DUKE OF EDINBURGH’S AWARD MEMORIES FROM THE 1970's
Dr Hamish Rennie (OC 1976) shares his recollections of the early days of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award at St Andrew's College, which commenced in 1964. The Award was launched in New Zealand in 1963 and celebrates 60 years this year.
"I read with interest the article on the DoE Awards in Regulus recently. It brought back memories of how it was not popular when I was at StAC, but we were boarders and so were desperate to get out of the hostel any way we could. One way was to go tramping in weekends in Arthur's Pass, but we needed a teacher to go with us and after the one we relied on left the school, we were stuck. Then at one assembly the then Rector, Ian Galloway, gave a big spiel about how wonderful the DoE Awards were and how good it would be to get students involved with it.
I don’t recall who came up with the idea, I think it was someone a year ahead of us who loved tramping, but someone figured out that if the Rector was promoting the DoE and if part of it meant tramping, then if we got a bunch of us who said we wanted to do the DoE, the Rector would find a teacher who would ‘volunteer’ to take us tramping. And sure enough, that’s what happened. Mr George Little, who had done a lot of tramping in his youth but was really probably past it, was volunteered and so we began our DoE Awards.
Most of us were not serious about it because it was just a means to get out of the hostel (in some ways it was safer – certainly more pleasurable – crossing rivers in the mountains than being stuck in a hostel) but I think we all enjoyed tramping at least a bit. We certainly did not try to set records or go for minimum times (and who would if it meant ending up back in the hostel sooner than needed?).
The trip I recall the most was one where things went wrong – the weather closed in! So we took a different route to that originally planned, one that we had not fully assessed and instead of going down the left side of a valley we tried the right hand side. Unfortunately Mr Little had an angina attack and his pack was split between those of us who were biggest (including me) - three hours of bashing through bush and we might have made 300 yards. We ended up on a bluff and had to slog backward again, ending up camping in a high hanging valley, not the hut we were aiming for. It was wet, we were wet and the sweat on our bodies chilled us.This combined with the extra weight of my pack meant I got cramp so bad that I was not able to sit up to drink my soup.
The next day heading down the left-hand side of the valley we found the correct route. We were making it out fairly easily and with just a long straight downhill ridge to go we stopped tramping as a group and agreed people could go at their own speed. All of the more fit and able took off, including me. But I had a comfort stop and so ended up at the tail end and came round a corner to find one of our guys had collapsed with beginnings of hypothermia, another was helping him. Neither were experienced or very robust. And everyone else had been going at their own pace and were well out of sight. We got the hypothermic chap into our last dry clothes and as warm as possible, and I left the two of them there and headed out to try to get help and some water.
Everyone was too bushed to go back up, so I got water and went back up. It was quite a way, and I was stuffed. Search and Rescue came just after nightfall and by that stage I was getting into trouble, so they got me down off the mountain quick and to warmth in Arthur's Pass. I think one or both of the other two were stretchered out or maybe the Search & Rescue guys stayed overnight with them, but we did meet some legends of the mountains that night and I learnt more from that bad trip than from all the good ones I had ever done. I never went tramping again without a really good quality sleeping bag and tent, and never let people go at their own pace again. I often think how no one knew I had had a comfort stop and if I had had an accident or got hypothermia, would anyone have realised in time?
Anyway, most completed Silver and two of us (Iain Dorman (OC 1976) and myself) got our Gold awards, completing the last of the service after the end of the final school year. I volunteered in the Christchurch Public Library and my local Leeston Library. There were not many things you could volunteer to do on a weekly basis at night, after work, in the country and also do in the city for a year. The service was the hardest part to complete and we had to organise it all ourselves. Iain and I got our awards from the Duke Himself at Government House the following year in 1977.
As you can tell, I still think of the experiences that the DoE provided for me that I would not have had otherwise and of how without Mr Little, a physics teacher, being prepared to take us into the mountains, we would never have completed them, and I learnt so much from the experience.
So, if you ever start wondering if it is worth the time and effort of keeping it going, or if the students have any doubts, I would still recommend it to anyone and I hope they appreciate the effort of those who support it.