
And — a book, or a bottle, or a glass inkstand;
When the Speaker’s voice, like the Crack o’ Doom,
Echoed and volleyed across the room,
Suspending members in threes and fours
’Mid the Labor shrieks and the Lib’ral roars. . . .
Ah! Those were the days when a man was a man
In Parliament under the Party plan.

Who, in these days, can conceive the sight
When they battled for office as strong men fight?
And who can picture the baresark rage
Of a member baulked of a Minister’s wage?
’Twas woe to the member who failed to duck
When the missiles flew in that ancient ruck.
And woe to the Speaker who left the Chair
Without precaution, without due care
That the way was clear for a swift retreat;
For . . . Hist! . . . Was that thunder? Nay, ’twas the feet
Of the Opposition in swift pursuit,
Eager to settle an old dispute;
Eager to settle it then and there,
Like hounds on the scent of a startled hare.
For a feud was a feud, and a clan was a clan,
In Parliament under the Party plan.

Was a man too timid to tell the truth
Because of a Sergeant-at-Arms, forsooth?
Was a man too craven to speak his mind
For fear of the Law and the men behind?
Was a man to be hounded from place and pay
By the votes of an ignorant people? Nay!
An interjection, a word misplaced,
And answer given in nervous haste,
And . . . quick as a flash: “You lie! You cur!
You’re a dirty . . . Order! . . . Disgraceful! . . . Sir! . . .
I rise to . . . Scoundrel! . . . I won’t withdraw! . . .
You blackguard! . . . Liar! . . . I’ll break your jaw! . . .
I name the member . . . I’ll let you see! . . .
Let go my whiskers! . . . Apologise? ME?? . . . . . .
I’ll see you . . . Order! . . . Come on outside! . . .
Dog! . . . Traitor! . . . VILLAIN! . . . I’ll tear your hide! . . .
Sergeant, remove the . . . Contemptible! Bash!! . . .
Insulting! . . . Constable, do your . . . CRASH!!”
Ah, show me the heroes to-day, if you can,
As in Parliament under the Party plan.

Those were the days when a member fought
For his place and pay as a strong man ought;
When they spoke their minds till the borrowed hair
Stood straight on the head of the startled Chair;
When they said their say, till the clerks turned pale,
And the pressmen bent ’fore the awful gale.
And many a fierce and gory fight
Cheered up the sitting on some late night.
But finest of all was the last brave stand
Of the member for Fatville, Claude Legrand,
The hope, the pride of the Cursing Clan . . .
In Parliament under the Party plan.

He had called the Premier a low-bred hound,
He had scattered a few choice names around,
But he scarce had warmed to his subject yet,
When the insolent Speaker bade him — “Get!”
“What?” . . . For an instant a hush like death
Fell on the House; and the labored breath
Of the pressmen, over the Speaker’s Chair,
Was the only sound on the calm, still air.
Then . . . Biff! . . . Like a tiger Claude Legrand
Reached down, and, straight from his strong right hand,
His boot came fair at the Speaker’s head,
And he dropped from the Chair like a thing of lead.
’Twas the signal! . . . Boom!! In the far-off street
They heard that thunder of rushing feet;
They heard the shrieks as the members fell
With a smothered curse or a muffled yell.
For their blood was up when the fight began
In Parliament under the Party plan.

’Twas an even battle; this way and that
The members struggled and fought and spat
Fierce oaths and teeth, as they tore and scratched.
Ay, the sides that day were right well matched.
Evenly matched till — ah, tell it with shame —
At the Government’s bidding policemen came!
And six of them hastened to Claude Legrand
Where he fought and cursed at the head of his band.
Did he blanch? Did he quail? Did he sue for peace?
Nay, not for a breath did his cursing cease.
On, on he fought till the Chamber floor
Was strewn with collars and coats and gore.
On, on they battled till, one by one,
His side went down to the low John Dunn.
Then scratched, and bleeding, and cut, and torn,
Brave Claude Legrand to the floor was borne.
And ten strong constables held him tight,
Then heaved him forth in the outer night. . . .
And he who had come to the House that morn
Well-groomed, and tailored, and shaved, and shorn,
With a shiny hat, and a sleek black coat,
And a spotless collar around his throat,
Went, clothed in glory, and gore, and dirt,
And a pair of pants, and a tattered shirt. . . .
Ah, such were the heroes who led the van
In Parliament under the Party plan.

Yes, that is the story of Claude Legrand,
The leader of that last Liberal stand.
And through the ages his name shall ring
As the last of the Lashers, the Cursing King. . . .
And you wonder, now that I’m old and grey,
That I take no heed of affairs to-day.
You wonder why, in the Halls of State,
I find no joy in the dull debate.
’Tis because my thoughts and my heart are there
In the days when a man defied the Chair;
In the days of valor and old Romance,
When a blow came quick on an angry glance;
When they cast them hither in threes and fours
’Mid the Labor shrieks and the Lib’ral roars;
When the pack yelped high as the Speaker ran —
In Parliament under the Party plan.



Source:
C.J. Dennis. Backblock Ballads and Other Verses, E. W. Cole, Melbourne, [1913], pages 133-137

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