A pilgrimage to Motat at Western Springs was a chance for the youngsters to view Sir Edmund Hillary's Massey Ferguson tractor, made famous as his gung-ho method of transportation to the South Pole back in 1958.

My son has to give a school speech on Sir Ed's life, so there's nothing like a bit of touchy-feel with the real thing; the tractor certainly leaves a deep impression as a perfect example of Kiwi improvisation and getting the job done - no matter how hair-raising the adventure.

I had forgotten that Hillary was the first person to reach the South Pole overland since Scott's ill-fated expedition in 1912.

The tractor, fitted with steel caterpillar tracks and an enclosed cockpit frame, bolted together with bits of steel off-cuts and No8 wire, stands proudly as a tribute to Kiwi can-do.


The children were also keen to see the Lancaster bomber on display in the Aviation Display Hall.

Youngsters today seem curious about World War II, asking many questions about the weaponry. I chatted to them about another famous New Zealander, Les Munro, who is the last surviving pilot from the famous Dambusters raid in 1943.

Les was one of the RAF's most experienced bomber pilots, flying Lancaster bombers out of Lincolnshire on nightly missions over Germany.

Like Hillary, Munro is a very modest New Zealander, a genuine hero who shrugs his shoulders at the incredible dangers he once faced.

I was surprised to find that another famed aircraft from World War II, the Fairey Swordfish, had disappeared from the exhibition hall.

The Swordfish was a bi-plane, flown by countless Kiwis who joined the Fleet Air Arm.

Although outdated and laughed at by the German military at the start of the war, this antique torpedo bomber had some remarkable successes, sinking and damaging a number of Italian battleships at the Battle of Taranto and responsible for crippling the pride of the Kriegsmarine, the battleship Bismarck.

Apparently, the attacking Swordfish flew so slow at sea level, the highly sophisticated fire-control predictors of the German gunners were unable to aim their weapons effectively to strike these ancient string-bag biplanes. When I inquired about the Swordfish's disappearance, the attendant informed me that the curator had had it stored away because he was concerned at its "authenticity".


How sad - he's shot down what the Bismarck's massive guns couldn't do!