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Farewell Sir Ed

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

By Kevin Norquay of NZPA

Wellington, Dec 16 NZPA - This was the year New Zealand lost its most famous and treasured citizen, notched its greatest day at an Olympic Games, and voted for a change of Government.

Adventurer Sir Edmund Hillary died in January, New Zealand won a record five Olympic medals on a hot August day and in early November National toppled the three-term Labour Government.

Once an unknown beekeeper from Tuakau, Sir Edmund clambered to fame on June 2, 1953 when the first man to climb the world's highest peak, Mt Everest.

His lasting reputation as a regular Kiwi bloke was cemented by his words upon descent: "We knocked the bastard off".

Thousands braved bad weather in Auckland to pay their last respects to the great man, with rain falling while his casket laid in state, and during his funeral at St Mary's.

Crowds watched the state funeral on big screens in Auckland Domain, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, while 4500 logged on to the internet to view the broadcast.

A special satellite link was established for Nepal TV, his ashes were later scattered on the Hauraki Gulf, then he got a Royal send off in England's Windsor Chapel.

His passing was not without controversy, with a heavy-breathing telephone pest forcing his grieving widow to change her telephone number a month after his death.

At Halloween, Hell Pizza created more horror than intended with an animated ad depicting a skeletal Sir Ed, Heath Ledger and the Queen Mother emerging from graves and dancing.

After Sir Ed's son Peter Hillary said it was "extremely poor taste", Hell withdrew the ad and apologised.

Sir Ed's name was back in the news when six students and a teacher from Auckland's Elim Christian College died when hit by a torrent of water while canyoning on April 15.

Teacher Tony McClean and students Tom Hsu, Natasha Bray, Anthony Mulder, Tara Gregory, Floyd Fernandes and Portia McPhail died in the central North Island disaster.

All had been at the Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre of New Zealand (OPC) when washed down the Mangatepopo Gorge in a flash flood that weather forecasts had predicted.

College principal Murray Burton was later named New Zealander of the Year by North & South magazine, for his compassion, grace and humanity in a time of tragedy.

The Department of Labour is prosecuting the OPC under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992.

If April 15 was Terrible Tuesday, the day from hell, then August 16 "Super Saturday" was sporting heaven.

In four thrilling hours, New Zealand won an Olympic medal an hour; gold to the resurgent Evers-Swindell twins as well as two other rowing medals, and a Hayden Roulston silver in track cycling.

There was just time to draw breath before shot putter Valerie Vili put on her meanest game face, stepped into the Bird's Nest and won the first New Zealand athletics gold in 32 years.

Never before had New Zealand won five Olympic medals in one day, and only five times had there been two golds on the same date. On Super Saturday, both feats came to pass.

To make a golden day glow even more, hours later the All Blacks rolled world rugby champions South Africa 19-0 in Cape Town, their best effort of the year.

Beijing wasn't the first time medals dominated the news, with the hunt for and return of 96 stolen Waiouru Army Museum medals in the headlines for months.

The medals, including Charles Upham's Victoria Cross and bar, were plundered from museum display cases in December 2007 before being returned in February, undamaged.

The hunt for the thieves went on for months, until two men were arrested in October and charged with burglary.

Super Saturday for the National Party came on November 8. After nine years in opposition, National scored the biggest win in MMP history to sweep Prime Minister Helen Clark from power.

Miss Clark resigned on the night, while her successor John Key's smile was still burning bright. Deputy Labour Party leader Michael Cullen resigned the next day.

Mr Key's smile faded a few thousand watts when he discovered the dire state of the national coffers -- the cupboard was bare, and belt tightening was the order of the day.

Government woes were nothing compared to those of finance companies, with loud wailing and knashing of teeth by those who invested in them.

At least 10 finance companies defaulted in 2008, placing $2.2 billion and more than 74,000 debenture holders at risk, adding to 2007's failures.

On top of that, about $2.4b was frozen in at least 13 mortgage funds which have little capital or liquidity, and short borrowing and long lending terms.

Some of the most trusted names were among the failures: Dominion Finance, North South Finance, St Laurence, Dorchester Finance, Strategic Finance, Hanover Finance and United Finance.

Their failings hurt the property market, kneecapped the auto industry, and tied up the lifesavings of thousands of small investors.

It was even worse for giant dairy Fonterra, whose Chinese joint venture with Sanlu had to be written off to the tune of $200 million after melamine-laced milk powder caused the deaths of six babies.

As well as the deaths, nearly 300,000 babies became sick with urinary problems after drinking infant formula tainted with the industrial chemical melamine.

In November, Fonterra slashed its payout forecast for this season to 14 percent lower than its original estimates.

Chinese babies were not the only ones who did it tough in 2008, with New Zealand youngsters continuing to suffer at the hands of adults.

While justice was done in the Nia Glassie case, it seemed no one would ever be punished for battering to death three-month-old south Auckland twins Chris and Cru Kahui.

After a jury took just 10 minutes to find their father Chris Kahui not guilty, police closed the book on the case, outraging Miss Clark, Mr Key, and thousands of other New Zealanders.

A Rotorua High Court jury found brothers Wiremu and Michael Curtis guilty of murdering toddler Nia.

They were convicted for horrific abuse -- swinging Nia on a clothesline, placing her in a tumble drier and kicking her in the head.

