• Teens participating in the Duke of Edinburgh Award. Credit: The Duke of Edinburgh's International Award - Australia
    Teens participating in the Duke of Edinburgh Award. Credit: The Duke of Edinburgh's International Award - Australia

With the death of HRH Prince Philip, documentary filmmaker Michael Dillon AM reflects on his own experience doing the Duke of Edinburgh Award.

"His birth on a kitchen table was just the start of Prince Philip’s unconventional youth. His schooldays in Scotland were influenced by his headmaster Kurt Hahn, who believed adventuring outdoors was just as important as the indoor syllabus, so he gave them equal prominence.

He devised a series of tiered personal tests, a bit like Scouts or Guide’s, but in a school context. Its aim was to round off the education of teenagers through exposure to outdoor adventure and service to others.

In the early 1960’s, to see if it would catch on here, it was started at two Sydney schools including mine. Exactly the right age to give it a go, my mates and I were lucky enough to be the first Aussies to roam the Australian bush doing our “Duke of Ed”.

We’d put ourselves and our bikes on the overnight Cooma mail train, and ride all over the Snowy mountains, rucksacks on our back.

We did our normal schoolwork too, but it was those outdoor Duke of Ed memories that have burned the brightest through the years.

It even influenced my career. I became an Adventure Filmmaker.

But what of the Duke of Ed Awards today? I had assumed today’s school syllabus and the vast array of extra curricular activities might have killed them off. How wrong I was.

I checked my old school, Sydney Grammar, and was astonished to find that hundreds of year 9 boys start it, and many go on to finish the Gold Level whilst in busy Year 12.

Astounded too, to find it’s now in thousands of schools in Australia, and that an equal number of males and females take part. And no longer is it just school based. Its done in the armed forces, in prisons and youth detention centres, disability organisations, refugee support programmes, sporting associations, surf lifesaving clubs, and indigenous organisations.

Right now, 40,000 young people in Australia are doing it. And, because it has a service component as well, over a million hours annually of volunteering are done by Duke of Ed participants in nursing homes, hospitals, conservation projects, soup kitchens, St John’s Ambulance, State Emergency Services and Rural Fire Services.

Little did I know that my mates and I would be the first of 800,000 Australians to have done it over the last 60 years.

I come across them out in the bush and my heart rejoices to see them. Out in the bush, where they otherwise might never have ventured, relishing one anothers company, phones nowhere in sight, getting fit, soaking up the natural world, being nurtured by it, and learning to love and protect it.

I know, from my own experience, that what they’ve been exposed to will shape their values, their passions and maybe even their careers. They will keep on doing the “Duke of Ed” their whole lives.

So Prince Philip, on behalf of us 800,000 “Duke of Ed” Aussies, and the 8 million who’ve done it worldwide. Thank you for enriching our lives. Thank you for this, your greatest legacy. You’ve taken us all on thousands of journeys. Its our turn now to wish you bon voyage."

Michael Dillon AM has been a documentary filmmaker for almost 50 years including many years as Sir Edmund Hillary’s filmmaker. He has filmed three Australian Everest Expeditions and is a founding Director of the Australian Himalayan Foundation, which carries on Hillary’s social and educational work in the Himalayas.

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