Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Douglas Lilburn and I

There was an article about a new play by David Armstrong about the relationship between Douglas Lilburn and Rita Angus. I know little about Rita Angus, and all I knew about Dave Armstrong is that I  share many of his prejudices and enjoy reading his columns. I didn't know that he was a trumpet player and a playwright. But I knew Douglas Lilburn slightly, very slightly.
My brother was in his Harmony class in the late 1950s and through that I knew him well enough to greet him whenever I ran into him, and he knew who I was. But what I really remember was marching alongside him from the Wellington Town Hall to Parliament protesting about New Zealand's participation in the Vietnam war. I don't think that we had a profound conversation in the course of the march, but I felt that it was a great honour to walk beside New Zealand's greatest composer. Perhaps I should qualify this, New Zealand has had no great composer, no Sibelius of Finland, Nielsen of Denmark, Liszt of Hungary, Smetana and Janacek of the Czech Republic, but Lilburn did have a modest international recognition, so there I was, walking beside him, telling the Holyoake government what we thought of its participation in the war.
Now, much older if not wiser, I have a measure of sympathy for Keith Holyoake. He was as reluctant to go to war as Douglas Lilburn and I, but being in a block lead by the US, he had little choice. He had to be seen to provide support, even if only a token one. And this made me think of poor old Horthy, Regent, nominal ruler of Hungary from the 1920s to 1944, when he was kicked out by the Hungarian fascists. He was a leader of a country that whether he liked it or not, was part of a block lead by Nazi Germany. If Britain or France would have offered to restore the lands taken from Hungary at the Treaty of Trianon, he would probably jumped at the opportunity. If these countries would have been able to guarantee the integrity of Hungary, he would have been tempted. But Britain and France did not help Czechoslovakia in its hour of need, or Austria, or Poland. So Horthy had little choice but hitch his wagon to Hitler's even if, as an Admiral and adjutant to the emperor, Franz Joseph, he despised the crude, uneducated little Austrian corporal.