Cantabrians' icy expedition recalled

Holding on to the handle of her dad Allen Kelly’s ice pick, Jan Cockburn (left) and Judie Ryk...
Holding on to the handle of her dad Allen Kelly’s ice pick, Jan Cockburn (left) and Judie Ryk attend the exhibition honouring their dads’ and Jack Pattle’s journey to cut ice from the Tasman Glacier for an extravagant dinner party in New York. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
An exhibition at the Ashburton Museum has evoked memories of an intriguing expedition undertaken in 1958.

Tasman Glacier to Table Service opened in December and closes on Sunday.

It details the journey of three Ashburton men who flew to the Tasman Glacier to get some of its ancient ice so it could be used for drinks at a prestigious New Zealand-themed event in New York.

Wilf Holland, Allen Kelly and Jack Pattle journeyed to the glacier on the world’s first retractable-ski plane, flown by Don Middleton.

Last Thursday the daughters of Mr Holland and Mr Kelly, Judie Ryk and Jan Cockburn respectively, both of Ashburton, said they were delighted with the exhibition. 

Allen Kelly prepares to remove a block of ice from the Tasman Glacier destined for a dinner table...
Allen Kelly prepares to remove a block of ice from the Tasman Glacier destined for a dinner table in New York.
It was an item owned by Ms Ryk which had inspired the expedition to start with — an information and picture board, made by her son Richard Hastings, detailing the story.

Ms Ryk said she had vivid memories from when the expedition was undertaken all those years ago.

She was 12 at the time.

"It was all very exciting and I really wanted to go but I wasn’t allowed.

"It was our family Frigidaire freezer that was used to keep the ice cool once it had been flown off the glacier to the Hermitage at Mt Cook. 

"They took a generator with them to plug the freezer into as there had been a fire at the Hermitage and so they were unsure of how reliable power might be." 

The ice needed to be kept at -10°C. 

She remembered her dad waiting for a report about the ice, only to learn it could not be used for its intended purpose.

"The report was about how clean the ice was as it was going to be used in the drinks and under the oysters. 

"In the end they deemed it wasn’t safe to go in the drinks because it could have been contaminated. 

"It was used instead to chill the wine." 

Ms Cockburn said her dad would probably have been outwardly embarrassed by his humble hardworking efforts being the subject of the exhibition.

"However, inside I think he would have been pretty chuffed." 

The ice was for the prestigious New Zealand Night, being held by the United States’ largest association of journalists covering international news, the Overseas Press Club of America (OPC). 

It was an extravagant dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Banquet Hall to promote New Zealand products and international relationships.

The menu featured several New Zealand foods, drinks and ice.

Ashburton Art Gallery and Museum director Shirin Khosraviani said the exhibition showcased not only the journey of the ice, but also the ingenuity of the people who made such an improbable feature of the dinner a reality.

"It was the OPC’s wish to adopt the Alaskan custom of serving glacier water in drinks — rather than cubes of frozen tap water — and asked for ice from the Franz Josef Glacier." 

The story began in March 1958, when Mr Stewart and Mr Holland received a request from General Motors asking if they could assist with the refrigeration of ice from Franz Josef Glacier to the United States for the dinner party. 

Mr Holland was one of the owners of refrigeration company Stewart and Holland, while Mr Kelly was a staff member. 

Both were members of the Erewhon Branch of the Canterbury Mountaineering Club. 

A home freezer belonging to Wilf Holland is loaded into the Stewart and Holland van by Mr Holland...
A home freezer belonging to Wilf Holland is loaded into the Stewart and Holland van by Mr Holland (left) and Allen Kelly, ready for transporting their haul of glacial ice.
They were joined by fellow member and Ashburtonian Mr Pattle.

"Dad was asked because of his skills in mountaineering and his knowledge in refrigeration," Ms Ryk said.

Because of flooding, an alternative glacier had to used, so the Tasman Glacier was chosen.

"Recent heavy rains had made the lower areas of the glacier dirty, so the plane had to go up the glacier and land at a height of 6500 feet for suitable ice," Ms Khosraviani said. 

"The mountaineering party was equipped with ropes, ice axes and a mechanical chainsaw.

"A small crevasse was found some distance from the plane. 

"Down inside the crevasse, surface ice was scraped off and three cubes of ice, each one 300mm, were cut with a power saw lent by Smallbone Brothers Ltd, of Ashburton. 

"Each cube, weighing about 23kg, was loaded into an ice cream bag, flown to the Hermitage and placed in the waiting freezer."

The van used to transport the ice from the Hermitage was a Stewart and Holland Bedford van.

A stop was made at Fairlie to connect to a power source to keep the freezer at the right temperature. 

Once back in Ashburton, 17hours after beginning their expedition, the freezer was connected to power again.

The following day, Mr Holland took the freezer containing the ice to Christchurch for it fly to Auckland before being loaded on to a ship destined for San Francisco and then transported across the country to New York.

An article in The Press, on April 22, reported that the New Zealand dinner had been voted "the most wonderful the club had ever had". 

Cables were sent to then-prime minister Walter Nash, Opposition leader Keith Holyoake and Sir Edmund Hillary. 

"Let me know if you run out of ice," Sir Ed replied. 

"There’s plenty more in the glacier and a bit to spare down in the Antarctic. 

"Hope you enjoyed our dinner. Very best wishes. Ed Hillary.’