Govt breaks rules for a national hero

By Claire Trevett

Sir Edmund Hillary will be given a state funeral, one of very few to get one without having held high public office.

Acting Prime Minister Michael Cullen said the Hillary family had accepted the offer of a state funeral for Sir Edmund.

It was likely to be held in Auckland but all details were yet to be confirmed.

TV3 reported that local iwi Ngati Whatua was approached before Sir Edmund's death and asked for permission for Sir Edmund's body to lie in state at the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

However, Ngati Whatua kaumatua and Taumata-a-iwi chairman of the Auckland War Memorial Museum, Danny Tumahai, could not confirm this when the Weekend Herald contacted him.

"I've heard some rumours but no, I have no idea what is happening," said Mr Tumahai.

"I don't know and certainly I can speak for Ngati Whatua that we have no idea where Sir Ed may go."

Auckland War Memorial Museum director Dr Vanda Vitali said out of respect for the Hillary family she would say nothing.

"We are, of course, waiting to see how these things develop but we are profoundly sorry at the loss of one of New Zealand's icons."

Dr Cullen's spokesman said Prime Minister Helen Clark would make further comment and provide more details after she returned to the country at the weekend and had spoken to the family.

TVNZ has said it will broadcast the funeral in full.

State funerals are organised by the Department of Internal Affairs and yesterday a spokesman said details depended on the wishes of those involved, but elements could include lying-in-state, funeral corteges, church services and burial or cremation.

By convention state funerals were reserved for either those who had been Governor-General or Prime Ministers who died while still in office, such as Norman Kirk in 1974.

However, the spokesman said there were no strict rules limiting it and the Cabinet could decide to offer them in other circumstances.

While Australia has offered state funerals to some of its well-known people - including offering one for crocodile hunter Steve Irwin in 2006 and holding one for country singer Slim Dusty in 2003 - New Zealand has largely stuck to convention.

State funerals have sometimes been offered to former Prime Ministers - as was done for David Lange whose family declined the offer after his death in 2005, saying he had wanted a private family funeral.

War heroes were also sometimes given state funerals.

One honoured in this way was Victoria Cross holder Jack Hinton who died in 1997.

The most recent state funeral was for former Governor-General Sir David Beattie who died in 2001.

A ceremony for the burial of the remains of the Unknown Warrior after their return from France in 2004 was officially a "ceremonial event" rather than an official state funeral.

Former Prime Minister and Governor-General Sir Keith Holyoake was also given a state funeral in 1983.

Others who did not meet the convention for state funerals throughout history included Te Ati Awa chief Honiana Te Puni - a signatory of the Treaty of Waitangi who played a key role in building early Pakeha-Maori relations - in 1870.

Sir Frederic Truby King - a pioneer in the health of child health and mental health - also had a state funeral after his death in 1937.

A state funeral was also held for unidentified victims of the Tangiwai rail disaster.

Britain is also fairly conventional in awarding state funerals where only four non-heads of state had been given them - Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, Winston Churchill and Britain's unknown warrior.

* A condolence book has been opened for signing in Parliament.

Speaker Margaret Wilson said it enabled Parliament and New Zealanders to show their respect for a man who "showed us all what it really means to be a New Zealander by giving back to his community, championing the protection of our landscape and living life with quiet confidence and decency."

* The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also opened condolence books in all New Zealand's overseas postings.

* Flags on all government and public buildings will continue to fly at half-mast today and on the day of the Sir Edmund's funeral.

The Ministry of Culture and Heritage said Helen Clark had requested all public and government buildings to fly the flags at half-mast yesterday, today, and on the day of the funeral.

* Staff at Scott Base lowered the flag to half-mast to mourn their hero and inspiration, said Antarctica New Zealand's senior representative at Scott Base, Dean Peterson.

A service would be held at the nearby United States base at McMurdo Station's chapel tomorrow, he said.

* Nepali Sherpa friends of Sir Edmund Hillary lit butter lamps and offered special Buddhist prayers in monasteries for the mountaineer, calling him a great philanthropist and friend of Nepal.

* New Zealand's cricket team will wear black arm bands and observe a minute's silence with the crowd before play starts on day one of the second test against Bangladesh at the Basin Reserve in Wellington today.

* Play at the Heineken Open tennis tournament was stopped for a moment's silence in honour of Sir Edmund Hillary yesterday.

* A statue of Sir Edmund Hillary in the Aorkai Mt Cook village has been adorned with flowers and a black armband has been placed on it.

* New Zealand Indian Central Association is organising special prayer meetings at all of its branches around the country.

* NZ Nepal Society president Manohar Shrestha said the Nepalese community would gather after Sir Ed's funeral to pay tribute to their hero.

He said four or five sherpas would be arriving in New Zealand over the next few days to attend the funeral.

* Auckland Museum is flying its flag at half mast and has organised a small display of key objects from the exhibition to be on display in the museum foyer from today.

The museum has also arranged a web exhibition of selected images of Sir Edmund from its extensive pictorial collection.

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