Rau rangatira mā, e huihui nei, tēnei aku mihi māhana ki a koutou. Kia ora tātou katoa.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, warm greetings to you all.
I specifically acknowledge Lady June Hillary;
Peter and Sarah Hillary and members of the wider Hillary family;
Phurba Sona Sherpa;
and Sir Ranulph Fiennes.
Thank you for giving me the privilege of speaking about Sir Edmund Hillary this evening. I say this knowing that it’s no small task to do justice to his legacy.
One hundred years after his birth, Sir Ed is still our most admired and internationally celebrated citizen. Here in New Zealand he remains a part of our everyday life, with his image adorning our $5 dollar bill.
He was a colossus during my childhood, attaining legendary status. He was regarded as a hero of remarkable fortitude and determination; and as someone whose ingenuity, independent spirit, and chutzpah appealed to our egalitarian principles.
Sir Ed inspired generations of New Zealanders to believe that someone from our small corner of the world could cut it in the international arena and make an impact.
If an unknown beekeeper from a small rural community in the Waikato could reach the top, perhaps the rest of us could too.
On the day of Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation, the news broke that Sir Ed and Tenzing Norgay, as members of a British expedition, had reached the summit of Everest.
The Front page headline of the Daily Express summed up the mood of the Coronation, “All this – and Everest too!”
Sir Ed was knighted by the Queen just four days after her coronation and was one of the first people to be awarded New Zealand’s highest honour, the Order of New Zealand, in 1987.
In 1995, Queen Elizabeth bestowed on Sir Ed the highest and most venerable of British honours when he became a Knight of the Order of the Garter.
Along with the numerous honorary doctorates he received in his lifetime, these later honours recognised his humanitarian and philanthropic work with the Himalayan Trust.
Sir Ed’s legacy can be measured in the many ways the lives of Nepalese people have been transformed through the work of the Trust.
Education has empowered generations to become successful entrepreneurs in their own communities, or pursue higher education.
Hospitals and clinics have helped to eliminate disease.
Communities have access to reliable water supplies. Bridges and airstrips connect them to the outside world.
The creation of a national park and hydro-power have both helped to halt deforestation.
True to Sir Ed’s egalitarian principles, the Himalayan Trust’s projects have been undertaken at the request of Nepalese communities, and in partnership with them.
The New Zealand Government has provided significant funding to the Trust since 2004, as part of its Overseas Aid programme.
The Trust was there to help the families of Nepalese guides killed by an avalanche in 2014, and to assist with emergency assistance and rebuilding after the devastating earthquakes of 2015.
By setting up the Trust and attracting support for his work in Nepal, Sir Ed demonstrated how fame could be harnessed to achieve public good.
As British author Jan Morris said at the New Zealand Alpine Club memorial following his death:
‘Ed repaid a debt to the country that made him famous by all the things he did in Nepal. You in New Zealand are lucky that your greatest hero is great because he is good’.
Sir Ed’s enduring legacy is aroha for the Nepalese communities whose manaakitanga had supported him through some dark and challenging times – people he counted as friends, who in turn called him Burra Sahib – the Big Man.
In many ways, Sir Ed was ahead of his time. His love for the natural world and concern about the environmental impact of tourism on Nepal resonates with us in New Zealand today, as does his determination to address the problems caused by poverty, poor health outcomes, and environmental degradation.
The centenary of Sir Ed’s birth is a significant moment for all New Zealanders. I believe it would be his birthday wish that we renew our support for his work.
Tonight gives us that opportunity.
I wish everyone associated with the Himalayan Trust all the very best as you work to honour Sir Ed’s extraordinary legacy.