Attacks on Asians proved another running crime theme, so much so that in July about 10,000 took part in a rally in wet weather in south Auckland to protest about it.

Three people of Asian descent had died in homicides in Manukau City in the preceding month.

Liquor store owner Navtej Singh, 30, was fatally shot at his shop on June 7.

Auckland's Sikh community complained police took too long to attend to a wounded Mr Singh -- between 25 and 45 minutes.

A week later, Yan Ping Yang, 80, died after having been attacked by an intruder in her home, then Joanne Wang, 39, was knocked down by a stolen vehicle in a shopping mall car park after her handbag was snatched and died in hospital.

Afghani taxi driver Abdulrahaman Ikhtiari survived a sinking Indonesian boat in 2001 as he searched for a better life for himself and his family.

He went into a refugee camp on Nauru, before moving to New Zealand in 2002, only to be stabbed by two passengers in Christchurch this month, and die on the job.

Teenagers aged 16 and 19 have been charged in relation to his death, and seven people with a variety of offences related to the shooting of Mr Singh.

Self-styled martial arts expert Nai Yin Xue was nabbed in the United States in February, and extradited to face charges of murdering his wife An An Liu, 27.

Five years after Korean backpacker Jae Hyeon Kim disappeared, white supremacist Hayden Brent McKenzie, 31, was convicted of killing him.

McKenzie was already four years into a life sentence for his part in the murder of James John (Janis) Bambrough, a homosexual killed in 1999 at Westport.

Mr Kim's mother, Leebun Kim, 60, read victim impact statements from herself and her husband, which were translated in court.

"You heartless and cruel man, why did you kill such a precious life?" she asked.

Taggers learned to their trgic misfortune that their "artworks" angered and upset people.

South Auckland teenage tagger Pihema Cameron died from a stab wound after he was allegedly chased and caught by Bruce Emery, 50, while about to paint graffiti on January 26.

Gisborne and Christchurch taggers were jailed for causing damage while incorrigible Hawke's Bay tagger Quentin McKelvey found himself on the wrong end of a pen.

McKelvey received national prominence when caught tagging a wall at a Havelock North bar on April 18.

The bar owner grabbed McKelvey's marker pen and scribbled over his face before throwing him out.

Joy germ broadcaster Tony Veitch had a longer fall from grace when arrested and charged with assaulting former partner Kristin Dunne-Powell on six occasions between 2002 and 2006.

Veitch lost his high-profile jobs at Radio Sport and TVNZ, and was dumped from the television channel's Olympic Games team.

His path to redemption looked long and tortured, as he has been told his trial might not be until the end of 2010.

His friend and broadcasting colleague Paul Holmes, who this month retired from his NewstalkZB morning slot, had legal woes of his own, in the form of stepdaughter Millie Elder.

In March, Elder was sentenced to 12 months' supervision after being convicted of possessing methamphetamine and a pipe, and allowing her flat to be used for consumption of drugs.

"Millie is sick and she has a big hill to climb. I'm sure every parent with teenagers knows what we're going through," Holmes told reporters.

Former top policeman Clint Rickards returned to court in 2008, after being cleared on rape charges in 2007.

This time he was a goodie rather than an alleged baddie, being admitted to the bar so he could practise as a barrister and solicitor.

Mr Rickards was planning to work with disadvantaged people on treaty matters and employment issues.

In 2007, he and former police officers Bob Schollum and Brad Shipton were acquitted of historic charges of raping Rotorua woman Louise Nicholas during the 1980s.

Shipton and Schollum, who were serving time for a different rape, were both paroled in 2008, outraging their victims and women's groups.

Schollum was serving a sentence of eight years after being convicted in July 2005 of the pack rape and abduction of a 20-year-old Mount Maunganui woman in 1989.

Shipton was in November released from Wanganui prison after serving three years of an 8-1/2 year sentence for his part in the 1989 rape.

Police mourned their own, with two officers killed on duty, the first to die that way since 2002.

Sergeant Derek Wootton was struck by a stolen car in Titahi Bay near Porirua on July 11, while two months later Sergeant Don Wilkinson was shot on an under cover mission in Mangere.

Air New Zealand was also struck by grief in November when, 29 years to the day after the Mt Erebus disaster, one of its aircraft plunged into the sea of southern France.

Senior A320 pilot Captain Brian Horrell, 52, engineers Murray White, 37, Michael Gyles, 49, Noel Marsh, 35, and Civil Aviation Authority inspector Jeremy Cook, 58, were killed, with two unnamed German pilots.

High profile New Zealanders to die in 2008 included entertainer Rob Guest and Duncan Laing, the most successful swimming coach in our history.

Laing's death came during a great year for sport. Scott Dixon won the Indianapolis 500 motor race, the first New Zealander to do so, the Kiwis won rugby league's World Cup against the odds, and Marina Erakovic made it worthwhile to watch tennis, climbing into the world top 50.

To cap it all the All Blacks won the Tri-Nations and completed the Grand Slam by dousing Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England.

Victory over England saw the All Blacks become the inaugural holders of the Hillary Shield -- a new trophy to commemorate Sir Edmund.

And who knows, as captain Richie McCaw hoisted the trophy high, he might just have muttered "we knocked the bastards off".

NZPA WGT kn nb

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