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The Interviewer, Southern Cross, Volume 15, Issue 24, 5 October 1907
MISS ADA MURCUTT. AN INTERESTING CHAT. BRITAIE'S SOCIAL PROBLEMS. LAND AND LIQUOR. JAPAN AND ITS PEOPLE. THE HAIRY AINOS. A personal interview with Miss Murcutt heightens the impression of an ardent and forceful character, inspired by true enthusiasm for reform, which a public hearing of the talented lecturer leaves on her audience. Miss Murcutt was good enough to furnish some personal ‘details and opinions of which the following is- a summary :
Miss Murcutt is Australian born and bred, having left her natic eland for a career of travel and of investigation into the social conditions of the old world about ten years ago.
Miss Murcutt had resided chiefly in Melbourne, bub before going to Europe she travelled widely in Australia, making herself thoroughly accjuainted not only with the features of the country, but with the social conditions of city, mining town, and-back-block. She also spent some time in Tasmania, anh was preparing to visit New Zealand when circumstances- hastened her departure for the old world. Miss Murcutt is thus much better qualified to pass ment on colonial conditions than is the case of most of the visitors. While in Britain she devoted herself to the study of the most pressing social problems of our time. With a view to a better understanding of the lives of the working classes of the towns, she lived the life of a worker in the East End of London. This practical experience heightened her previous impression of the hopelessness of the lives of tens of thousands of the workers of the wealthiest nation in the world.
“In Christian England.” says Miss Murcutt, “thousands- of women are driven by absolute want to a life of shame —a condition of things worse than that of any heathen country.” But the national conscience is becoming awakened to the need of seeking to secure the conditions of decent existence to all classes of .workers, and the labouring classes are waking to a sense of their rights and of their power to vindicate them. The return of a large labour contingent to Parliament at the late elections means the beginning of a involution in the social conditions of the Home country. In Miss Murcutt's opinion—as in that of most social reformers—the land system of England is at the root of most of her ills—“It has perhaps been, a worse curse than the drink traffic” —and the present government is already attempting legislation in the direction of increasing settlement in the country, and facilitating the acquisition of small holdings.
Asked her views on the “Suffragist” agitation at Home, Miss Murcut t said that the enfranchisement of women was hound to come. One might not wholly admire the tactics of the suffragists ; still, their doings have been wilfully and grossly exaggerated by opponents, and the fact remains that they have in twelvemonths done more to advance their cause than has been effected by peaceful argument in twenty years.
Naturally, after prolonged, residence in the Old Country, Miss Murcutt is struck by the general level of prosperity in New Zealand, and the advantages of the workers. “Your government is a truly paternal one.” “Some people here think that there is a danger of going too far in safeguarding and imposing restrictions, and may thus lessen the spirit of independence and self-reliance.
“Well that is a possibility, but so far results seem amply to justify the policy of yonr Government.’’ Of foreign countries. Miss Murcutt is specially interested in Japan, and she speaks enthusiastically both of its unrivalled natural beauty and of the charm of its people. Like her predecessor. Miss Bird, Miss Murcutt explored “unbeaten tracks in Japan” and visited the district inhabited by the Ainos—the strange aboriginal race of Japan. The most Remarkable characteristic about this race is a thick growth of hair about one inch long all over the body.? In "this respect they might seem to fill the place of “the missing link” between ape and man, but, on the whole, they are by no means a low type of humanity, being well-formed and musculac though short, and of fair mental capacity. There are now bvt a mere handful left in Japan
about 17,000—living in Yezo, the northernmost island of the Japan group. In former times tne Jkpanese waged a war of extermination on them, (Just as whites have usually done on the inferior races with whom they have been brought in contact. Of late years the Japanese Government has taken measures to protect and educate them. They are now secure from extermination, but their probable destiny is the same as that ;Dr. Pomare prophesies for the Maoris—absorption by the predominant race. Miss Murcutt gives some interesting particulars of their way of living. The women are the workers, cultivating the ground after a very primitive fashion, and weaving the clothing material. Millet is the staple crop. The soil is merely scratched over before it isi sown, and when the grain is ripe, the women cut, off the heads of grain by means of a piece of mussel-shell. Their clothing is (jor used to be) made from the bark of elm. This is prepared by soaking in water and then the fibre is, by means of some very primitive apparatus, woven into a coarse cloth. This the women dye in ornamental patterns with no mean skill, and each village used to have its special design. Of late years, however, cotton clothing is btginning to supercede the local manufacture. The women are als Q very skilful embroiderers. Their lords devote their energies to hunting and fishing. Much of the island, which—unlike Southern Japan —is very thinly peopled, is covered with- dense forest, in which game and other wild animals are abundant. The pride of the Aino hunter is to capture a baby bear, which is reared to maturity, and finally furnishes material for a bearfeast. Miss Murcutt spent three months among this strange people. The Japanese are fast adopting European fashions of dress. This is inevitable, as the ancient styles ai'e not found suitable for the Western activity which now takes the place of the dignified leisure of old Japan. In country districts the oddest combinations of European and Japanese dress may be seen. Even where the change is thorough, it is not from an aesthetic point of view a success. The Japanese woman, in particular, never looks so well in European dress ar in her national costume.
The progressive spirit in Japan is already influencing ideas on position of women ; and the old Confucian principle—the natural infeiioiity and subordination of women— is dying out. Many of Japans most prominent men—Count Okuma one of the chief —are ardent advocates of the claims of women to higher consideration. The changing social conditions 100. by which many girls are led to become self-supporting instead of beino- married off in early girlhood, will help the growth of Western ideas of love and marriage. Miss Murcutt related some interesting anecdotes, showing the readiness of Japan to receive Western id eats as to the sphere of women. In this, as in so much else, Japan shows her detoi urination to come into line with 'Western nations.
The Interviewer, Southern Cross, Volume 15, Issue 24, 5 October 1907
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