As I write Sir Edmund Hillary is being laid to rest.
He had a long, fulfilling, sometimes incredibly tragic, amazing life. His passing symbolises the end of an era that in truth ended long ago. His legacy seems to already be forgotten among calls for a “Hillary Day” (shame on you Greens, what happened to a public holiday for Matariki? That campaign was gaining popularity but have you abandoned it in favour of capitalising on the death of a legend?) and anger at the lack of any Royal presence at the funeral*, which seems to be largely stirred up by the media.
Even so, it is a telling sign – Hillary and Tensing’s conquest of Everest was announced on the morning of the Queen’s coronation, and was hailed as much a victory for the Empire as for New Zealand. It was after all an English-led expedition.
Nevertheless the ascent of Everest stirred a national pride in New Zealand as distinct from the Empire, as New Zealand as a state entered its teenage years. Now one wonders whether a new era of national sentiment is dawning. Hillary’s life left so many legacies, and I predict his death will leave one more. Prince Charles, I think, will never be King of New Zealand.**
RIP, Sir Ed. Let’s hope we have only temporarily forgotten what you truly stood for.
* Who would they send? Charlie? Can you imagine the carbon brigade on that one? William? His first solo flight has made for more headlines than Hillary did, and some good PR to boot. My personal pick would be Zara, but it’s an Olympic year.
** Bang goes my invitation to the Garden Party.