I fully appreciate the great honour members have bestowed upon me in electing me your President, and can only hope I will prove worthy of it. Jim Rose has set a high standard which I cannot hope to reach, but rest assured I will do my best.
This realises a long-cherished ambition of mine. The only thing that makes me a little dubious, is that when a Club elects a President, it is often done to honour some elderly gentleman who has given long service and also serves as a polite hint that it is time he retired.
I cannot agree to take a back seat yet, so you will still occasionally hear from Southland in the future. I feel this honour is a tribute to the vigorous re-birth of the Southland Section, due in no small part to the work of Jim McFarlane. Jim, I am glad to say, expects to walk again soon. Our boys in Southland have been doing some good climbing this season and are developing into a really strong Section.
One thing about Southland – it is, so to speak, out of the firing line. One can stand at a distance and view happenings dispassionately, although we do occasionally get stirred up, as Jim Rose can tell you.
We are all very proud of the New Zealand Alpine Club. It has arrived. It is now recognised as one of the great mountaineering clubs of the world, and its ambassadors Ed Hillary and George Lowe are continuing to add lustre to its name.
Great things are expected of the Club, and I am sure these expectations will be realised. However, we are like a football club with a first-class senior team. No matter how good the team is, the club founders if it has not adequate strength in its junior teams. The most powerful club is inevitably the one that looks after its junior members. I think, in our Club, we should take heed of this. There is a great temptation to lose our heads in the Himalayan clouds. We must keep our Club alive and keep producing young climbers by constant encouragement of younger members.
It may only be an impression, but I have noticed a tendency lately for a great many of the best new climbs to be performed by older club members, while the younger ones tend to stick to the beaten tracks, climbing familiar peaks by normal routes. This must be fought. The spirit of adventure must be kept alive in the Club today, just as it was in the early days. Easy climbs mean mediocre climbers. We must encourage our younger members to tackle new routes and to get deeper into more difficult country. Where ridges have been climbed, get them interested in the faces. Remember, climbing technique in this country has advanced to the stage where face climbs now are no more dangerous than ridge climbs some years ago.
There has, to my mind, been over-emphasis on Safety in the Mountains, tending to put a damper on younger members, which they find difficult to throw off, as well as playing into the hands of disapproving relatives, who put more pressure on. Did A.P. Harper worry about safety in the mountains in his day? Risk is an element in all sports, and calculated risks are perfectly justifiable in mountaineering. Nothing venture, nothing win, applies to all sports, and just as in Rugby again (I have to follow this as a medical officer), the weak-kneed and faint-hearted are always the first to get hurt, so will timorous mountaineers be looking for trouble in the mountains. Let us then get our younger men out, include them in our own difficult climbs, and encourage them to take their own parties on new climbs.
The other way to keep the Club together and strong is to keep members well informed. Montgomery used this principle with the 8th army with great success.
Those far-sighted men, Ellis and Sim, realised years ago that the Club would become unwieldy unless some means of giving Club news to members was devised, and so they advocated the Bulletin, the first issues of which were edited by Arthur Pearson.
I personally was against this. I felt that our Club was a group of people held by a common bond, the love of the mountains. If this would not hold them to the Club, then they were not worth holding by an expensive Club Bulletin, let alone the tremendous effort put into it by the different Editors. No one could have been more wrong. The Bulletin has done the very thing it was intended to do in bridging the gap between the Committee and members, a gap which had threatened to widen. The Club is now united and strong, due in large part to the Bulletin. We must not let it die.
As regards the future, who can say what projects the Club may enter upon. We already have more Himalayan plans. We may take part in Antarctic exploration and other similar expeditions. Bit to do this, we must keep the Club vigorous. Strength comes form young blood. Let us encourage it and be proud to say in the future, as we do today: “I belong to the New Zealand Alpine Club. ”