It was on May 29, 1953 that a British team led by Sir John Hunt succeeded in reaching the summit of Mt Everest, the highest mountain in the world. It was an achievement that reverberated around the world and made celebrities of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. An exhibition at Auckland’s War Memorial Museum celebrates the 60th anniversary and gives visitors an intimate look at the expedition for the first time.
Visitors have to do a bit of climbing of their own to reach the exhibition room on the second floor. Children will love following a map of the The Hillary Trail which winds its way through the museum taking in interactive activity stations representing each stage of the ascent. Decisions have to be made, and challenges overcome, before climbing onwards and upwards.
The sound of a howling gale swirls around the exhibition room, just as it would have at the South Col. It was from here that the first two climbers made their attempt to reach the summit 900 meters away. They climbed higher than anyone had ever climbed before but didn’t make it to the top. Hillary and Norgay made a second attempt and the rest, as they say, is history.
The exhibition is much more than a retelling of an historic mountaineering achievement. A film projected onto a model of Mt Everest tells the story of teamwork, and individual endurance and effort beyond belief. A series of red lights on the model traces the route up the mountain. Visitors will be astonished to see how painfully slow progress was. Personal items and and photographs belonging to the Hillary family add a personal touch. A nice axe, a small rock picked up on the descent, and a small selection of medals honouring the conquering heroes. Most illuminating of all are the entries from Hillary’s ring-bound diary which he kept throughout the expedition. Writing in pen and ink, in what must have been less than ideal conditions, he faithfully recorded his thoughts on the daily progress of the expedition. We get a sense of a man who had incredible personal strength and determination, who valued his team mates, and who wanted above all to succeed.
More artwork and photographs by children and artists from Nepal acknowledge the contribution that Sir Edmund Hillary made to the Himalayan region in the years following the conquest of Mt Everest. He visited Nepal many times raising funds and working alongside his Sherpa and Nepalese friends to build schools, clinics and bridges and to repair monasteries. The people called him Burra Sahib or ‘Big at Heart’. At his funeral in Auckland in 2008, then Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clarke said of Sir Edmund Hillary “We may not be able to match Sir Ed’s abilities or strengths, but we can all strive to match his humanity and compassion for others.”
From the Summit - Hillary’s Enduring Legacy is open until 29 September 2013 in the Sainsbury Horrocks Pictorial Gallery level two, Auckland War Memorial Museum. Entrance is free.
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