You never know who you’ll meet at university

Field Club at Swanson- students seated in bush

Students tramping in Swanson, 1930s. Auckland University Field Club records. MSS & Archives 98/1.

This year marks the 65th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary’s May 1953 ascent of Mt Everest with Tenzing Norgay and 60 years since he led a New Zealand team to the South Pole in January 1958.

Those achievements, and the rest of his life’s work, feature prominently in our Library collections but his ties with the University of Auckland go back to the 1930s when he followed in his sister June’s footsteps and started studying here.

After passing University Entrance exams in seven subjects at Auckland Grammar School, Sir Edmund enrolled at Auckland University College in 1936.1 His interests, however, lay in the outdoors and he left in 1938 after passing only one paper, and took a job at a nearby law firm.2

During his two years on campus, Hillary happily went “racing around the Waitakeres” with members of the University’s Tramping Club (AUCTC), which had formed out of the Field Club in 1932.3 Both clubs focused on expeditions into the great outdoors, attracted many of the same members and often went tramping together.4 He was already active in the Radiant Living Tramping Club so his hikes with the AUCTC crew were yet another way he could spend time exploring.5 He later wrote, “They were a cheerful, pleasant lot and I was thankful for their friendship and happy to carry any load, push anyone up hills, rush off on any reconnaissance, make any trail…”.6

Field Club at Huia- students on trig station

Students tramping at Huia in 1936. Auckland University Field Club records. MSS & Archives 98/1. Special Collections, University of Auckland Libraries and Learning Services.

Shortly after conquering Everest, Sir Edmund married Louise Rose, a hiker and climber who had also studied at Auckland and was a keen Tramping Club member.7 Rose graduated in 1952 with a Diploma in Music with proficiency in the viola and then attended Sydney Music College.8 The pair had known each other since the 1940s through Rose’s father who was president of the New Zealand Alpine Club.9

A new General Library Special Collections display celebrates Orientation, when students are busy joining clubs, by commemorating Sir Edmund’s achievements and the couple’s links with the Tramping Club. It explores these early ties through letters, photos and memorabilia leading up to and shortly after his Everest climb.

Visit the display until 17 March outside the Special Collections Reading Room on Level G of the General Library.

Sarah Dunbar, Special Collections


1 Gill, M. (2017). Edmund Hillary: A Biography. Nelson: Potton & Burton, p.49.

2 ibid, p.51-52.

3 Auckland University Field Club records. MSS & Archives 98/1. Special Collections, University of Auckland Libraries and Learning Services.

4 Auckland University College Tramping Club. (1957). Jubilee magazine: a publication celebrating the twenty-fifth birthday of the Club, 1932-1957. Auckland, pp.5-6.

5 Gill, p.51.

6 Hillary, E. (1975). Nothing Venture, Nothing Win. London: Hodder & Stoughton, p.24.

7 Gill, pp.228-230.

8 The University of New Zealand. (1964). Roll of Graduates, 1870-1961. Christchurch: Whitcombe & Tombs, p.421.

9 Gill, p.225.

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