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Ed Hillary describes geological surveys

Audio file

Listen to this 1958 clip of Edmund Hillary discussing the geological surveys undertaken by members of the Ross Sea Party.



Did the New Zealand expedition have any objectives of its own, Sir Edmund?

Sir Edmund Hillary:

Ah yes, apart from our main objective of course, of laying out depots in support of a crossing party, the original plan was that any time we could make available we would spend it, in the field in particular anyway, in survey and geological work. Actually right at the start, when our ideas were on a fairly modest scale, we didn't really consider this was going to be particularly extensive, but as time went along, our plans and our ideas and scale of things do grow somewhat, and by the time we had finished, we had managed to cover quite an extensive scientific programme. The main idea in the field was to carry out as wide a survey and geological programme as we could, and in actual fact we were able to do a good deal of this.


Now of course, this geology, Ed, is a profitable field of study for the New Zealanders.

Sir Edmund Hillary:

Yes well we were probably rather more fortunate than Dr Fuchs's party, in that we did have a lot of bare rock to play around with. I think our geologists really had a real field day, in more ways than one. We were able to do quite a lot of geology in the first autumn we were down there, and our geologists covered the Skelton Glacier fairly exhaustively, and seemed to find it very interesting. And then this summer of course, our dog teams have been mainly occupied in doing survey and geology. Although we only had two qualified geologists with us, in the other two parties that were separated there were men who had done a certain amount of geology and were what you might call, at least, intelligent gatherers of specimens. And in this fashion anyway, I think we have been able to collect rocks over a very widespread area, in fact about 500 miles of mountain ranges. Anyway I know our pilots are always complaining bitterly about the ‘tons of rocks' they used to reckon of specimens that were being freighted back to Scott Base. I think it's going to be, I would say there would probably be years of work involved in assessing the values of all these various specimens. We found a lot of coal too actually, some enormous seams apparently, of low grade coal, and it does appear that this stuff is very widespread throughout the continent.

Sir Vivian Fuchs:

You know Ed, you say about these geologists, I must pick you up on this one. I know dog-sledgers, everybody talks about the masses of rocks that geologists bring back. But they must remember that they [the planes] are very light, they are going back empty. They can well afford to carry them.

Sir Edmund Hillary:

[Laughs] We didn't really regret bringing them back at all. There is no doubt about it, if you give a geologist a free hand...


Sir Edmund Hillary:

... There is nothing he loves more than a few chaff sacks of rocks to bring back. As well as the geology of course, during the summer we did have a number of geologists down in McMurdo Sound itself, just in the summer, and they did some rather more concentrated work really, on the local valleys running out from McMurdo Sound, and I gather from them that they have also been extremely well satisfied with what they have been able to do. And altogether, I think, we'll have a fairly good picture of more or less the whole route that the expedition has covered.


Sound file from Radio New Zealand Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero. Any re-use of this audio is a breach of copyright. To request a copy of the recording, contact Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero. Reference: D1113.3a sa d-01113-03-s01-pm H.O. Archives Section. Antarctica Summing Up 18.8.58 Pt3

Image: Imelda Bargas, 2009

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Ed Hillary describes geological surveys, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated