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Hillary centenary celebrations pay tribute to his legacy

This month, a suite of events, major new commissioned artworks and the unveiling of commemorative stamps, are planned to celebrate the inspirational life of mountaineer, adventurer and humanitarian, Sir Edmund Hillary, who was born 100 years ago on 20 July 1919.

Chair of the Hillary Centenary Steering Committee Clive Gilson, Emeritus Professor at the University of Waikato, says this centenary is an opportunity for all New Zealanders to reflect on the values that Sir Ed embodied, and to celebrate his legacy.

“The aim of the celebratory activity this month is to salute Sir Ed, and inspire a new generation of New Zealanders to reach the summit of their own personal ‘Everests’, whatever they may be,” he says.

The activity led by the Hillary Centenary Steering Committee begins with an event at Parliament on 23 July, hosted by the Prime Minister, Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, for Hillary family members and a range of other distinguished guests including politicians, ambassadors, business leaders and members of the creative and academic communities.

At the event, New Zealand Poet Laureate Selina Tusitala Marsh will perform her new poem about Sir Ed called Hillary’s Step that is featured on an installation of the same name that was unveiled at Christchurch Airport last week.

NZ Post is also issuing commemorative stamps for the centenary, available from 23 July, which feature images of Sir Ed on his various expeditions and endeavours. Sir Ed was last featured on a stamp just over a decade ago, shortly after he passed away.

This is followed on 27 July by the world premiere of a full-length symphony composed by Gareth Farr in honour of Sir Ed, titled Roar of a Thousand Tigers, performed by the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra conducted by Benjamin Northey at the Christchurch Town Hall’s Lilburn Auditorium. Commissioned by the Hillary Centenary Steering Committee with the support of Creative New Zealand, the title of Farr’s symphony comes from Tenzing Norgay’s evocative description of the violent winds on Mt Everest.

“Sir Ed’s unique position in history has not only made him an icon for New Zealanders, but also helped to shape the world’s perception of our nation. In this context, the Hillary Centenary Steering Committee is delighted to have secured the talents of leading artists like Selina and Gareth to celebrate Sir Ed’s contribution to our nationhood,” says Professor Gilson.

Sir Ed’s commitment to humanitarian causes, particularly in Nepal, is also being celebrated at events led by the Himalayan Trust, which he drove the establishment of in the 1960s, including a Centennial Gala Dinner in Auckland on 17 July.

From his conquest of Mount Everest in 1953 with climbing partner Tenzing Norgay, to leading multiple expeditions in the Himalayas, Antarctica and India, building schools and hospitals in Nepal, and serving New Zealand as Ambassador to India, Sir Ed wrote his name in history.

Over decades he has also inspired books, films, documentaries, exhibitions, foundations and scholarships, including Waikato University’s Sir Edmund Hillary Scholarship Programme that is designed to support and inspire future leaders to ‘step higher’. The centenary celebrations are intended to be a fitting tribute to a remarkable life that continues to inspire many.


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