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The story of Orange George, 'Seinfeld' George, Mount Everest and a puffer jacket

May 26, 2022

The 1922 expedition crew, with George Finch front row, second from left; (inset: George Costanza in his puffer jacket). Wiki Commons/NBC.

By Peter Holmes

Without George Finch - the Orange-born mountaineer and scientist who broke records by climbing more than 8km up Mount Everest in 1922 - would neurotic Seinfeld character George Costanza have ever worn his absurdly puffy puffer jacket?

It's a question absolutely nobody is asking, but one that is worthy of consideration.

This month marks 100 years since Finch - a farmer's son born near Orange who attended Wolaroi College - was part of a team that attempted to scale Mount Everest from Tibet.

Although the expedition didn't succeed, Finch and fellow climber Captain Geoffrey Bruce ultimately reached an altitude of some 8,320 metres - about 500 metres short of the summit.

It was a record that stood until Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary reached the summit in 1953.

Finch's family moved from Australia to Europe when he was 14. He studied in France and Switzerland and served in WWI.

[While Finch was serving his wife had a child to another man - the child was named Peter Finch. He went on to become an actor and posthumously won an Oscar for his role in the 1977 film Network.]

George Finch was a pioneer in the use of oxygen during alpine expeditions, which was a controversial development at the time, as some British adventurers felt it was a form of cheating.

According to an excerpt from Mountain Heroes: Portraits of Adventure by Huw Lewis-Jones, published in Adventure Journal in 2013, Finch was a "maverick Australian alpinist who spent a great deal of time fighting skirmishes with the British climbing establishment while on the fringes of selection for the early Everest expeditions".

George Finch with his puffer jacket. Alpine Journal/Wiki Commons.

"He should have been an automatic choice for the first Everest reconnaissance in 1921," Lewis-Jones wrote.

"But Finch was neither a member of the Alpine Club, nor had he been to a public school [the equivalent of our private school] or a British university ... More in tune with the 1960s than the 1920s, he grew his hair long and rarely wore a hat, unless specifically forced to."

Upon seeing a 1922 photograph of Finch mending his own boots - instead of letting a servant do it - the deputy leader of the 1922 Everest expedition Edward Strutt commented: "I always knew the fellow was a shit”.

"As far as most of the Establishment was concerned, the uncouth Aussie was quite simply 'not one of us'," Lewis-Jones wrote. "As a result, he was unfairly overlooked."

Journalist Robert Wainright, who wrote the George Finch biography Maverick Mountaineer, told the ABC in 2019: "[Finch] was a colonial, he had long hair, which in those days meant it went to his shoulders, and he'd been divorced.

"It's Gore Tex!" Jason Alexander as George Costanza in 'Seinfeld'. NBC.

"He came across as an arrogant figure at times [but] it was more that he was a confident person in himself who wouldn't lie down to anyone."

Finch also created a custom-made puffer jacket for the 1922 expedition, using bright green fabric from a hot air balloon, filled with eiderdown.

"The colour alone would have made him the butt of jokes," Wainwright told the ABC. "The others were dressed in various forms of tweed and looking fabulous."

The ABC reported that Wainright found a receipt for the puffer in the archives of the Royal Geographic Society in London: "It was from SW Silver and Co, outfit contractors and manufacturers of camping equipment.

"An accompanying note said, 'We are sending you herewith an eiderdown lined coat, trousers and gauntlets ... These garments have been made to the order of Captain Finch of the Mount Everest expedition'.

"Behind the scenes, Alpine Club leaders were sending each other notes mocking Finch's puffer jacket. 'They have contrived the most wonderful apparatus that will make you die of laughing', wrote expedition secretary Arthur Hinks. 'Pray see that a picture of Finch in his patent climbing outfit with the oxygen apparatus is taken by the official photographers'."

Seventy-two years after Finch was mocked for his puffer jacket creation, Jason Alexander's character George Costanza was mocked for sporting an enormous puffer jacket in the Seinfeld episode "The Dinner Party".

And thus a link joining Orange George and Seinfeld George was established. By George, for George.

Gossamer thin, yes, but a link nonetheless.


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