Rau rangatira mā, e kui mā, e koro mā, e huihui nei, tēnei aku mihi māhana ki a koutou. Nau mai, haere mai ra ki Te Whare Kawana o Te Whanganui-a-Tara. Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, warm greetings to you all, and welcome to Government House.
I want to specifically acknowledge: Hon Nikki Kaye, Minister of the Crown; Andrew Meehan, Chair of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Hillary Award programme; Peter Hillary; and the wives of three of my predecessors: Lady Norma Beattie, Lady Beverly Reeves and Lady Susan Satyanand – tēnā koutou katoa.
It’s a great pleasure for Janine and me to welcome you all to Government House for this dinner to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award programme in New Zealand.
It seems to be the season for celebrations and anniversaries. Of course the biggest celebration has been the birth of George, the Prince of Cambridge! And, over the last two months we have marked the Diamond Jubilee of the Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II; and the summiting of Mt Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.
These events and anniversaries have several linkages with our gathering here tonight. The first is that all entailed celebration. Secondly, the ascent of Everest not only put the spotlight on Hillary and Tenzing, but also the leader of the British expedition, Colonel John Hunt, who along with Hillary was knighted by the new Queen. On retiring from the British Army in 1956, Sir John was shoulder tapped by Prince Phillip to become the first Director of the new Duke of Edinburgh’s Award programme, a position he held for 10 years.
The Award Programme was particularly attractive to young people who didn’t want to join an organisation or wear a uniform, and it quickly spread around the world. And so to the third connection; it was here at Government House in Wellington, in 1963, that my predecessor Sir Bernard Fergusson hosted the inaugural National Council meeting of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Programme in New Zealand.
There are several factors that would have prompted Fergusson to promote the Award scheme in New Zealand. As a former senior officer in the British Army, a fellow graduate of Sandhurst Military Academy and Second World War veteran, Fergusson would almost certainly have approved of the work Hunt had been doing with the Award programme.
There was also Fergusson’s connection with New Zealand. With the possible exception of Sir Bernard Freyberg, Fergusson knew New Zealand better than any other Governor-General before him. Fergusson’s father and both grandfathers had been Governors or Governors-General of New Zealand, so much so that he once quipped that it was “the family racket.” It was also helped given that he had lived here in the 1920s, was fluent in te reo Māori and had a great sense of humour that resonated with New Zealanders. That affinity with New Zealanders and his “old-world” connections meant that Fergusson probably saw a natural fit with the Programme’s focus on young people setting and achieving personal challenges.
As the Duke of Edinburgh has said; “One of the perpetual problems about human life is that young people of every generation have to discover for themselves what life is all about.” The programme’s emphasis on voluntary community service, advancing skills, physical exercise and undertaking an adventurous journey was something Fergusson knew young Kiwis would be keen to participate in. That the Programme has not only survived but prospered reflects its flexibility in adapting to changing times, the universality of its fundamental values and young people discovering what life is about.
I host ceremonies here at Government House, and elsewhere in New Zealand, where I present Duke of Edinburgh Hillary Gold Awards to young New Zealanders who have successfully completed this most difficult of challenges. I’m continually impressed by the calibre of the young men and women who complete the Gold Award, and their commitment to excellence - being the best they can be – and leadership.
This brings me to the fourth and final connection. It was in this room in 1999 that my predecessor Sir Michael Hardie Boys hosted a dinner to mark the 80th birthday of Sir Edmund Hillary and the publication of his memoir, View from the Summit. Sir Michael made a telling comment about Sir Ed’s qualities when he said: “Most heroes die young, or just fade away; but not this one. And it’s this enduring quality about Ed Hillary, the continuing triumph of his life that has carved for him an indelible place in the annals of our nation.”
Nine years later Sir Edmund sadly passed away and it was fitting that the following year, in 2009, Sir Anand Satyanand, announced that henceforth the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme in New Zealand would be known as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Hillary Award. The association with the Hillary name brings with it a special quality for those who complete the programme in New Zealand – gold, silver and bronze.
Ed Hillary was a modern hero. It’s true he loved adventure; he thrived on it. However, that’s not what made him a hero. It was, as one author put it, the heroism of example, of debts repaid and causes sustained, that made him inspirational, and a role model for the young people completing the programme.
In conclusion, I congratulate the Duke of Edinburgh’s Hillary Award Programme for reaching this significant milestone, and setting thousands of young New Zealanders great and life-changing challenges. As Governor-General and President of the National Council it has been both a privilege and an honour to be associated with the programme. Congratulations again and I wish the Duke of Edinburgh Hillary Awards programme all the best for the next 50 years and beyond.
Kia ora huihui tātou katoa.