Malcolm Laird

1953 to 1953

Malcolm Laird, a co-dux of Matamata College in 1953, was brought up in Ngarua by dairyfarming parents. After leaving school, he attended Auckland University, studying mathematics and science. In the final year of his B.S.C. degree, he took a paper in geology, a subject that fascinated him. This led to a career as a sedimentologist and more than a dozen trips to Antarctica in his lifetime. He went on to take a Master’s degree in the subject, and it was during this time that he saw an advertisement for dog-handlers to join a 4-month surveying expedition to the Transantarctic Mountains. At this time huskies were used instead of tractors. The time spent mapping the untouched Nimrod Glacier resulted in him making the connection that Antarctica and Australia were once joined.

After graduating, Malcolm joined the Geological Survey in Greymouth. It was in this region that he was able to partake in another of his interests – caving. This led to him being 1 of the first people down Harwood Hole on top of Takaka Hill near Nelson. At 357 metres deep, it was then New Zealand’s deepest-known cave. Malcolm was named publicity officer in the party of 7, who were winched down the hole in a parachute harness. The team set a British Commonwealth record for depth attained. At the age of about 30, Malcolm won a scholarship to Oxford University, where he spent 3 years working towards and gaining a Doctor of Philosophy in sedimentology, conducting fieldwork in Ireland and Lapland. Before leaving and after returning to New Zealand, he went on to organise and lead 5 expeditions to Antarctica between 1964 and1983, making further discoveries along the way and being awarded the Polar Medal in 1978. Other achievements were having Laird Glacier and Cape Laird named after him. After his last expedition to Antarctica, he travelled on cruise ships to Antarctica, giving lectures on his expeditions and studies. He was known as the “gentleman geologist”, always interesting to talk to.

At the age of 80, Malcolm and his wife Margaret travelled to South America for a 40th wedding anniversary holiday, but unfortunately he died near Machu Picchu from altitude-related complications in June 2015. He is survived by his wife and 3 daughters, 2 of whom have followed their father’s interest and careers in geology.