John Roughan 's Opinion

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

NZ memories: Sir Edmund Hillary conquers Mt Everest

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150 years of memories: In 1953, we knew we were no longer at the bottom of the world.

Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tensing Bhutia after they climbed Mt Everest. Photo / File
Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tensing Bhutia after they climbed Mt Everest. Photo / File

The night the telegram arrived New Zealand was all dressed up. It was the eve of the coronation of Princess Elizabeth. Flags fluttered, Queen St and its department stores were arrayed in bunting.

The telegram was handed to the acting Prime Minister, Keith Holyoake, who read it out on radio. "The New Zealander - Hillary," he intoned, "has reached the top of Everest."

That was June 2, 1953 - four days after Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay had stood on the world's highest peak. It had taken that long for the news to reach the world below. Before the end of the century Hillary's son Peter would also climb Everest and he was able to phone his father from the summit.

In 1953, Hillary's first account of his triumph appeared in the Herald on June 11. He was still on the mountain and had had already been knighted by the new Queen when he gave the interview to a Times correspondent, James Morris, who had accompanied the British expedition to its base camp.

This is how Morris described their return from the summit: "An electric atmosphere seized their comrades as the climbers approached and excitement became ecstasy when they entered the camp. But in his interview, Sir Edmund was as laconic and diffident as if he had done a routine climb in the Southern Alps."

That was the Hillary New Zealanders would come to know and revere. Modest and matter of fact about his achievements - Everest would be followed by an expedition to the South Pole - Hillary epitomised the Kiwi ideal.

He devoted much of the rest of his life to helping the Sherpa people of Nepal and was keener to speak about their needs than his own exploits. At the 50th anniversary of the climb in 2003 he did not attend the expedition's re-union in London, preferring to pay his respects to the mountain and the Sherpas.

What are your memories of the 1953 ascent of Everest? Leave your comments below

John Roughan

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald. A graduate of Canterbury University with a degree in history and a diploma in journalism, he started his career on the Auckland Star, travelled and worked on newspapers in Japan and Britain before returning to New Zealand where he joined the Herald in 1981. He was posted to the Parliamentary Press Gallery in 1983, took a keen interest in the economic reform programme and has been a full time commentator for the Herald since 1986. He became the paper's senior editorial writer in 1988 and has been writing a weekly column under his own name since 1996. His interests range from the economy, public policy and politics to the more serious issues of life.

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