When Sir Edmund Hillary, just three months after conquering Everest and then one of the most famous people on the planet, came to stay at her family home, 11-year-old Anna Pascoe wasn’t fazed.
Not even the prospect of Hillary’s fellow 1953 British Mount Everest expedition mountaineer George Lowe asking her to cut his toenails unduly bothered the unflappable schoolgirl.
And days later, in the wake of the “Nurses’ Accident” where six climbers died on Mt Egmont – still New Zealand’s worst alpine tragedy – young Anna scaled what is now called Mt Taranaki with her father John Pascoe to prove it could be traversed in fair weather with proper equipment and leadership.
During Hillary and Lowe’s stay with the Pascoe family in August 1953, Lowe gave young Anna a postcard as a gift in appreciation of their low-key stay that provided a break from the public glare and official engagements that followed the stunning world-first success of Everest.
The postcard was signed by the entire expedition team, including Nepali Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay, as they travelled back to London on a BOAC Argonaut Speedbird airplane.
For the last 64 years, Anna has treasured the remarkable keepsake that’s survived moves around New Zealand, the Canterbury earthquakes, and stints living abroad in Germany, Canada and Papua New Guinea.
But now, the rare piece of New Zealand history is for sale, with Anna hoping a new home will preserve it for future generations.
“I’ve been so conscious of the signatures fading over the years, I just thought there might be someone out there who could look after it very well,” she said.
It will be hard for Anna to part with the postcard that evokes so many memories.
After being feted in London for scaling the world’s highest mountain, Hillary and Lowe had returned to New Zealand to embark on a packed schedule of speaking engagements.
In Wellington, they stayed at the secluded Eastbourne family home of John Pascoe, a well-known personality in mountaineering circles who went on to write many books, including Unclimbed New Zealand.
Before the celebrity guests’ arrival, Anna’s mother Dorothy Pascoe sourced an array of exotic food.
But former beekeeper Hillary, already well-known for his humble nature, instead requested “good old fashioned plain food”, Anna recalls.
The Pascoes did, however, have to find some extra-long divans to cater for the lanky explorers. John Pascoe played the banjo and yodelled on a gentle bush walk.
Word soon circulated that the Pascoes had some famous visitors.
Local children descended on the Pascoe residence, snaring autographs and photographs.
Young Anna wrote to her uncle Peter Harding, a sub-editor at the Sydney Morning Herald: “This morning, four girls had been waiting at the bottom of our hill since 7am with nothing in their tummies, no breakfast… At school, I think Sara [younger sister] and I will probably be very popular.”
Auckland auction house Cordy’s has placed an estimate of $1200 on the “unique historical piece” ahead of its August 22 antiques and art sale.
“With the entire collection of signatures of the 1953 team, this small piece of paper transports one back over six decades to an incredible feat of mountaineering,” said Cordy’s Ross Millar.
“In a world of manufactured memorabilia this little postcard, with immaculate provenance, we trust will find a home with a passionate collector.”
– By Kurt Bayer for New Zealand Herald