New Zealand is still in the grip of the Great Depression but life goes on. In Wellington, capital city, on the evening of Thursday, 2 November, Parliament is embroiled in a debate over the Reserve Bank Bill, a revolutionary new step in banking, says one Member, and the Town Hall is filled for the final concert of the Wellington Symphony Orchestra's fifth season, broadcast live by Station 2YA till close down at 10.15 p.m.
Down at the Majestic Theatre Lionel Barrymore is starring in "The Stranger's Return". The newspapers of the day, two-pence a copy, carry their classi-fied advertisements on the front page, "9-room Mount Victoria residence, £1,250", and their news in single columns, including an outburst by George Bernard Shaw over women s rights, Herr Hitler's tub-thumping election campaign in Germany, and a report from Sydney about Sir Charles Kingsford Smith's plans to fly to New Zealand in January.
And on the evening on which. Parliament, the Town Hall and the Majestic are competing for attention, a group of Wellington's more able and influential citizens gathers in the board room of the Dominion Farmers' Institute building in Featherston Street, mid-city.
It is an impressive crowd, professional people in the main, scien-tists, educationists, business leaders, many of them strangers to one another. They have just one feature in common, they know Arthur Leigh Hunt or have come with a friend who does.
Hunt is the driving force behind this meeting. The founder and managing director of the Dominion Farmers' Institute, in itself an ambitious project, Hunt, at age 57, is well on the way to filling up a column of "Who's Who." On paper he is regarded as a company organiser and director, land agent, sharebroker, and founder or founder member of a number of diverse organisations. To friends and contacts, legion in number by 1933, he is an entrepreneur and schemer of bold schemes, a man of powerful persuasion. That is why they have come.
Hunt's personal pull is stronger than Antarctica's mystique. Most people at the meeting will get no nearer to Antarctica than the wharves or possibly want to.
They have seen Byrd come and go, and some remember the visits of earlier explorers whose expeditions will collectively become known as the "Heroic Age". Byrd is on the fringe of it. Transport and technology are developing apace, with the South Pole already overflown, and who knows, New Zealand may soon be able to mount an expedition of its own.
Hunt, ahead of his time in many others ways, can see it. No-one at the November 2 meeting is in any doubt as to the origin of Hunt's interest ã he is a friend of Rear Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd, United States Navy, a friend and business associate of the Australian polar explorer Sir Douglas Mawson, and an acquaintance of Captain Robert Falcon Scott's Christchurch agent, Sir Joseph Kinsey. His interest, then, springs from a host of personal reasons.
It is clear enough too when he speaks to open the meeting that passion underlies this interest.
He speaks of a "huge mass of land, a most fascinating continent interesting from every point of view". But on the political front, confusion. The Ross Sea area is a dependency of New Zealand and has been for the past 10 years; yet, argues Hunt, no-one seems to know the extent of New Zealand authority down south. Turning to the future value of the continent he quotes geologist Mawson's optimism and cites the possibility of sanatoria being established in what must be the most germless place on earth. And how to get there? Simple. Acquire Scott's old ship, Discovery, then thought to be operated by the Falkland Islands administration. Hunt imagines her being used for training young mariners, for ocean charting, fishery research, and of course, as a relief ship for Antarctic expeditions.
Down to business. Hunt, the great anticipator, has drawn up a set of objectives for an organisation concerning itself with Antarctica, should one emerge from the meeting. The forum idea heads the list:
"to group together all persons interested in expeditions, history, oceanography, geology, meteorology and natural history of Antarctica, sub-Antarctic islands and seas"
There are at least nine other objectives, designed in general to spread the word about Antarctica and foster expeditions. In particular, they call for acquisition of the Discovery or other vessel suitable for polar work, the study of marine life, and the establishment of meteorological station.